We were supposed to be past this.
We were supposed to be past Juventus meeting a relegation battler and suddenly dropping to the level of our opposition. Even before the feeding frenzy the team went on against some of the league’s bottom teams last month, the Bianconeri were at least grinding out corto muso wins against Serie A’s minnows in the first half of the season.
But now here we are again. Sandwiched around last week’s loss to Inter, Juve have dropped points against Empoli and now Udinese—both teams that they defeated efficiently in the first half of the season. Monday’s 1-0 loss to the Friuli outfit was very much the nadir of the team’s three-game slide. Juventus outshot their opponents 10-1 in the first half and put six of those shots on frame—but went into the locker room trailing because that one shot was the winning goal, the product of a horrific mistake at the back by a guy who makes a lot of those mistakes but somehow keeps getting minutes anyway.
In the second half, despite enjoying 70 percent possession, Juve only managed four more shots, none of which troubled the Udinese goalkeeper. Their attacks were stagnant and predictable, and most were fended off with relative ease. As the minutes ticked on, it was becoming increasingly clear that the comeback you expect a team like Juventus to land on a team like Udinese wasn’t coming. By the final whistle, it was all you could do not to joint the ultras in booing the home team to kingdom come. (Side note, as a Philadelphia sports fan, I KNOW how to boo.)
Massimiliano Allegri was missing two key players thanks to injury (Dusan Vlahovic) and suspension (Danilo). They joined long-term injuries Moise Kean and Mattia De Sciglio on the sidelines. He sent out his usual 3-5-2 formation. Wojciech Szczesny took the starting gloves, and Allegri chose Alex Sandro to fill in for Danilo, joining Federico Gatti and Bremer. Filip Kostic was finally dropped after a string of bad performances, instead watching Timothy Weah and Andrea Cambiaso man the flanks. Weston McKennie, Manuel Locatelli, and Adrien Rabiot were in midfield, with Federico Chiesa and Arkadiusz Milik in their the strike pair.
Udinese’s Gabriele Cioffi was missing stalwart midfielder (and former Juventino) Roberto Pereyra due to a yellow card suspension but otherwise had a full squad. Maduka Okoye started at the base of his own 3-5-2, screened by Laurtaro Giannetti, Nehuén Pérez, and Thomas Kristensen. Kingsley Ehizibue and Jordan Zemura were on the wings, surrounding Sandi Lovric, Walace, and Lazar Samardzic. Lorenzo Lucca and Florian Thauvin rounded out the lineup up top.
Things looked like they might go as expected early on. In the seventh minute Okoye had to make a pair of saves. The first was critical, with the barest of touches preventing Cambiaso from scoring after Chiesa had teed him up with a cushioned header. Juve kept the attack alive and before the minute was up Chiesa tried a 23-yard shot that Okoye was able to catch on a long bounce.
Juve had a few more looks at goal, but were either innacurate or unable to trouble the keeper. The missed opportunities reared up to haunt them 25 minutes in.
The opportunity came on a set piece. Samardzic swung the ball in from the right with his left foot and into a good area. Kristensen flicked the ball on, but that should’ve been the end of it. But—stop me if you’ve heard this one before—Alex Sandro made a huge mistake in his own box. His attempt to clear the ball only came off the heel of his boot, bouncing up off the turf at his own feet and setting up perfectly for Giannetti, who got his leg up and around the ball to side-foot it into the empty part of the net. It was a hell of a way to mark the Argentine’s arrival at Udinese, coming in only his second game with the club.
The opener, very much against the run of play, seemed to have woken Juve up a little bit. Within minutes Gatti hit a powerful strike on target, but right at Okoye. Less than a minute later Cambiaso danced into the box and hit a low cross into the six, but Milik used the wrong foot to go after it and skewed it over the bar. A few minutes after that Rabiot loaded up from distance, hitting the ball well enough that Okoye had to dive to parry the shot.
The later stages of the half continued to see action. Thauvin hit a free kick that whistled just wide, then Cambiaso pulled the ball only a few feet wide with a snap shot after a defensive header had come to him. With three minutes left in the half it looked for sure like Juve was about to equalize when an inch-perfect cross from Sandro found the head of Milik, but the big Poland international was only able to thump his header right at the keeper, who was able to parry it away.
The second half saw Allegri switch the team into a 3-5-2 formation. Juve begin to fully direct traffic toward the Udinese goal as they looked for the equalizer, but their end product simply wasn’t up to the task of tying the game.
The first time the home side even sniffed an opportunity came 11 minutes into the half when a shot from Milik caromed off the arm of a sliding Pérez, then pinballed intro the arm of another player who was coming in as help defense. Juve pleaded for a penalty, but it was ruled that Pérez had been using his arm to support himself as he went to ground, putting himself into a newly-carved exception to the handball rule, while the ricochet was too close for the player for him to react.
