As the minutes ticked away in the second half Sunday night in Tuscany and a second goal wasn’t scored by Juventus, I couldn’t help but think “Is this going to come back to bite Juve in the you-know-what?” It was a situation we’ve seen plenty of times over the last two-plus years of Max Allegri’s second tenure (and obviously further back than that), with mixed results coming against teams who Juve had no business allowing a goal to.
This season’s version of Empoli, one that entered the weekend having done next to nothing in the final third so far this season.
Thankfully, those thoughts were simply left lingering and not ones that came into reality. I guess we can thank Federico Chiesa and his late goal for that.
Yes, Juventus had another one-goal lead that shouldn’t have simply been 1-0 for as long as it did, having to watching scoring chances either cleared off due to VAR, a penalty be missed or shots simply be just off the mark. It was a collection of ineffectiveness in the final third for Juventus before Chiesa’s bursting run forward on the counter attack saw him slip past the onrushing Entrit Berisha and curve in a shot from the left side of the box into a wide open goal to wrap up Juve’s 2-0 win. It prevented any drama on the cusp of stoppage time from happening, sending Juve into the first international break of the season with two wins in their first three games and prevented any business like what happened seven days earlier from taking place again.
Because as much as Juve dropping points against Bologna last weekend was quite the frustrating deal, dropping points late against an Empoli side that has struggled as much as they have to begin the season would have been even worse and sent this team into the international break on a pretty down note.
While the performance wasn’t great on the whole, at least they got the win.
At least they did. Thankfully.
The thing about this was the fact that the good things we saw in Udine seem further and further away than they have been before. The movement of the wingbacks is back to what we’ve seen from Juventus before and not what took place against Udinese. The midfield still struggles to unlock a team that is defending low putting a lot of players behind the ball. The strikers very much isolated and forced to either drop deep or just left relying on others to do things.
That, of course, doesn’t forgive for something like Dusan Vlahovic not converting a penalty that would have put Juve up 2-0 right before halftime.
But it was just ... underwhelming.
That, unfortunately, is a lot like what we saw on the whole against Bologna last weekend, too. This time, though, the movements were different knowing that Filip Kostic is a different kind of wingback from Andrea Cambiaso and the simple fact that Weston McKennie isn’t a wingback at all. The tempo, the press, the feeling that a scoring chance was right around the corner was gone. The scoring chances they did have were mostly wasted no matter who it was. So much of the good that came against Udinese was forcing them into mistakes, and this time around it was simply a completely different vibe.
Was the second half a little better? Yeah, I would like to think so. Numbers-wise, things were relatively even but not totally on par between the two halves.
You just want to see this team put a team like Empoli that is offensively challenged into the dirt rather than grinding things out with a 1-0 lead. (Maybe that’s too much to ask, but you want to see it nonetheless.)
At least Juventus didn’t drop points for a second straight weekend. I guess that’s the biggest thing. I don’t know about you guys, but I didn’t want to sit on a Juve-Empoli draw for the next two weeks with nothing else to talk about. That would not have been fun — and I’m just going to assume that’s the thought process of every single person here.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- Pre-game thought No. 1: Hey, a different starting lineup! Who woulda ever guessed that with Max Allegri as manager, huh?
- Pre-game thought No. 2: Allegri said it was down to Federico Gatti and Alex Sandro in defense. He was right on that one.
- Pre-game thought No. 3: What we didn’t expect was almost an entirely different midfield when it came to the starting lineup — both wingbacks different, Fabio Miretti back in, all the fun that comes with another guy playing out of position. Max gonna Max, folks.
- Pre-game thought No. 4: Empoli’s pre-match jackets reminded me of goalkeeper jerseys that were popular when I was growing up. So many random and bright colors! SO MANY!
- I’m definitely showing my age when I heard “Fazzini” the first couple of times and thought the announcer was saying “Pazzini” and it made me think Giampaolo Pazzini was suddenly playing again for some reason.
