After their impressive season-opening win against Udinese, Juventus came into their home opener against Bologna on a high. The question now was whether or not they could build on that victory and make an early season statement that the Bianconeri were going to have a say in how the season would go.
The answer to that, at least in the short term, was a resounding no.
Lots of Juve’s old problems crept up out of the floorboards against the Rossoblu. The midfield’s passing was absolutely abysmal, constantly giving the ball away and ruining what successes the new-look press produced as quickly as they arrived. Even after Juve upped their level a little in the second half, they looked to have very little idea of how to break down Bologna’s defense, with passes often forced laterally as opposed to the verticality that produced such fine results in Udine. The defense frequently allowed runners in behind, causing havoc and giving Bologna some of their most dangerous chances.
In the end, Juve ended up stealing out of their own stadium with a 1-1 draw after trailing for much of the game and equalizing late. But the game produced more questions than it answered, and now leaves next week’s game against Empoli to determine what the team’s form will be going into the season’s first international break.
Massimiliano Allegri made two changes from the team that went out in Udine, one forced and one by choice. Wojciech Szczesny was out of the team after suffering a minor injury in training, and he joined Mattia De Sciglio as the only injury exclusions, along with Kaio Jorge, who remained off the call-up sheet as a late-window loan develops for him. Mattia Perin stood in for Szczesny behind a 3-5-2 formation. Danilo, Bremer, and Alex Sandro once again manned the defensive line, with Timothy Weah and Andrea Cambiaso playing as the wing-backs. Nicolo Fagioli made his first start since breaking his collarbone in Seville in May, joining Manuel Locatelli and Adrien Rabiot in midfield. Federico Chiesa and Dusan Vlahovic were paired up top.
Bologna’s Thiago Motta had a stellar first season in charge after replacing the late Sinisa Mihajlovic last year, but had started the year with a thud against AC Milan and was looking to rebound. He employed his usual 4-2-3-1 setup, with Lukasz Skorupski at its base. Stefan Posch, Jhon Lukumi, Sam Beukema, and Charalampos Lykogiannis were arrayed in front of him. Nikola Moro and Michel Aebischer formed the double pivot behind the supporting line of Riccardo Orsolini, Lewis Ferguson, and Dan Ndoye. Joshua Zirkzee tipped the spear as the first man to attempt to replace the departed Marko Arnautovic at the striker position.
The new press was on full display for the home fans in the early going, but it was missing a little something from what it had shown at the Dacia Arena. Both forwards pressed hard in the early going, but the midfield had dropped a little further back, leaving some gaps and giving Chiesa and Vlahovic less support. It caused a few turnovers in the early going, but Juve weren’t able to get the ball quickly upfield and turn those turnovers into scoring chances.
Indeed, it was Bologna who took the game’s first shot when Moro fired a ball along the rain-slicked turf that skittered wide of the target. The cracks were starting to show as Juve’s passing in midfield became progressively more sloppy and Bolgona started to get balls through the defense as a result. In the 22nd minute it took an excellent overhead kick from Bremer to keep the ball away from a streaking Ferguson, although Bologna recycled the ball and forced a save out of Perin when Ndoye went for goal from a tight angle.
It was two minutes later that the script was fully and truly flipped. The opening goal can be laid completely at the feet of Sandro. As Ferguson sent an entry pass to Zirkzee, Sandro decided to charge at the Dutch striker despite the fact that he was being marked by Bremer. Ferguson was then gifted a completely free run into the box, while Sandro’s lunge for the ball took out his teammate rather than doing anything to impede his opponent. Zirkzee still had to put the ball through a pretty tight window, but once he did it left Perin completely stranded, and the Scot duly slid the ball past him and into the goal to open the scoring.
Five minutes later, Ferguson had an opportunity to do it again when an awful touch by Fagioli triggered a short field counter that saw the Bologna midfielder pull his shot just wide. By this point it was the visitors who were doing the pressing, while Juve were finding it difficult to keep the ball for more than one or two touches at a time. The script could have flipped in the 38th minute when a cross from Weah struck a sliding Lucumi in the arm and was deflected behind. In seasons past, that would’ve been an immediate penalty, but the center-back was reprieved by a new point of emphasis in the ever-changing handball rule, which stipulates that if a player is actively breaking his fall with his arm he is not committing a foul if the ball hits it.
