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Juventus struggle but give fans a Christmas present against Frosinone

Juve couldn’t make their early lead stand up on its own, but this time managed to snag a late winner.

Frosinone Calcio v Juventus - Serie A TIM Photo by Matteo Ciambelli / DeFodi Images via Getty Images

After last Friday night’s stumble at Genoa, Juventus took to their second straight road game with a clear objective: get back on track before next weekend’s last big game of the calendar year against Roma.

Their opponent: a Frosinone team that can and has been called a Juventus farm team this year. Three Juve players are on loan to the Serie B title winners, and a fourth is likely on his way in January. But the Canarini are no slouches. Despite a rough run of form lately, they’ve done well for a promoted team. They’d amassed 17 of their 19 points at the Stadio Benito Stirpe this year, only losing to Napoli — a result they avenged in decisive fashion midweek, when they went into the Maradonna and pummeled the Partenopei 4-0 in the Coppa Italia.

Coming off the emotional high of that win, the home team wasn’t just going to be a speed bump. But Juve made an early statement when teenage attacker Kenan Yildiz marked his first senior team start with his first senior team goal on an incredible solo effort. But just like last week, corto muso failed the Bianconeri early in the second half, when a defensive lapse allowed the hosts to level the score.

For long stretches after the equalizer, Frosinone looked like the team more likely to score the game’s second goal, only for Juve to snag the go-ahead score with 10 minutes left of an excellent cross and header combination between Weston McKennie and Dusan Vlahovic, giving them a 2-1 lead that they would hold this time, taking three points and keeping pace with Inter, who beat Lecce later in the day to maintain their four-point advantage in the title race.

Massimiliano Allegri had announced in the pre-match press conference on Friday that Federico Chiesa would miss the game with knee pain. He joined Moise Kean and Mattia De Sciglio, as well as the two suspended midfielders. Allergi used his usual 3-5-2, with Wojciech Szczesny at its base. The Brazilian back three was reunited with Danilo, Bremer, and Alex Sandro stretched across defense. Andrea Cambiaso and Filip Kostic were the wing-backs, bracketing the trio of Weston McKennie, Manuel Locatelli, and Adrien Rabiot. Yildiz took the place of Chiesa in the front two, pairing with Arkadiusz Milik.

Eusebio Di Francesco has revived his career somewhat at Frosinone after several deeply unsuccessful managerial spells in Serie A. He saw fit to start all three Juve loanees in a 3-4-2-1 that was forced on him by a number of injuries, including Riccardo Marchizza, Sergio Reinier, Arjon Ibrahimovic, Luca Mazzitelli, and Michael Oyono, along with a suspension for Caleb Okoli. Stefano Turati started in goal, screened by Mateus Lusuardi, Ilario Monterisi, and Simone Romagnoli. Former Juve prospect Pol Lirola started on the right wing-back position opposite Luca Garritano, with Enzo Barrenechea and Marco Brescianini making up the double pivot. Matias Soule and Francesco Gelli supported Kaio Jorge in attack.

The opening phases of the match were mostly controlled by Juve — a nice change of pace for once to see them take the game to an inferior team. McKennie nearly fed Milik in the seventh minute after darting into the box and pulling it across, but Romagnoli stepped in at the last second to tip the ball behind.

But it was Yildiz who stole the spotlight five minutes later.

He’d already previewed some of his close control and passing skills, but what he did to score the opening goal was truly special. After Kostic pounced on a terrible ball out of the box by Turati (credit there should go to Milik for a good press), he fed the teenage Turk, who was immediately surrounded by three — three! — Frosinone defenders. He somehow slipped both the ball and his person through an opening between Kirona and Monterisi, breaking into the box and hitting a laser from two yards above the corner of the six that was past Turati before he could even move. It was a wondrous goal the likes of which Juve hasn’t seen since Paulo Dybala was at his very best, and Yildiz capped it off with a Del Piero-esque tounge-wagging celebration.

Frosinone Calcio v Juventus - Serie A TIM Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Four minutes later, Yildiz turned provider and nearly sent Kostic in 1-on-1 with Turati, but the wing-back lost the ball in his feet before he could shoot it. As the half wore on, both teams were forced into burning a sub window early for injured players. Allegri had to send Federico Gatti in for an ailing Sandro, while Di Francesco had to replace Lirola, who injured himself stretching to try to make a play in a move that was ultimately pulled back for offside, with Jaime Baez, who is usually an attacking player but had to deputize as an emergency wing-back.

Soule forced Szczesny into his first save in the 36th minute, firing at an extreme angle and forcing the keeper to parry. Juve had another real chance to double their lead end at Kostic’ boot just a few minutes before the break when he fired over from close range instead of looking for his usual cross.

Juve went into the half very much the better side despite their slender lead, but much like last week at the Marassi it didn’t take all that long for that to implode.