- In the first 15 minutes, Federico Chiesa and Dusan Vlahovic touched the ball a combined seven times. SEVEN. That’s your two top goal-scoring players barely seeing any of the ball in the first 15 minutes of the game — that’s not good at all. (Of course right after I type that out Vlahovic sends a header just wide, so at least there was that, I guess.)
- Vlahovic’s penalty kick ... not good!
- You know it’s not a good penalty when your best Juventus friend is Albanian, the keeper who saves it is also Albanian and he’s texting you about Vlahovic rather than 100 Albanian flag emojis right after the save is made.
- How many folks will be crying “Juve get all the calls” after that PK was won by Gatti, though? Because I’m guessing it will be more than just a couple (thousand) (or million)!
- It really is unfortunate for multiple reasons that the side volley from Paul Pogba was ruled off (correctly) for offside because not only was it a 2-0 lead in a game that desperately needed it but it was just a beautiful team goal all around. But nope, it wasn’t meant to be.
- If Paul Pogba ever gets fit enough to play more than 30 minutes a week ... man.
- And then as I’m writing this post out, Allegri goes on to say in his post-match press conference that Pogba picked up some sort of back injury. We can’t have nice things.
- Who had money on Manuel Locatelli being the first Juve player to be booked? You win!
- Bremer with nonchalant no-look backheels in the box as an attempt to clear the ball ... maybe not the best idea when you’re up 1-0.
- Based on the sub patterns this season, Allegri has put in a “Only one American on the field at once” kind of rule. This isn’t true and just complete conspiracy theorizing at this, but let’s go with it. Let’s have some fun.
- That pass from Arek Milik on Chiesa’s goal ... mamma mia that was the good stuff.
- The simple fact that Chiesa simply laid flat on the turf after that goal rather than celebrate is just the cherry on top of a great counter. It’s just so perfectly Chiesa because he’s just such an amusing character. Can’t wait for that reaction to become a meme over the next few hours and days.
- Correction: All we needed was a few minutes:
Tocca usare subito la reaction pic pic.twitter.com/9n2FY86iWa— Swaffle (@Swaffle_7) September 3, 2023
- On the whole, McKennie wasn’t bad as a makeshift wingback against Empoli and I get that when facing an opponent that’s going to sit back a decent amount Tim Weah’s speed might be neutralized a little bit, but I still don’t like the fact that this is basically Allegri’s Plan B on the right wing. All jokes about only one American playing at a time, the simple fact that Juve’s only real option out wide on the right other than Weah is a center mid just shows there’s still very clear needs on this roster.
- I’ll take that kind of performance from Federico Gatti more often than not compared to whatever the heck Alex Sandro was doing last weekend. You’re going to get some interesting moments from Gatti whenever he’s out there because that’s just simply how he defends — translation: a little too aggressive for his own good at times — but it’s better than game-changing mistakes that Sandro makes at this point in his career.
- Then again, Empoli had an xG of 0.09 in the first half and 0.29 for the game, so it’s not like Gatti and the Juve defense were facing an offensive juggernaut to begin with.
- This game felt a lot like the Udinese game for Fabio Miretti — there were some good things that he did, but there were also some things like getting muscled off the ball and his decision making that just left you wanting a little more from him. I know he’s young, I know he’s still developing, but you just want that moment for things to click 100% for him to arrive. I hope it does.
- Speaking of decision making, some of Adrien Rabiot’s decisions in the final third made me want to smash my palm to my forehead.
- Not being the team that had the distinction of surrendering Empoli’s first league goal this season sure is nice. Being shut out by Hellas Verona and Monza but then scoring against Juventus? Yeah, that wouldn’t have been a good look. Take the clean sheet and head back to Turin.
- We’re through three weeks and the first international break is here. Juve’s sitting in third place behind the two Milan clubs — who, as much as we all hate to say it, have looked pretty good so far this season. As much as the first game back from the international break is big for Juve when they face Lazio, they could also get some help when the Milan derby happens the same weekend. Maybe, just maybe, folks.