It’s been such a long time since Juventus has had a game that was defined by a multitude of missed chances that I had almost forgotten how it felt.
It’s a frustration distinctly different to what we’ve seen from Juve most of the season, when they play so poorly that they barely create chances to miss. But on Sunday against Bologna, they turned the script around. There were at least three golden opportunities that Juve players simply missed — including one of the worst-taken penalties in the history of mankind. Another few died at the hands (and feet) of Łukasz Skorupski, who turned in a couple of stellar saves.
Bologna had some chances of their own that they missed. Their only goal came from the spot, but Wojciech Szczesny had to made a couple of great saves of his own, and they had their own gilt-edged opportunity for a late winner than went begging. But Juve had far more regrets by the final whistle, as in the end the 1-1 draw should probably have been a victory, one that could have given them some nice separation from the chasing pack in the race for the top four in Serie A. Instead, it’s more points dropped and an extension of their winless streak to five games in all competitions and four straight in league games.
Massimiliano Allegri had some injuries to deal with on the front line. Dusan Vlahovic was only fit for the bench, while Moise Kean and Angel Di Maria missed the game with injuries. Allegri surprised by starting start things off out of a 4-3-3. Szczesny was screened by Juan Cuadrado, Federico Gatti, Danilo, and Alex Sandro. Nicolo Fagioli returned to the starting lineup and joined Manuel Locatelli, and Adrien Rabiot in midfield. Federico Chiesa was given a start on the right wing, with Arkadiuz Milik and Filip Kostic completing the trident.
Thiago Motta responded with a 4-3-3 of his own, albeit one that was missing three of its top attacking players in Marko Arnautovic, Roberto Soriano, and Nicola Sansone. Skorupski was given the start behind Stefan Posch, Jhon Lucumí, Adama Soumaoro, and Giorgios Kyriakopoulos. Nicolás Dominguez, Nikola Moro, and Jerdy Schouten manned the midfield, while Riccardo Orsolini, Musa Barrow, and Lewis Ferguson.
The teams spent the first five or six minutes feeling each other out before the first big break in the match went the way of the hosts. It all revolved around the former Juve prospect Orsolini, whose effort to win a bouncing ball against Sandro may or may not have included a push in the Brazilian’s back. He then glided toward the box before trying to jink toward the byline. As he did, Danilo put a leg out and caught the winger lightly on the knee. Lightly, but enough to bring him down.
Initially, referee Simone Sozza made no call, but play held up as a relatively lengthy VAR review took place. Eventually Sozza made the VAR hand signal and pointed to the penalty spot. Juve’s players were puzzled at the fact that Sozza had not gone to the monitor to look, having apparently not been told what both managers had known from the beginning of the game that the on-field monitor was not functional. That gave Sozza the option of allowing VAR official Paolo Mazzoleni final say — which he ultimately did for the call, and, in the end, was probably correct. Orsolini stepped up and, with the aid of a slight hesitation, slammed the shot home to his right with Szczesny breaking ever so slightly early the other way.
Curiously, Allegri’s response to going down a goal was to drop the 4-3-3, which had been the far better of his offensive options in recent weeks, and reverting to a 3-5-2. That meant playing Chiesa in a less favorable position in the strike pair. That didn’t stop him from being the first Juve player to register a shot in the 18th minute, latching on to a nice layoff by Kostic only to see his shot blocked. Moments later Orsolini brought Cuadrado down just outside the box, but Milik’s free kick went into the wall and Kostic ripped the second opportunity well over the bar.
The Polish striker got his first shot on target in the 25th minute, catching a Kostic cross on the volley but firing it right at Skorupski. Two minutes later came Juve’s best chance to date when Fagioli played a neat one-two with Chiesa, who laid the ball perfectly to the midfielder in the channel. His shot was met with a remarkable save by Skorupski. The rebound rolled right back to Fagioli at the edge of the 6-yard box, but his follow-up was repelled by an even more outrageous kick save, leaving everyone in black and white astonished that the score wasn’t level.
A few minutes later, it looked like they would finally make their pressure pay when Lucumí brought Milik down along the right side of the box. Sozza initially called the foul a free kick just outside the area, but Mazzoleni quickly buzzed down to inform him that the contact had come on top of the line, and the call was modified to a penalty. Milik stood up to take the kick. It’s impossible to figure out what exactly what was going through his mind — perhaps he was trying to show his international teammate Skorupski a look he hadn’t seen before in training — but whatever it was involved a short circuit. Orsolini had had a slight hesitation in his run-up, but Milik took that to an extreme, practically executing an Arabesque on his way to the ball. Unfortunately that ... technique, shall we call it? ... meant that he’d need Skorupski to go the wrong way, and his countryman most certainly did not, making perhaps the easiest penalty save of his career.
Juve continued to misfire in front of goal. Just before the end of the half Chiesa slipped Locatelli into a great position in the left channel, but the midfielder’s square pass went behind Milik. Bologna hadn’t managed much of a threat out of open play through the half, but in the four minutes of stoppage time Barrow managed to get clean behind the defense twice, forcing excellent saves out of Szczesny.
There was a sense that Bologna had been deeply lucky to get into the half ahead 1-0. That flipped on its head to start the second period, when Bologna came out of the half buoyed by their lead and had the better part of play for the first 10 minutes or so, forcing a pair of long-distance saves from Szczesny and seeing Orsolini hit the side netting trying to stuff a tightly angled free kick into the near post. Seeing the need for a change, Allegri made two of them, sending on Matìas Soulé and Samuel Iling-Junior.
