We were so close to a perfect month of January. So, so close.
Alas, thanks to Arek Milik’s boneheaded early tackle that got him red carded for his troubles, Juventus was on the back foot for almost the entirety of Saturday night’s game as they barely held on to a 1-1 draw against visiting Empoli, a game that they really should have easily won.
With a huge game coming up against Inter Milan in a week and a Scudetto race that remains tight every single point counts and dropping points against a team that is in the relegation battle hurts.
Offensive Player of the Week: Dusan Vlahovic
The big Serb did everything in his power to steal the three points in this game. Vlahovic continued his torrid start of the calendar year, getting himself back on the scoresheet and playing as well as he could have considering the circumstances of Juve being down a man.
When you’re playing with 10 men compared to 11, you know chances are going to be at a premium. In a game in which he could just not afford to be wasteful like this one was, he took his one chance at goal with aplomb in a relatively tricky spot to give the home supporters hope that Juventus could pull it off.
Vlahovic has been worth every penny of his large transfer fee so far this season. Let’s hope he can keep this going as long as possible.
Thanks for Nothing
Milik had to make this chance count.
With the come up of Kenan Yildiz, Milik had once again been bumped down the depth chart, and with Juventus playing only two competitions this season it’s not like squad rotation was going to be as heavy as years past. Despite scoring a hat trick in Coppa Italia play a couple of weeks ago, Milik was still not guaranteed a starting spot in the lineup and this start was his chance to show that he can be an important player for the team even if he’s not starting every game.
Instead of doing that, the Polish international cost his team the game with completely unnecessary, reckless and just plan dumb challenge on a 50/50 ball that got him — correctly — red carded. This is the type of mistake an overeager youngster might do. These are the type of tackles Merih Demiral loved to do a few years back.
To have it come from a guy who, by all intents and purposes, knows better and that is in theory a veteran presence in the team is unforgivable.
(Fun fact, but between Milik in this game and Wojciech Szczesny’s howler against Sassuolo in the first half of the season, we can pinpoint five dropped points exclusively due to shenanigans from our two resident Polish internationals. Rough.)
Why is Alex Sandro?
While some people grappled with Max Allegri’s decision to start Milik over the phenom that is Yildiz, my biggest gripe with Allegri’s lineup decisions was to give the start to Alex Sandro.
(I think Milik over Yildiz was defensible. Not only were you keeping Yildiz fresh to play against Inter Milan, but you also have to give minutes to other players on your roster. Milik was coming off a few solid performances and they were playing against a team that had just switched up to a three man backline. It made sense, and there’s no way of predicting Milik’s boneheaded mistake.)
I get keeping Danilo on the bench, with the Inter Milan coming up and your captain on a yellow card it made sense to give him a break. You don’t need a dumb yellow getting him suspended for the biggest game of the season. But why not give the start to Daniele Rugani, a guy that has been as reliable as they come all season? What’s the upside of Alex Sandro at this point in his career?
I think it’s a whole lot more likely that Sandro makes a mistake in the back that costs you the game than Rugani at this point, and while you could argue that Sandro gives you a better passer at the back compared to Rugani, did you really need that against Empoli of all teams?
To his credit, Sandro wasn’t awful by any means — though he did have a couple of shaky clearances in the second half — but unless injuries force Allegri’s hand, I sure hope that we only see Sandro doing his best Simone Padoin impression for the remainder of the season.
Parting Shot of the Week
This draw obviously hurts, no doubt about it, but despite the result I can’t help but to be kind of encouraged with how the team ended up playing. Playing for essentially three-quarters of the game a man down is tough against anybody, but the players were one slightly better close out from Manuel Locatelli away from taking all three points regardless of being undermanned.
At the very least, this is a team that is miles better in terms of mental fortitude than the squad of last year. And as we get deeper and deeper into the business end of the season, that mental strength is sure going to come in handy eventually.
Just, God ... come on, Arek, don’t do stuff like that. Jesus Christ, how frustrating.
See you Sunday.