There have been some absurdly low moments for Juventus in the 2022-23 season. One of the earliest was in Round 7 against Monza, when Angel Di Maria was sent off for a blatant elbow to the chest of a defender and succumbed to a goal in the last 15 minutes, giving the home team their first-ever Serie A victory.
In Sunday’s return game at the Allianz Stadium, Juve somehow found a way to dig themselves lower than that moment.
Juventus allowed Monza to completely outclass them in the first half. Juve had but a single shot on target in those first 45 minutes, while Monza ran circles around them on the other end, piercing the defense seemingly effortlessly and putting the ball into the net three times, though only two of them ended up counting.
Those two turned out to be more than enough. Juve did come out of halftime far better — a low bar, but still — and for a time put the Monza goal under the type of siege that for a while made you think that some sort of comeback could well be in the offing. But Michele Di Gregorio went Super Saiyan, producing at least three absolutely magnificent saves and a number of the more run-of-the-mill stops, and by the end of the half Juve was left dejected and out of puff, limping to a 2-0 defeat that made their opponents the first team ever to do the double on Juve the season after being promoted from Serie B to Serie A, and, thanks to the 15-point penalty that is still currently in place pending appeal, actually vaulted Monza over Juventus in the table.
There remained questions about whether or not Massimiliano Allegri would change his shape and tactics after some unsuccessful showings the last few weeks, but he ultimately stayed with the 3-5-1-1 setup he’s used since well before the World Cup break. He was given a boost when Paul Pogba and Dusan Vlahovic finally returned to the bench after injuries had kept them out for months, but was missing Juan Cuadrado and Federico Chiesa, both of whom were held back with muscle soreness after their long-term injuries. Daniele Rugani and Kaio Jorge also missed out, while Weston McKennie was not called up as he headed to England to complete his loan move to Leeds United. Wojciech Szczesny started behind the defensive line of Federico Gatti, Bremer, and Danilo. Mattia De Sciglio made his first appearance since Oct. 5 at the right wing-back position, opposite Filip Kostic. Nicolo Fagioli, Leandro Paredes, and Adrien Rabiot manned the midfield, while Di Maria roamed behind Moise Kean in attack.
Raffaele Palladino already had one famous win against Juve, and had played them tough 10 days ago when the two teams met in the Coppa Italia. He had almost a full deck in terms of players available, missing only Franco Carboni, Samuele Vignato, and Warren Bondo. He deployed in a 3-4-2-1 setup. Di Gregorio was protected by the back three of Armando Izzo, Luca Caldirola, and Pablo Mari. Patrick Ciurra and Carlos Augusto were on the flanks, bookending the double pivot of Jose Machin and Juve loanee Nicolo Rovella. Gianluca Caprari and Matteo Pessina supported Dany Mota in attack.
Juve showed signs of looking lively early on. Paredes sent in a dangerous free kick that bounced just past Gatti and Bremer, then what looked like a wayward long ball from Gatti turned into a perfect feed for Kostic, who fed Rabiot into the box. The Frenchman was stopped, but earned a corner in the process.
But Monza counterpunched after 10 minutes and put the ball into the net when Pessina got hold of a defensive header and slipped the ball to Caprari, who had stolen into a gap between De Sciglio and Gatti. He gave a little ground to clear the big center-back and fired a worm-burner that Szczesny should’ve done better with at the near post. The ease with which they pierced the defense was stunning, but they were fortunate. The newfangled semi-automated offside system caught Caprari off by a hair as he came back for the ball, sparing Szczesny an embarrassing mistake and giving keeping the game level.
But Juve didn’t heed the warning. Eight minutes after the goal was chalked off, Alberto restarted play with a throw-in. Two simple passes from Caprari to Machin moved the ball across the field, then the latter put Ciurra in with a simple through ball. The wing-back ran past a badly-position Kostic, who got completely turned around, and roofed the ball past a stranded Szczesny to open the scoring for real this time.
Juve’s response to going down was anemic. It quickly became apparent that there was only one team on the field that was looking to play football — and that team wasn’t Juventus. The players on the field looked like they had no idea what their teammates were about to do. Kean and Fagioli misfired with each other a couple of times, one of them passing the ball one way while the other moved in the opposite direction. The Bianconeri only ever came close to sniffing an early equalizer when Gatti had a shot blocked wide after the ball pinged around the box following a corner.
As Juve flailed and Monza threatened more and more, the disaster deepened six minutes before the break. Once again the defense was broken open ridiculously easily. It started on a giveaway by Di Maria, who was trying to find a diagonal run by Fagioli but instead hit the ball straight to Augusto. A quick passing triangle released the Brazilian downfield, and he charged toward the goal. The only runner he had with him was Mota, and initially it looked like Gatti had him well marked, but the defender inexplicably moved stepped away from his man and squared up to the ball instead. Perhaps he was expecting Mota to move that way as well, or perhaps he thought he had help to his left that wasn’t actually there. Either way, the move opened a massive hole through which Augusto put Mota clear on goal. The former Juve youth product easily rounded the keeper and stroked the ball into the net to double the advantage.