The move paid off in three minutes, with one of the subs playing a major role. Iling-Junior was the principal, taking a pass from Locatelli, cutting inside — putting Posch on the ground in the process — and trying to play a one-two with Chiesa. The Austrian right-back recovered to intercept the return pass, but his anemic clearance only went as far as Milik, who swept the ball across Skorupski and in with his first touch.
Three minutes later, Juve really should’ve taken the lead when Soulé slipped the ball to Iling-Junior in the middle of the box. The teenager did all of hard work, making a quick move to clear a shooting lane, but he was overeager to get it away and ended up leaning back, skying the ball into the stands.
After that miss, Juve’s mental energy seemed to drop from the strain of finding the equalizer, and Bologna started pushing Juve into their half with some long periods of possession. Posch came very close to re-establishing the lead in the 66th minute when he met a good cross from Moro at the back post, but he put it just over. Eight minutes later, Orsolini’s acrobatic scissor kick redirected a Barrow cross toward the back post, where a desperate touch by Szczesny kept the ball away from substitute Joshua Zirkzee. A minute later, Zirkzee forced a diving parry out of the keeper.
Bologna kept the momentum, and should have regained their lead in the 84th minute when a fumble in the box by Gatti gifted the ball to Michael Aebischer, but he somehow missed a gaping net as he lifted the ball over a scrambling Szczesny. A minute later Juve missed their own open goal when Skorupski got himself caught in no man’s land and punched a cross right to Soulé, who rushed himself and skewed his shot wide by about a mile.
One last attempt by Bologna came in stoppage time, when Juve loanee Andrea Cambiaso tried to surprise Szczesny at the near post, but an easy kick save snuffed out the shot. Sozza’s final whistle sounded a few minutes later, ending the game and leaving Juve the bitter taste of a game they could — perhaps should — have won.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 7. Made a couple of really excellent saves in first half stoppage time. It’s not a stretch to say those may have saved this result. Remained secure throughout the second half.
JUAN CUADRADO - 6. Led the team in dribbles but still couldn’t create the kind of problems for the defense that he could even 18 months ago. His big value here was defense though, notching a game-high five interceptions, three tackles, and blocking a shot.
DANILO - 5.5. Got back into the swing of things after giving away the penalty, but that was a big mistake. A rare performance that was anything less than rock solid.
FEDERICO GATTI - 6. This would’ve been a lot lower had that late-game fumble to Aebischer been more costly, but as things are defended competently throughout, blocking a pair of shots.
ALEX SANDRO - 6. A nondescript but ultimately inoffensive performance. His lack of offensive production is less of an issue after Allegri switched him into a back three.
NICOLO FAGIOLI - 6. Did absolutely nothing wrong on that double save on Skorupski, and played pretty well overall. I was surprised he was taken off when he was.
MANUEL LOCATELLI - 5. Had a key pass but didn’t do much else going forward and wasn’t his usual defensive energy wasn’t really there either. Didn’t complete as many of his passes as he needed.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 5. Led the team with three clearances, but got hasty when he got close to the goal and his shots never made it past the man defending him. A pedestrian outing by the standards he’s set this year.
FEDERICO CHIESA - 5.5. Made a pair of key passes but was largely neutered as an offensive force when he was moved from the wing to the inside. It would’ve been really nice to see him playing on the wing like he’d started.
ARKADIUSZ MILIK- 6. That was the worst penalty ever. Of all time. At the same time, the goal he finally did score was one hell of a strike, so I guess it ends up a wash. Overall, three of his four shots on target overall, and also had a key pass.
FILIP KOSTIC - 5.5. Made two key passes but wasn’t the kind of supply line that he’s been at his height this season. I think he’s starting to get ground down a bit.
MATÍAS SOULÉ - 5.5. Picked up a key pass early on in his shift, but that late miss was awful. Experience will slow that play down for him.
SAMUEL ILING-JUNIOR - 5.5. Credited with a pair of dribbles and was a major part of the move that led to Juve’s goal, but he also badly missed a potential go-ahead goal. Like Soule, some experience can temper that, but he’s showing that he should be getting some more minutes at the expense of a slowing Kostic.
FABIO MIRETTI - 5. Only completed six of eight passes and didn’t make much impact at all.
DUSAN VLAHOVIC - NR. His only pass set up a shot, but he only touched the ball three times in six minutes plus stoppages.
LEANDRO PAREDES - NR. A booking within five minutes of coming on was the only thing of note he was involved in. Why is he still getting minutes?
For once this season, one can say that Juve’s shortcomings were much more on the field than tactical. If Juve had finished their chances, they would have won this game, possibly going away.
There are still some areas of concern though, chief among them the almost knee-jerk switch from the 4-3-3 he started in to a 3-5-2 once Bologna scored. The 4-3-3 formation has tended to be his most effective in terms of seeking out goal-scoring opportunities in recent weeks, so to see him ditch it when a goal was needed was strange.
More importantly, it once again moved Chiesa out of his natural position on the wing and into a central role that saps him of his best qualities. That showed in a relatively pedestrian performance, and rumors that he is one of many players that is becoming dissatisfied with how he is being used should be worrying the front office.
We’re starting to see a lot of smoke about important players chafing under Allegri’s tactical plan — or, more to the point, lack thereof. If that’s the case, then Allegri has committed the cardinal sin of coaching: he has lost the locker room. And for a team already trying to retool, having a slew of disgruntled players potentially seeking an exit would be a deep setback.
It’s easier to fire a manager than to replace multiple players. If the news proves true, the course is simple. Much like Maurizio Sarri when the locker room turned on him, Allegri must be replaced.
The midweek fixtures continue (joy!) with a Wednesday tilt at home against Lecce. Then it’s a road trip to Bergamo for the Sunday lunchtime kickoff to face Atalanta in a game that will have major top-four implications, then after that the first leg of the Europa League semifinals against Sevilla.