Think of all of the disaster movies you’ve ever seen.
Even the crappiest one is an apt parallel for what Juventus did at the San Siro in the second leg of the Coppa Italia semifinal against Inter.
Juventus came into a knockout game with the aggregate tied and looked like they were playing a preseason friendly. All aspects of the team sucked. The technique sucked. The mentality sucked. The tactics REALLY sucked. It all amalgamated into a giant maelstrom of suck that Inter gladly took advantage of.
One moment of brilliance from Nicolo Barella to set up an early opener was all they needed. Inter could — perhaps should — have had more, but the way Juventus played Wednesday night they were never going to need it. By the end of the game the Bianconeri were still practically walking as they searched (if that’s the right word for it) for the goal they so desperately needed to stay in the tie. The 1-0 victory pushed the home side through 2-1 on aggregate, the first time Inter had ever eliminated Juve from the Coppa in the semifinal stage.
Massimiliano Allegri was hampered in his selection options up front. Moise Kean has been out for the majority of the month with a muscle injury. Dusan Vlahovic suffered an ankle injury in training on the eve of the game and was in street clothes. Juan Cuadrado was suspended after being sent off after the final whistle of the first leg. And Arkadiusz Milik was, apparently, only fit for the bench, either due to injury or fatigue. Factor in the fact that Allegri did not deign to call up anyone from the youth sector to serve as a body, and that left Allegri without any true strikers available for the starting XI. He went with a highly non-conventional approach, starting in a 3-5-2-ish setup. Mattia Perin took up his usual place in the Coppa. Leonardo Bonucci was given a surprise start alongside Bremer and Alex Sandro. Mattia De Sciglio and Filip Kostic played on the wings, with Fabio Miretti, Manuel Locatelli, and Adrien Rabiot playing in midfield. Angel Di Maria and Federico Chiesa played up front, with the latter playing most like a prima punta.
Simone Inzaghi was only missing Samir Handanovic, who was suspended for his part in the kerfuffle with Cuadrado in the first leg. Romelu Lukaku was initially suspended for the game as well, but the suspension was annulled by the FIGC due to the circumstances surrounding his second yellow card, specifically the racist insults he was responding to in the moment. The Belgian stayed on the bench to start, as his teammates arrived in Inzaghi’s ever-present 3-5-2. Andre Onana started in goal, screened by Matteo Darmian, Francesco Acerbi, and Alessandro Bastoni. Denzel Dumfries and Federico Dimarco manned the wings, bracketing the midfield of Barella, Hakan Calhanoglu, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Lautaro Martinez and Edin Dzeko were the strike pair.
From the start, Allegri’s tactical decisions were clearly causing problems. Without a reference point up front to win balls in the air, Juve were forced to try to play their way out of their own half on the deck. That played right into Inzaghi’s hands, and Inter’s press sealed Juve deeply in their own half for the first 15 minutes of the game. Within three minutes, Inter really should have taken the lead when Barella whipped in a perfect cross that flew millimeters in front of Martinez before being bundled wide by Dzeko. The whole sequence came about when Perin’s attempt to clear the ball upfield with his weaker foot was simply chested down by Acerbi and hustled back toward goal.
The inevitable happened right on the quarter-hour.
The move started on the left, where Dimarco passed the ball inside and then bolted forward on a diagonal run. That run was tracked at first by De Sciglio, but as the wing-back moved further inside De Sciglio pulled up to keep the flank, assuming that Bremer would pick up the run. Except he didn’t. Dimarco had clear space to not only run behind the defense but to check his run to get back onside, all without the Brazilian so much as looking at him. When he finally realized that Dimarco was open in front of him, Barella had already unleashed an excellent through ball that met his teammate at the penalty spot.
Perin’s only possible chance was to guess which way the Inter man would go, but he came up empty as he slotted it to the left of him and into the goal.
Juve finally got their first real spell of possession as play resumed, but all that did was expose how bad Allegri’s choices were for the attacking side as well. There were no players on the team that could attack crosses in the air — which was unfortunate considering the fact that crosses were suddenly the order of the day going forward. At the very least, a couple of those were cleared behind for corners, but none of those deliveries posed much of a threat either. Meanwhile, the Inter press was still flummoxing Juve, and in the 21st minute, the efforts of Barella again created a chance, this time pressing Locatelli off the ball and teeing up Martinez, whose effort from 20 yards skittered just wide.
