As the seconds ticked off the clock Wednesday night in the second leg of the Coppa Italia semifinal matchup between Juventus and Inter Milan, the camera crew focused on Federico Dimarco in the Inter bench. Dimarco, the man responsible for scoring Inter’s goal on the night, had his back to the field, too nervous to watch the closing moments.
My guess is he was nervous because of the thought of Juventus scoring a game-tying goal at the death and forcing extra time. That being said, I wished I had Dimarco’s trust in Juventus’ attack because from where I was sitting — they could have given the Bianconeri 90 more minutes and they wouldn’t have even seriously threatened to score.
The final scoreline of 1-0 that gave Inter the ticket to the Coppa Italia final on a 2-1 aggregate wasn’t as bad as it looked on paper, but the performance that we witnessed at the San Siro probably ranks as one of the worst we’ve seen this season from a Juventus team that is a formality away from once again finishing the domestic season without any trophies.
LVP: Manuel Locatelli
I gravitated between giving the nod to either Locatelli or Filip Kostic, with the both of them being equally horrendous. In the end, I leaned towards Locatelli just because he played more and his failure is a bit more central to the end result.
Locatelli has grown a lot in that deep-lying central midfield position from when the season started and at times has looked legitimately impressive. However, Wednesday’s game showed that he is far from being a guy that can pull the strings from the middle of the pitch like an Andrea Pirlo or Miralem Pjanic used to do.
In Locatelli’s defense, he was hanged out to dry by a catastrophic starting setup — more about that in a second — that pretty much left him alone to bear the brunt and almost sole responsibility of managing Inter’s pressure. However, the fact that he failed pretty much at every turn to do that speaks to how much he still has to grow in the position before he can be a difference maker in games like these.
The Max Allegri Difference
A common issue that Juventus has had — and that we have talked at length in this space — is the lack of squad cohesion to play a formation that has no clear liabilities. When you prioritize defense, the attack suffers and, when you try to be more aggressive, you are more fragile at the back or are liable to get overrun in midfield.
It was a question with a bunch of bad answers but at least one phase of the game was working. The formation that was rolled out Wednesday, however, managed to somehow be bad at everything.
Juventus was weak defensively, couldn’t hold the ball in midfield to save their lives and the attack was as toothless as we have seen this season. And while injuries played some part in it, the person who has to be held most accountable for the complete meltdown that was Juventus in this game is Max Allegri.
The most charitable read of what he was trying to do was to maybe sit back and defend — shocker! — and try to hit Inter with counterattacks led by speedy guys like Kostic, Federico Chiesa and Angel Di Maria. Perhaps it was this logic that ended up with Allegri starting a completely out-of-rhythm Leo Bonucci in the middle of the defense to help with long balls to the aforementioned trio.
Whatever the logic, the experiment did not work.
A lack of target man upfront led to Kostic being pretty much useless, and while Bonucci wasn’t too bad in his return to the lineup, the defensive line was shaky all game long. Juventus was bowled over in the first half, and while the second was a slight improvement it was far too little and too late to rescue anything out of the tie.
I’ve defended Max Allegri more than most. I don’t think that playing defensively is the crime against humanity that many people think it is. But even the most ardent Allegri supporter has to admit that the only reason that his “pragmatic” approach can be defended is on a results basis. Who cares if you are playing ugly, but if you’re lifting a bunch of trophies ...
Well, with this loss, Juve has officially kissed another trophy goodbye, and the performances on the pitch are still lacking. I’ve said before that Allegri’s job was — or should, at least — be safe if he could bring home the Coppa Italia and the Europa League.
The former is gone and Juventus have to face off against Europa League masters Sevilla to keep the hopes alive for the latter. Juve coaches have been fired for a lot less than two trophy-less years in a row. If Allegri is not going to play good football and he is not going to win trophies, what is he good for?
Parting Shot of the Week
I alluded to it at the beginning of the piece, but the worst part of the game was that at no point I felt that Juventus had any shot at getting back in the game.
Sure, they had no fully fit strikers and, sure, Andre Onana had a couple of decent saves, but there really was no indication that they could overturn a result after they allowed the initial goal ten minutes or so in to the match.
This team has a lot of issues — the squad, the manager, the players, the board, you name it. Two years in a row of domestic failure has to be a wake up call. I don’t know what is going to happen, but every change should be on the table for Juventus this summer.
See you next week.