But the problem was that penalty shout was about as close to scoring as Juve came all half. The only shot the team put on target came when Fagioli put a free kick high up the wing on frame in the 42nd minute. As the teams headed into the locker room for the break the crowd, justifiably feeling like they’d been sold a bill of goods about this team the week before, booed them into the tunnel.
The message was sent, and Juve came out of the tunnel looking a good deal better. Chiesa began playing farther out wide, while Cambiaso cut inside him. Danilo and Weah had a similar relationship on the other side, while it looked as though Fagioli and Rabiot had swapped places in the midfield.
Juve immediately pinned their opponents back and in just seven minutes they thought they had the equalizer when Danilo’s lofted ball over the top was headed down by Bremer to Vlahovic, whose volley went through Skorupski’s hand and trickled into the net. The celebrations were loud—and short-lived. Referee Marco Di Bello was called to the VAR monitor and determined that Rabiot had interfered with Skorupski from an offside position. It was an incredibly tight call all the way around. Rabiot was clearly trying to get out of the way of the play, he was only offside by a few centimeters, and the keeper had actually gotten his hand on the ball. But Di Bello came back onto the field with his arm raised, giving Bologna a much-needed reprieve.
Juve responded to the disallowed goal and for a while put Bologna solidly under siege. Skorupski was called into his biggest action of the night three minutes after the disallowed goal when a short corner went around the box to Weah, who loaded up from distance and launched a rocket that a flying Skorupski parried with one hand. Two minutes later, a cross from the American went through the box to a waiting Fagioli, who had an opening as the keeper scrambled across but only managed to hit the side netting.
Allegri waited until the 66th minute to make his first changes of the game, sending on Samuel Iling-Junior for Cambiaso and Paul Pogba for Fagioli. The Frenchman’s introduction didn’t produce the immediate effect that had been hoped for, and like the man he’d just replaced he showed the signs of a player with a lot of rust on him. In the 71st minute he tried to square a ball to Weah just above the Bologna box but left it well short. Bologna accepted the gift and swiftly moved the ball upfield, eventually fitting in up the left channel for Zirkzee. The striker’s shot was parried by Perin but only into the middle of his 6-yard box, where Ndoye charged after it. Iling rushed to intercept the Swiss winger and almost managed it, but collided with him as he went for the ball. Di Bello waved play on as Ndoye sat incredulously on the grass looking for a penalty. VAR official Francesco Forneau likewise viewed the challenge as a legal shoulder-to-shoulder tackle and did not buzz down for a review. The Bologna sideline were beside themselves, and Di Bello showed a red card to one of Bologna’s assistant coaches and a yellow to Motta himself,
It took another 10 minutes before Juve’s efforts finally got them on the scoreboard. It was Pogba who started the move, getting out of traffic and nutmegging Posch, who had made the same mistake Sandro had in the first half, getting sucked into the ball and allowing Iling a free run down the left side. The young Englishman had all kinds of time and space to measure up a cross to Vlahovic, who had made an excellent run into the box and gotten between Lucumi and Tommaso Corazza at the penalty spot. His powerful header skipped once as it passed a flailing Skorupski, finally tying the game.
Allegri looked for a minute like he was going to go all-out for the victory when he put in Kenan Yildiz for Locatelli as part of a double change, but the team felt like it had spent its emotional capital on getting level. At one point Vlahovic was visibly frustrated when he realized that no one was supporting him on the press. Neither keeper was tested for the rest of the half, although Ndoye had a shot blocked a fraction wide of the far post just as the clock ticked into stoppage time.
When Di Bello finally blew his whistle to confirm a share of the spoils, Juventus headed to the locker room a far more questionable team than they had been seven days before.
MATTIA PERIN - 6.5. Had very little to do but was let down by a huge mistake at the back for the Bologna goal. Otherwise performed his duties as he had to.
DANILO - 6. Did his defensive duties well and was often seen moving up the field as Juve chased the game. Completed 91 percent of his passes and led by example on the pitch.
