If you were hoping for another one of Juventus’ high-scoring, smile-filled January fixtures on Saturday night, those hopes were dashed less than 20 minutes after kickoff against Empoli.
That is the result of being a man down for over 70 minutes — something that, no matter who you are playing, is always going to put you behind the eight-ball virtually every time.
Well, about that ...
It looked like 10-man Juventus might just be able to escape with all three points and extend their lead atop the Serie A table to plus-4 over Inter thanks to Dusan Vlahovic’s rich vein of form rolling on early in the second half. But, the thing about Empoli is that even though they are sitting in 19th place, they still have a handful of talented players able to do some things. Like Roma-linked youngster Tommaso Baldanzi did with minutes to go, scoring the goal that pulled Empoli level and squashing any Juve hopes of coming out with a win in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at the Allianz Stadium.
It was the kind of night that, both before Arek Milik was sent off for a very red card-worthy tackle and after, was very much of a case of looking far from what we had seen from Juventus during their five-game winning run in which they had been scoring goals galore and leaving very little room for doubt.
But when you go down a man so early and you’re playing against a team fighting for their life (and just hired a manager who is known for keeping teams up one way or another), this is something that is bound to happen. All the stars needed to align for Juventus to drop points for the first time in six weeks — and that’s exactly what happened. We didn’t necessarily expect it to be because Milik went in for a dumb tackle with his studs up so early in the game, but you want to see a spark that lit the fuse that resulted in Juve dropping points and I feel like that’s a pretty good nominee. Because once Milik got the red, that one went right into the pishadoo.
Or just simply Milik being chosen to start over Kenan Yildiz to begin with since that is something that is going to stick in the craw of a whole lot of folks.
First, here’s Max Allegri’s reasoning for going Milik over Yildiz to pair with Vlahovic:
“It is a choice for this match. Yildiz has done well recently, Milik is in good shape, considering how I think the match will pan out, Milik could be more useful from the start. Yildiz could be a useful option off the bench.”
The quibble I have with this is two-fold ...
- We’ve seen Juve’s attack take off, in large part, with the explosion of Yildiz in the starting lineup. And a direct result of that is that Vlahovic is looking every bit of the €80 million man that Juve thought they were getting from Fiorentina two years ago.
- It’s not like the Vlahovic-Milik combination up front has worked all that well in the past. They certainly don’t compliment each other in the same kind of fashion that Yildiz and Vlahovic do.
Yes, having issues with the starting lineup is, in a way, a form of the “What if” game that we have played so many times before over the couple of years. But when the guy who gets sent off within the first 20 minutes, throws Juventus’ total game plan out of whack and is the one who came into the starting lineup in place of a player like Yildiz who has been playing so well over the last month, there are going to be questions.
I get it. I’m probably going on too long about one lineup decision, but it’s a decision by Allegri that turned out to completely turn the tide of the game just as it was getting started. (And, yes, I know that it’s not like Allegri could have predicted it.) There were plenty of other things that went wrong before and after Milik was sent off. The midfield struggled as much as they have in weeks. Juve’s wingbacks didn’t have great nights by any means. Vlahovic, both before the red card and after, barely saw any of the ball. It was not a great night from start to finish outside of Vlahovic’s goal and the sudden hope of snatching three points came back into our thought process.
Then again, Wojciech Szczesny brought up a good point in his post-game interview, saying “Last season we lost these matches.” And hey ... that’s true! So maybe I’ll just be happy that Baldanzi didn’t work his magic for a second time after coming on in the second half. Yeah, let’s just go with that instead of grumbling about Milik some more. Yeah, no more grumbling.
(There will forever be grumbling.)
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- Pre-game thought No. 1: Capitanooooooo Alex Sandro back baby
- Pre-game thought No. 2: Good to see Juventus legend Alberto Cerri back at the Allianz!
- Pre-game thought No. 3: That was a proper tribute to Gigi Riva by the crowd in Turin. No offense to what happened in Saudi Arabia earlier in the week because that was basically on the fly, but you can count on things to be done right at the Allianz.
- Thought from the 16th minute: Oh no, Arek Milik.
- Thought from the 17th minute: Yeah, that’s a red.
- Thought from the 18th minute: Upon VAR review, SURE GLAD AREK MILIK STARTED OVER KENAN YILDIZ, EVERYBODY. VERY, VERY HAPPY ABOUT THAT.
- The unfortunate part of Juventus dropping points in this one is the fact that continuously watching Milik’s SofaScore rating tick downward as the game went on isn’t as amusing as it would have been if they had won. From 5.7 ... to 5.2 ... to 4.9 ... to 4.5 ... to 4.3 ... to under 4 .. to where it ended at 3.0. THREE POINT ZERO! That’s not good!
- Always good to be worrying about one of your most in-form players hobbling around all of about four minutes in. Sure glad Weston McKennie was able to shake that one off, even if it did take a few minutes for him to eventually show no effects of it.
- One of the first things that popped into my head after Vlahovic scored: That was a a pure poacher’s goal. That’s the kind of stuff that those of us who have been around this club for a few decades would probably say somebody like David Trezeguet used to feast on during his heyday in Turin.
- That goal made it six goals in January for Vlahovic, who is going into next weekend’s Derby d’Italia in about as good of form as we could have hoped for a few weeks ago. And the good thing is that Allegri won’t be tempted to start Milik at the San Siro, either! (OK, I couldn’t help it. I’m done. It’s out of my system.)
- Part of me wants to be mad at Manuel Locatelli for not closing down Baldanzi on his goal, but the other part of me just wants to salute the young Italian on a really nice goal. I CAN’T DECIDE SOMEBODY HELP.
- That Empoli equalizer was totally coming and expected, by the way. Not a surprise at all.
- Davide Nicola just lives to get points off Juventus in which games Arek Milik sees red. (Although, the red last season was for a very good reason. This one ... not so much.)
- Yildiz came on and was dribbling around defenders like it was going out of style. That surely couldn’t have been useful a little earlier in the second half ... or maybe even from the opening kickoff. (OK, NOW IT IS OUT OF MY SYSTEM.)
- Guessing when Empoli arrived at the Allianz on this night they weren’t expecting to have a 61-39 advantage in possession and outshoot Juventus by a 16-9 margin. Ah, this dumb game. I hope my head doesn’t hurt too much after smashing it against the wall.
- Alex Sandro attempted a bicycle kick. I’m not joking.
- Tough night for Fabio Miretti. I wanna believe, but I just need him to give me more reasons to do that.
- Not a single Juventus player had a pass success rate over 90%. That doesn’t seem ideal.
- Filip Kostic only attempted two crosses. I didn’t know Kostic attempting so few crosses is actually allowed.
- Seeing McKennie and Timothy Weah each sprinting back and making last-ditch tackles filled my American heart full with patriotism. (Mainly because there isn’t much that actually does that these days.)
- At least Danilo won’t be suspended for the Derby d’Italia next weekend. So there’s that.
- In conclusion, the hot take is that I think Juve will need to play better with 11 men next weekend than they did with 10 men this weekend if they want to have any chance of beating Inter at the San Siro. That is your first and initial hard-hitting analysis of Juve’s nest game. Thank you very much.