Juventus’ scintillating 3-1 win over Lazio happened less than one month ago, although the game that many fans thought would be a tactical harbinger of things to come for Max Allegri’s latest feels like it could’ve occurred more than two months ago. The Old Lady’s tedious 1-0 victory against AC Milan over the weekend at the San Siro — in which the hosts played with 10 men for more than half the game — was an approach much more familiar to last year’s campaign: ugly, pragmatic, wrought with consternation.
Against Lazio, there were beautiful cross-field passes from Weston McKennie and Manuel Locatelli that sparked goals, a high-flying Dušan Vlahović, and a buzzing, relentless energy. Against Milan, there was structure, hesitation to throw men forward, and not a whole lot of creativity in the final third.
For better or worse, Juventus will likely play the latter hand for the rest of the Serie A campaign.
If you dislike Allegri, skip to the next section
In a world where Paul Pogba and Nicolo Fagioli are a regular part of this squad, I think there’s a very good chance you see a significantly more open Juventus tactically speaking. I wouldn’t say the possibilities in that Platonic realm are necessarily “endless,” but using a regular combination of Pogba, Adrien Rabiot, Locatelli, and Fagioli does offer more combinations than are currently evident. There’s even the possibility of experimenting with a double pivot against some competition, or at least moving a midfielder a bit higher up the pitch to facilitate the playmaking this club has so desperately desired for quite a long time.
We do not, however, live in this world. Juventus’ midfield consists of Rabiot, Locatelli, McKennie, and Fabio Miretti. There’s definitively not the right ingredients for a double pivot here, and there also seems to me not enough technical and distributive qualities to play a free-flowing, high-press style that many Juventus fans so desire. Or, in fewer words: without Pogba and Fagioli, we don’t have a good enough midfield for pretty football that also wins.
This is the way: everyone suffers for 90 minutes
You’ve got to be looking through some seriously rosy glasses to expect any type of substantive midfield makeover in the January transfer window, which is why I’m guessing this is the approach you’ll see for most of the campaign from here on out. At most, Juventus could try to sell an asset like Samuel Iling-Junior to pave the way for a cheaper player who’s a bit of a gamble; nothing in this vein is going to transform the unit overnight.
What are we left with? The current pieces. We’re left as well with the subconscious trauma of things changing so drastically week to week, month to month, that surely Allegri also values an approach that allows players to flex between positions somewhat fluidly (like McKennie). This, then, is the way: everyone defending for 90 minutes, taking chances where they come. It’s not sexy. But it’s simple. It’s repeatable across most opponents. It’s low-risk. And it’s probably what we need to get used to.
Even against Milan — Milan with several key players out because of injury, Milan with 10 men for 60 minutes and stoppage time — Juventus could not finish the game with a majority in possession. If you were hoping for a different year than last in terms of style, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news.
As he has always done, Allegri is going to approach every game in the way he thinks gives the team the best chance to win three points (or, in some cases, one). Given all the recent circumstances and the veritable maelstrom of off-field chaos the club has faced, I reluctantly find myself agreeing that, perhaps, there might not be a better way to try to eek out a top-four finish. If Pogba were healthy, if Fagioli could play, if any of the midfielders had improved rather than regressed, then, sure, let the horses run free a bit. But the options have both decreased and largely failed to improve.
The time has come (again) to embrace the ugly, because at this juncture it might be the best chance we have of securing a top-four finish and, piece by piece, reconstructing a roster that can win in more aesthetically pleasing ways.