BREMER - 6. Made two tackles and two interceptions, including one really good one in the first half that saw him use an overhead kick to deny Ferguson a run on goal. It’s a good thing he was able to get back up after being wiped out by his own teammate on the goal run, but other than that was adequate.
ALEX SANDRO - 4.5. If you only looked at the stat sites, you’d be forgiven for thinking Sandro had a decent game, as he paced the team in all defensive categories and even had a pair of key passes. But what was going through his mind when Bologna scored is an absolute mystery. It’s lucky he didn’t hurt Bremer, but he certainly hurt the team.
TIMOTHY WEAH - 6.5. Perhaps Juve’s best player on the day. He had a pair of key passes and very nearly scored the equalizer before the hour mark with a screamer from distance. He still needs to take his man on one-on-one when the opposition presents him with the opportunity.
NICOLO FAGIOLI - 4.5. Had a couple of positive moments, but mostly looked like a dude who hadn’t had any playing time in preseason and was still knocking off the rust. He took a team-high four shots, but only hit the target with that speculative free kick late in the first half, One of the misses would almost certainly have tide the game had it been on target. He’ll be back to being himself soon enough, but he needs to knock off the rust.
MANUEL LOCATELLI - 4. This was an absolutely awful day for him. He only completed 82.5 percent of his passes, and he didn’t make up for that on the defensive end at all. That he somehow managed a pair of key passes was astounding given how terrible the rest of his day was. Games like this drive home how out of place he really is at the regista position.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 5.5. The most put-together of Juve’s midfield, although that isn’t saying a ton. He led the team in tackles and had a pair of key passes, but didn’t manage to exert much influence offensively and ultimately was as out of sync as the rest of the team.
ANDREA CAMBIASO - 5. Didn’t get as many of the vertical runs to combine with Chiesa as he did last week, and struggled to create offensively against a low block.
FEDERICO CHIESA - 5. Tried to get things going but never really had it. Even when he moved out wide in the second half he was often confronted by two defenders. He led the team in dribbles, but other than that had a very quiet night.
DUSAN VLAHOVIC - 6. Worked really hard for practically nothing in return from his teammates. Both goals—the disallowed one and the one that stuck—were taken very well, and he looks healthy and strong for the first time in a while.
PAUL POGBA - 5.5. Delivered the pass that ultimately brought Juve level, but was scattershot otherwise and a couple of his missed passes put Juve into some serious problems. At least he didn’t have a trainer come out to look at him.
SAMUEL ILING-JUNIOR - 6. An absolutely gorgeous cross for the equalizer elevated a relatively quiet day. Good shift for him off the bench as Kostic is increasingly frozen out.
ARKADIUSZ MILIK - 5.5. Took a pair of shots on but couldn’t bring a necessary spark to the game.
KENAN YILDIZ - NR. Only touched the ball five times with five minutes left, and didn’t make much impact, although it’s a testament to how highly Allegri thinks of him that he was put into a game like that.;
WESTON McKENNIE - NR. Filled in for Weah on the right but doesn’t have the pace his countryman does to pose a huge threat in that position.
In a game like this I’d often heap the blame on the manager, but that isn’t 100 percent the case here. I have to admit that, against my expectations, Allegri largely kept the more proactive style that he played against Udinese. The problem came in not executing it as well. Some coaching is in order there — particularly in terms of reducing the space between the forwards and the attack — but if he’s committed to playing like this, then he will be on the right track. Moving forward.
That’s not to say Max was blameless. His first subs could have come earlier, when Bologna was truly on the ropes in the early stages of the second half. It feels like his timing decision was dictated by how many minutes the team had determined Pogba had in him, but a fresh pair or two of legs might’ve broken through Bologna sooner and left more time to go for a winner.
One last note about Allegri: this was the 110th consecutive league game in which he put out a different starting lineup. That is an absurd number. It goes beyond the idea that a coach needs to accommodate injuries and the need for rest. To go 110 games — nearly three full seasons — without repeating a starting XI at all means he’s tinkering more than is good for the team. One hopes that soon enough, without Europe to worry about this year, that he can settle in to a top lineup and ride it.
Juve travel to Empoli on Sunday for their last game before the international break.