Once again, it was a failure of team defense that conceded the equalizer. Several mistakes snowballed into one big clustercuss. Kostic gave Baez far too much room to get a running start and get behind him on the left flank, while Bremer anticipated a run through the middle by Kaio Jorge that never came, playing the Urugayan very much onside. When Monterisi slipped a pass between Kostic and Danilo, all Szczesny could do was charge off his line and get big, but Baez put it neatly past him to tie the score.

Two minutes after the goal, Juve suffered another blow when Locatelli pulled up and had to come off the field in the company of the trainers. Allegri used the opportunity to make a triple change with his second window, sending on Vlahovic and Samuel Iling-Junior in along with Hans Nicolussi Caviglia.

Both teams sandwiched the hour mark with some really good scoring chances. Soule played a one-two off a short free kick and then tried to snooker one into the far post from outside the box, but the ball came curled around the stick. Vlahovic had his first moment quite quickly when Milik headed the ball to him just to the right of the penalty area. The attentions of Romagnoli may have just put him off, and his shot went right at the keeper, who responded with a kick save.

That was Juve’s last real chance for some time, and for an extended period of time in the middle of the second half it looked as though Frosinone was very much the more likely team to score a second goal than Juve. Substitute Abdou Harroui very nearly gave them the lead with a long-distance belter in the 72nd minute, but Szczesny, wearing a baseball cap to protect his eyes from the glare of the bright sunlight, flew up and tipped it just over the bar to keep the game tied.

Frosinone Calcio v Juventus - Serie A TIM Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Juve very nearly snatched the lead back two minutes later when McKennie latched on to the end of a ball by Rabiot and hit a powerful scissor kick volley that pinged off the crossbar into the air and behind. It was looking like one of those days where Juve would pay for their mistakes until the 81st minute, when they finally struck pay dirt.

McKennie this time turned provider, playing one-two on the wing with sub Timothy Weah, receiving the ball with an immense amount of room to measure up the cross. His ball was perfect, and Vlahovic rose higher than the rest, powering a header up into the top far corner of the net and reestablishing Juve’s advantage at 2-1.

The Serbian striker nearly doubled his tally in the dying moments of normal time, taking a pass from Iling-Junior in full stride and cooly finishing past Turati, but he was flagged offside not long after the ball went into the net, denying him a brace by about half the length of his torso.

There were no more fireworks, and Juve efficiently shut down the Frosinone attempts to find another equalizer until the final whistle.

LE PAGELLE

WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 8. There are no words to describe how important that save on Harroui was. Not only was it brilliant, it was likely decisive, as it would’ve been hard for Juve to muster a response to a second Frosinone goal. Absolutely immense.

DANILO - 6. Co-leader on the team with four clearances, added to a pair of tackles. Did well on both sides of the formation, although he was kinda left out to dry by Kostic’s failures on the goal by Baez.

BREMER - 6. Hard to only get a 6 when you record that many tackles in the match, but he only completed 85 percent of his passes and was a big part of the unit-wide mistake on the Frosinone goal when he dropped back in anticipation of a run from Kaio Jorge that never came, keeping Baez very, very onside.

ALEX SANDRO - NR. Had he reached the 30-minute cutoff I use for number grades for starting players, this would’ve been quite high, which is ironic considering the fact that a number of Juve fans were almost happy to see him leave the field injured. He had three tackles and a clearance in the 26 minutes he was on the field, pretty crazy numbers all. Still, when push comes to shove, is it that much of a problem if he’s unavailable?

ANDREA CAMBIASO - 6. Added a pair of key passes on the day to four clearances before being taken off for his own good. Carrying a first-half yellow card he very much risked the prospect of more with some persistent fouling before finally being removed. It’s a shame in the end that he gave Allegri no choice but to sub him out, and that he’ll be unavailable against Roma due to yellow card accumulation.

WESTON McKENNIE - 7. Continues to be a workhorse. Spent his time swapping positions with Cambiaso until the latter came off, and measured up an absolute peach of a cross to provide for the winner.

Frosinone Calcio v Juventus - Serie A TIM Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

MANUEL LOCATELLI - 5.5. Had three tackles and a clearance, and pinged a couple of nice long balls early, but ultimately completed only three-quarters of his passes. His availability for next week is a serious question.

ADRIEN RABIOT - 5. Much like the last time he sat out a game when he got a yellow card suspension, Rabiot looked a little bit off the pace after missing last week’s match. His pass completion stats were downright awful — only 67.6 percent — and he was a non-factor going forward for much of the afternoon.

FILIP KOSTIC - 5. Recorded a team-high three key passes, including the assist on Yildiz’s opener, but that number belied a messy day overall, the nadir of which being his sloppy defending of Baez before the goal. This has been a string of below average to bad performances, and right now he shouldn’t be an automatic starter.