It was as calamitous a half as Juventus have played in years. Allegri recognized as such, and came out of the locker room making a triple change, sending on Manuel Locatelli, Matias Soule, and Samuel Iling-Junior in place of Paredes, Fagioli, and Kostic. The game could — and perhaps should — have been on within minutes of the restart when Augusto accidentally flicked a corner kick on to the far post where Bremer was waiting, but the big man somehow failed to get any sort of touch to it to redirect it in.
Juve were certainly improved after the break, and really picked things up in the 57th minute when Arkadiusz Milik was sent on in place of Kean. On the hour mark, Rabiot shinned a shot right at Di Gregorio. Two minutes later, the Monza keeper had far more work to do when Soule pulled back for Locatelli, who hit a 17-yard dart to the far post that Di Gregorio somehow poked around the post with one hand as he sprawled to his left. Three minutes later Mari gave the ball right to Milik in his own defensive third, and the Pole dribbled to the edge of the box before drilling a shot to the right-hand post that Di Gregorio leaped up to save, while Di Maria had a shot in the follow-up move blocked behind.
Monza seemed well and truly under siege now, late though the attacking attitude may have been, and for a while it almost felt like a comeback was becoming inevitable. But Di Gregorio kept on doing a Buffon impression. His last, and perhaps most impressive, piece of work came with 15 minutes left, when Di Maria settled a defensive header off a corner and unleashed a swerving 25-yard hit that Di Gregorio soared through the air to parry away.
Juve’s last real shot at making a game of things came with 12 minutes left on the clock. Milik redirected a free kick toward Rabiot, who slid in only to see the way barred by another excellent save. Milik followed the shot, and his poke toward the goal was destined for the net. But Bremer was in an offside position between the ball and the goal, and when it came toward him he instinctively headed it in, prompting the assistant’s flag to go up.
That setback seemed to take the wind out of Juve’s sails, and a hamstring injury to Milik two minutes later that reduced Juve to 10 men becalmed them completely. Monza took back control of the game in the last 10 minutes and nearly put an exclamation mark on the game when substitute Andrea Petagna snuck behind the defense to drive for the far post, this time meeting with a strong save from Szczesny.
As the remaining time bled away and it became clear how the game was going to end, jeers rained down from the stands as Juventus reached a new low even in this incredibly down season.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 6. This would’ve been lower had Caprari’s goal stood, because Szczesny really shouldn’t be getting beaten there. But that goal was disallowed, and Woj did pretty much everything else right the rest of the game. Unfortunately, he was completely let down by his defense.
FEDERICO GATTI - 4.5. He had a much stronger second half (that’s a theme with most of these players) but his first-half struggles are hard to ignore. His actions on Monza’s second goal were inexplicable. He turned to face the ball-carrier even though there were players covering him, leaving Mari a completely open path to the keeper. He has real promise, but mistakes like that are still all too common in his game.
BREMER - 5. Wasn’t particularly bad in defense, but he didn’t impose himself the way he did last week against Atalanta, and he showed a shocking lack of awareness when he invalidated what was going to be a sure goal by Milik. He’s definitely going through a rough patch.
DANILO - 6. One of the few guys who did what he was supposed to do and stayed fighting from beginning to end. Led the team with five tackles and pushed forward hard in the second half as Juve looked to get themselves back into the game.
MATTIA DE SCIGLIO - 4.5. Was lucky to get away with some bad defending on Caprari’s would-be strike, and generally made little impact on either side of the ball. It was a matter of time before Allegri began to deploy one of his favorites, and there was surely a rust factor, but he has to do better against the low-level clubs that will (or should, at least) be his territory as the season wears on.
NICOLO FAGIOLI - 4. Every young player will have a dud from time to time, and my new large adult son (yes, I’m making that official) had one on Sunday. The entire team was out of sync for long stretches, but he looked especially so, particularly when trying to link up with Kean. That’s as much a coaching issue as it is a player execution issue, but we’ll get into that a little later.
LEANDRO PAREDES - 3. I literally have no clue what value this dude brings to the team. And he’s one of the highest earners on the team this season. He looked uninterested and unmotivated, and was comprehensively outplayed for a second time by Rovella — the guy who was loaned out to make room for him. The sooner he gets yeeted back to Paris, the better.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 6. The only starting mid who was a positive against Monza. He put two shots on target that were denied by Di Gregorio — the second one with quite a good save — and also made two key passes while also contributing a pair of tackles in defense.