Juve’s best chance of the half — and perhaps the game — came in the 26th minute, when Sandro hit a cross that found, of all people, De Sciglio, in perfect position for a free header, but he pushed it wide. Another chance came from an unusual vector eight minutes later, when Kostic, running out of options as the defense closed in, took a whack at a shot with his seldom-used right foot. The shot was surprisingly strong, forcing Onana to dive to parry the ball behind.
But that was everything Juve could muster in the first half of play. Martinez forced a save out of Perin with seven minutes left in the half, and as the players headed for the locker rooms it was so incredibly clear that Allegri had gotten things wrong that a change in tactics were almost a foregone conclusion.
Milik did indeed appear at the break, replacing Kostic and changing the formation to a 4-3-3. In the first few minutes of the second half, Juve looked like they might come alive and make a game of things. Miretti took a pass from De Sciglio, cut inside, and fired a left footed shot well over, then Locatelli did well to win the ball on the press, then received a return ball from Rabiot and tested Onana from range, although the save was ultimately fairly easy for the Cameroonian.
But that shot, five minutes into the period, was pretty much Juve’s high water mark. The rest of the game involved Juve ineffectually flailing in an attempt to get the ball into a threatening position while Inter looked for the opportunity to kill the tie off. The ball was indeed in the net in the 52nd minute after Dzeko burned Bremer in the box and hit a gorgeous cross-goal shot from a tight angle that bounced in off the base of the post, but the Bosnian had been a step offside when Dimarco fed him with a long through ball, and the flag went up late.
Martinez had a few chances to seal things, first just after the hour when Mkhitaryan was given acres of space to run through and find him, but Perin comfortably held his near-post effort. Six minutes later, Dumfries flew forward off a turnover and let loose a fantastic low cross that passed an inch or two in front of the sliding Argentine.
But the biggest chance for the hosts came in the 73rd minute, when a direct free kick by Dimarco bounced off the wall perfectly for Mkhitaryan, who was somehow denied point-blank by a flying one-handed save from Perin.
Juve only had two other moments in the entire match that even looked like bringing the tie back to level terms. The first came in the 77th minute when Di Maria cut in for a shot, but hit the ball right at Onana. The second came two minutes from time, when Milik tried to put the ball through for a run from Chiesa. The pass took a deflection but landed in an enticing spot for Chiesa to run on to, but Onana jumped off his line and just beat him to it.
Four minutes of stoppage time produced nothing close to a threat, and referee Daniele Doveri mercifully put an end to an abjectly awful night and put Juventus’ 2022-23 Coppa Italia campaign to bed.
MATTIA PERIN - 7. One of the few players that earned his shirt Wednesday night. That save on Mkhitaryan was otherworldly, and he carried out all the rest of his duties superbly. What a luxury having him on the team is.
BREMER - 4. Whoo, boy. Was whatever bothered him in the Sporting game still nagging at him? Because apart from his complete brain fart on the goal, he was burned for pace on consecutive plays by Dzeko and Martinez. One of his worst games since his move to Juventus, and hopefully a one-off.
LEONARDO BONUCCI - 6. There was much consternation when it was revealed he was in the starting lineup, but he was the least of Juve’s problems and actually made some pretty good plays defensively, including three interceptions. I’d be very interested to know what he was raving about when he was removed.
ALEX SANDRO - 6.5. Actually a really good day for Sandro. He won five of six ground duels and one of two aerials, plus added two interceptions and had an exceedingly rare key pass on the offensive end, which might’ve led to Juve’s best opportunity.
MATTIA DE SCIGLIO - 5.5. Worked hard, but he just isn’t an offensive threat, and that saw Inter focus on Di Maria whenever the two were trying to interchange on the wing. Ironically he had the team’s best chance, plus a key pass to boot, and few of Inter’s most dangerous moves originated from his zones.
FABIO MIRETTI - 5. Another player who ran hard but without particular success. He did have a key pass but was a little overwhelmed defensively. He was perhaps on the field a little too long.
MANUEL LOCATELLI - 5. Overwhelmed by Inter’s press in the first half, as evidenced by Barella and Martinez harrying him off the ball in front of his own box in the first half. Tried to push forward as the game went on but wasn’t able to pull the strings there too. Pulled likely to mitigate his yellow card.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 5.5. Led the team with four tackles and won six of seven duels and made a pair of key passes, but wasn’t able to break break the lines as the clock ticks on.