KENAN YILDIZ - 7.5. What a phenomenal debut. His goal was obviously stunning, and he was really good at connecting the midfield with Milik and the rest of the attack. He even made two tackles. He didn’t look like a teenager amongst grown men, he looked like a guy that belongs at this level. His minutes count needs to jump significantly.

ARKADIUSZ MILIK - 6. Didn’t take a shot in the match, but had two key passes, was constantly getting others involved, and his press forced Turati into the mistake that led to the opening goal. Did a ton of the dirty work today.

SUBS

FEDERICO GATTI - 6. A fairly standard day for him, without a ton of counting stats but also without any mistakes.

HANS NICOLUSSI CAVIGLIA - 5.5. Garnered some praise from the match commentators, but I wasn’t quite as high on his performance, especially after repeated awful corner kick deliveries. He did finish with a pair of key passes on the day, but I was left wanting some more from him.

SAMUEL ILING-JUNIOR - 5. Had a really rough day going forward, although it would’ve been made a bit better had Vlahovic been onside for that late goal. Frankly, he looked rusty, which is on Allegri for barely playing him this year.

DUSAN VLAHOVIC - 6.5. Looked like another difficult day when he missed what was pretty much a sitter soon after coming on, but the header for his goal was excellent, and while he was flagged offside on the play right before stoppage time, the finish had the look of the Vlahovic of old. Hopefully this one gives him some long-term confidence, but he needs to keep it going. Next week against an injury-ravaged Roma defense is a big chance to do so.

Frosinone Calcio v Juventus - Serie A TIM Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

TIMOTHY WEAH - 5. Wasn’t involved in too many dangerous actions, although he did get the hockey assist on Vlahovic’s goal. He was probably on the field to protect Cambiaso from himself more than anything else.

***BONUS LOANEE RATINGS***

ENZO BARRENECHEA - 6.5. Excellent day as a holding midfielder. He completed 89.8 percent of his passes and racked up three tackles, four clearances, and an interception. He also completed all six of his long balls. The Juve midfield could probably use him next season.

MATIAS SOULE - 6. Frosinone’s attack ran through him, and he very nearly ruined Juve’s day with that shot that near miss just before the hour. His skill is obvious, and Juve need to keep him in the fold for next season and far beyond.

KAIO JORGE - 5.5. Didn’t see a whole ton of the ball, but he used his movement off the ball quite well, and the threat of a run pushed Bremer back before the Frosinone goal, creating a salient in the offside trap that Baez took full advantage of. He’s still a very intriguing player, but needs to pump up the numbers in the rest of the season.

MANAGER ANALYSIS

Allegri didn’t make any overt mistakes in this match, but when combined with last week’s result at Genoa it still illustrates the weakness in the way he coaches these days. The unsustainability of this “one goal and hold” philosophy is starting to be writ rather large. Even against a pair of newly promoted sides, a single mistake can be incredibly costly, and there still isn’t much of a plan when it comes to trying to recover if one of those mistakes is made. Juve looked listless for much of the second half, to the point that it very much felt that Frosinone were the more likely to score a second goal for much of the period.

That might have changed had Yildiz been able to stay on the field longer, but he started cramping up, which is why he came off as early as he did. But Allegri still needs to put more emphasis on finishing teams off earlier in games — and the young Turk might be the key.

Frosinone Calcio v Juventus FC - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Yildiz’s performance on Saturday might represent an inflection point in Allegri’s second tenure with the club. He represents a skill set that the team hasn’t had in a while. His ability to link the midfield and attack can paper over some of the deficiencies of this midfield, and provide a creative spark that has been deeply lacking. The question now is whether Allegri will treat Yildiz as an either/or player along with Chiesa, or if he takes the chance and plays Yildiz along with Chiesa and Vlahovic at the same time.

The current formation can easily be tweaked to accommodate such a lineup. A 3-4-1-2 is the most likely way it could work, at least this season. Having the three of them on the field together could well make the attack a lot more flexible and efficient. Yildiz’s abilities as a trequartista/seconda punta can effectively connect the midfield and the attack, while allowing Chiesa to range out wide, which is instinctual for him but not necessarily something that makes a front two work. I can see a lot of Serie A defenses urinating in their shorts having to deal with the three of them together in full flight. The double pivot in that formation would be a benefit as well, as it would help to cover the club’s lack of depth in midfield following the suspensions of Paul Pogba and Nicolo Fagioli.

The old Max, the Max that brought Juve to two Champions League finals and pulled the Five Star lineup out of the ether in the 2016-17 season, would probably have concocted such a scheme. What happens now will tell us a lot about whether that Max is still there, buried and waiting to judge that he has the players to do something more than just defend and counter, or if this Max is just what Allegri is nowadays — the shell of the coach that led the club to Cardiff.

LOOKING AHEAD

Saturday is the last game of the 2023 calendar year as Juve welcome Roma to the Allianz. Then the new year begins with back-to-back matches against Salernitana, first in the Coppa Italia and then in Serie A.