FILIP KOSTIC - 3. After playing fantastic ball before the World Cup break, Kostic has completely disappeared. His vaunted crossing was almost literally nonexistent. He only even attempted one all day. Even a center-back like Danilo tried more. Add in to that his horrific marking on Ciurria’s opener, and it makes for a completely awful performance that was rightly given the hook at the half.
ANGEL DI MARIA - 5. Not often I give someone who had five key passes a grade this low, but Di Maria didn’t have a great day overall. His badly telegraphed pass triggered the counter that led to Mari’s goal, and his first half was overall just poor. It’s a little upsetting because you would think that he’d have wanted to redeem himself after what happened in the first game, but in the end he couldn’t make a contribution to getting back into things.
MOISE KEAN - 5.5. Not really his fault that he had zero service—he only had 13 touches in the first half and 18 overall before being taken out—and he still managed to make two shots out of those 18 touches, including one that missed by a relatively small margin in the first half.
MANUEL LOCATELLI - 6. Pushed forward by the necessity of the situation, he played much better closer to goal and nearly scored early in the second half with his excellent back-post drive that Di Gregorio just managed to tip away. Brought the overall level of the midfield up.
MATIAS SOULE - 6. Brought energy and some good technique to the team as it pushed forward in the second half. Notched two key passes and also had a pair of tackles as Juve tried to press more.
SAMUEL ILING-JUNIOR - 5. Brought some speed into the game but didn’t produce the way he has in past matches.
ARKADIUSZ MILIK - 6. Was denied by a fantastic Di Gregorio save, and should’ve had a goal were it not for some boneheadedness by a teammate. His injury late on killed any ideas of a comeback, and if he misses a ton of time it’s going to be a big blow, as he’s been one of the team’s best performers all year.
DUSAN VLAHOVIC - 5. Brought in to add some firepower but wasn’t given any sort of service, touching the ball only eight times in 26 minutes, the majority of which saw him trying to hold play up in or near the box.
***BONUS LOANEE RATINGS***
NICOLO ROVELLA - 7. For the second time in two games, Rovella outperformed all of Juve’s other midfielders. He completed 96.5 percent of his passes and made four tackles defensively before being withdrawn early in the second half as he builds back up from a moderate injury. He is doing everything this team needs from the regista position but isn’t getting, either because guys are being played there out of position (Locatelli) or are simply ineffective (Paredes). He can’t come home soon enough.
FILIPPO RANOCCHIA - NR. Made a pair of tackles in 14 minutes and made some good runs forward through the midfield. A really intriguing prospect that Juve should give a harder look at in future seasons.
I’m sick and (insert expletive here) tired of Max Allegri.
I’ve hammered on him for a season and a half now, but it’s clear as day that his day is passed. He was just comprehensively outcoached by a guy who’s got less than half a season as a senior team coach under his belt.
Monza are the third-best team in the league in terms of possession. They play their game regardless of who they’re looking at across the field. For Allegri to play his usual defend-and-counter against them was exactly what Palladino wanted him to do. There was no need for Monza to impose their style on this game. Allegri simply let them do it. Coupled with some mystifying team selection — most notably Paredes, who showed everyone exactly why he hadn’t started a league game since the last time we played Monza — this game was tailor-made to become the upset it ended up being, because Allegri literally let Monza play to their strengths.
This has been the most infuriating part of Allegri’s second tenure at Juventus. This man spent two years out of the game, presumably watching games as he prepared for the day he would return to the bench, and learned absolutely nothing from what he watched. His ultra-defensive tactics border on regressive — especially when you consider that the defensive solidity he was supposed to be bringing back to the side simply hasn’t been a thing. When a team comes at him with a more modern tactical scheme, more often than not he’s gotten outplayed, if not out and out hammered. And it’s not just the likes of Benfica and Napoli who are doing it. It’s the same with teams like Monza. The talent gap between the two teams — which is what Allegri’s identity-less style fundamentally depends on to be the difference — is significantly bridged when a team with a real tactical identity that knows exactly what they’re expected to do begins to get into their rhythm — often by being straight up allowed to do just that.
Allegri has a team talented enough to make real noise in every game that it plays, but his insistence on playing tactics that were beginning to look outdated 20 years ago has nullified a lot of that talent, and Juve’s on-field results have suffered as a result. If he doesn’t start changing things soon, Juve could find themselves dealing with a relegation battle if the appeal of the point penalty doesn’t go their way.
This team needs life breathed into it, but Allegri simply isn’t doing it.
Juve are back on the field quickly as Lazio come back to Turin for the Coppa Italia quarterfinal. Juve beat the Biancoceleste comprehensively in what may have been their best game of the year right before the World Cup, but the form guides have completely flipped for the two since then. With cups their only real chance of qualifying for Europe next season, Juve will have to dig deep to get past Sunday’s debacle and advance.
After that, Juve have a rare Tuesday league game at Salernitana. One would assume that’s a winnable game, but...after Sunday it’s worth wondering if any game can be classified thus for the foreseeable future.