FILIP KOSTIC - 5. Hit the target with that one shot from kinda out of nowhere, but apart from that had a rough night and was hauled off at the half. It kinda felt like his skill set was redundant given there was no one to cross to.
ANGEL DI MARIA - 5. Often had to drop deep to even touch the ball. His single shot on goal was very much a tame one, and his skill set was grossly wasted without a striker to set up or even play off.
FEDERICO CHIESA - 5. Talk about wasted skill sets. Allegri tried this already last year and knew it didn’t work, but he went and did it anyway in a knockout game. Chiesa only had nine touches in the first half and only attempted two dribbles because he barely got the ball in position to run with it the way he does best. His move out wide after the half made things better, but by that point the damage was already done. Still, as with Di Maria, his struggles were very much down to coaching as much as his own play.
ARKADIUSZ MILIK - 4.5. Didn’t manage a shot and couldn’t effectively change the threat dynamic for Juve. He lost two thirds of his total duels and often failed to hold the ball up.
LEANDRO PAREDES - 4. Completed 24 of 25 passes, but none of those were anything like creative enough to break Inter down. He’s never been incisive enough in his time in Turin.
DANILO - 6. Made two tackles and blocked a shot in 22 minutes on the pitch, but why did he go in as a like-for-like swap with Bonucci while the team was chasing the tie? That made no sense to me.
PAUL POGBA - NR. Gave the ball away more times than not and at one point rather pathetically threw himself to the ground when it became clear he wasn’t going to beat his man. He needs to prove he can be a difference maker going forward.
This was a colossal mess from the beginning.
Let’s start with the starting lineup, which was tailor-made to play right into Inzaghi’s hands. Without a reference point up front, there was no way to get long balls forward and keep them there. Instead, the team was forced to play the ball on the ground and through the teeth of the Inter press. That went about as well as you’d expect, as the first 15 minutes emphatically showed. Things didn’t get better on the other end, where Di Maria and especially Chiesa were robbed of their best attributes by being forced into the center, and there was no one to realistically aim a cross at in open play—which must have been especially frustrating for Kostic, who was trying his usual crosses with no targets whatsoever to aim at. Ironically, Juve attempted far more crosses before Milik was introduced than after he came on.
One of the coach’s biggest jobs is to try to deny their opponents their best attributes while enhancing those in his own players. While the striker position was devastated by injuries and fatigue, there’s a whole youth system where he could have picked up a body for the game at the position. Cosimo Da Graca has played on the first team before, albeit briefly. Hell, bring up Kenan Yidliz from the Next Gen squad even though he has only been there a few short weeks. Do something that isn’t trying to shoehorn Federico Chiesa into a position that you already know from last year — before his injury, mind you — robs him of his best qualities. Allegri has, uncharacteristically, given young players major minutes in big games, so why not now, especially if you don’t think Milik can go from the start? It was a shortsighted move that put the team on the back foot immediately.
Allegri made changes at the half, but the damage was done, and you could see it in the players. Having been set up to fail in the first half, it was impossible for them to rally. Setting the mentality is also the coach’s job — indeed, one of the reasons Allegri was brought in at the expense of Andrea Pirlo, despite the late-season progress and pair of trophies Pirlo’s team produced, was to reproduce the Juve mentality that Pirlo had supposedly failed to engender. But looking at this team, playing with zero sense of urgency deep into a knockout game they were behind in, is indicative of a complete failure in that respect too.
Simply put, Max Allegri, for all his accomplishments in his first spell with the team, no longer knows how to win at the level Juventus wants to punch at. He consistently fails to maximize the talents of his own players and he has failed to instill a fighting mentality in them. And he’s seemingly in denial of the entire thing: during his post-match press conference he actually said that Juventus had played well for 60 minutes, which left me desperately wondering which 60 minutes he was talking about.
The expense of firing Allegri is prohibitive. The team has to eat it anyway. There is no moving forward with him on the bench.
Juve head to Bologna on Sunday to play a feisty team that Thiago Motta has playing very, very well. It will be a difficult game to say the least. After that, a midweek league match against Lecce at home, then a huge match against Atalanta in Bergamo on a weekend that will be hugely consequential for the European races, as all eight of the top teams play each other. Then comes the first leg of the Europa League semifinal against Sevilla