The crowd rose at the hour mark when Milik put the ball in the back of the net after a corner was headed back across to him—but were quickly quieted by the officials, who quickly ruled that Chiesa’s delivery had crossed the back line before it reached its targets.
Allegri sent on Kean Yildiz just after, keeping the front two starters on as well to get him, Chiesa, and a striker on the field for the first time. Unfortunately, that didn’t move the needle much. None of Juventus’ attacks created any real danger. The occasional long shot that didn’t come anywhere close to the target was all that they managed. Their last real only chance came with eight minutes left, when Cambiaso lofted an inch-perfect ball into the left channel into the run of Yildiz, but the young sensation could only get a glancing touch on it and it bounced through for Okoye to claim.
As the clock ran down Allegri, short of options, threw on NextGen callup Leonardo Cerri in the hopes that the tall kid would add an extra target for headers, but no one could do anything to make even the slightest bit of trouble for Okoye, and boos began to rain down as the final whistle sounded to end an awful, awful night at the Allianz.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 6. He had little to nothing to do all game and had no responsibility for the goal.
FEDERICO GATTI - 6. For the second time in a row had one of the closer calls in terms of scoring. Defended well enough on his side, making a pair of tackles and a pair of clearances.
BREMER - 7. Strong as always, even after a relatively early booking that will see him miss the game on Sunday. He made four tackles, two interceptions, and was 10 of 13 on long passes to try to bypass some of the Udinese defense.
ALEX SANDRO - 4. His mishit clearance gifted Gianetti his goal. Credit for trying to make up for it on the offensive end, but the fact of the matter is he needs to be the very last name on the depth chart defensively.
TIMOTHY WEAH - 4.5. Contributed a key pass but little else, failing to seize the opportunity with Filip Kostic finally benched.
WESTON McKENNIE - 5.5. The effort was there as always, but the end product was lacking. You know he’s having a bad game when his headers don’t even really come off.
MANUEL LOCATELLI - 5.5. Made a game-high six tackles and was often pushed forward to aid in the attack from higher positions. Unfortunately, his passing, which really is the best from those positions, wasn’t on point, completing less than 80 percent of his passes.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 5. Consecutive rough games to start after coming back from injuries, the Wild Horse was largely invisible today save for his one long-range shot.
ANDREA CAMBIASO - 6. Easily the best player on the field today for Juve. He was the creative force behind most of their most dangerous moments, and tied for the team lead in key passes and dribbles. He interplayed with Chiesa far better than Kostic did on that side, and his presence there is probably the key to making strike pairings with Chiesa involved work.
FEDERICO CHIESA - 5. Tried to take over the game after Juve went behind, but still looked rusty and got predictable as the game went on. Hopefully he gets back into form quickly.
ARKADIUSZ MILIK - 5. That header of his was met with a good save from Okoye, but it also would’ve helped if it hadn’t been hit dead center. Overall another subpar performance from the big striker.
KENAN YILDIZ - 5.5. Man, if he’d gotten some purchase on that ball into the channel late on. He worked hard, and racked up a pair of key passes as well as a pair of tackles trying to recover possession, but was outmatched physically a few times, and it looked like his brain was working a little too fast at times.
SAMUEL ILING-JUNIOR - NR. Didn’t really manage to get involved in open play much. Didn’t put a stamp on the game.
HANS NICOLUSSI CAVIGLIA - NR. Set up one shot and was accurate on his long passes, but in the end couldn’t produce something to break the defense.
LEONARDO CERRI - NR. Not the kind of debut that will stick in your memory, I’m afraid. Only managed to touch the ball twice.
Right, this wasn’t great.
I know Max has his allegiances to the older players who shared in the success of his last tenure, but it should be clear to him by now that Alex Sandro is not an adequate player at this level. Frankly, it should’ve been clear to him a year or two ago. This was just the latest mistake to seriously hurt the team over the last few years. At this point, starting him—especially after Daniele Rugani played so well when both Sandro and Danilo were injured—is borderline malfeasance.
On the macro level, there is still a severe lack of a plan to break through a set defense. Against the joint-fifth worst defense in the league, Juve simply couldn’t come up with anything, in the second half especially. It didn’t help that the 4-3-3 he shifted into was incredibly jumbled. It looked as though Cambiaso—who, remember, is a fullback—was pushed into a wing position while Tim Weah—a natural winger—was dropped back. The entire thing devolved into a discombobulated mess, which contributed to the fact the team didn’t register a shot on target in the second half.
Allegri has had a long time now to work on this. Even if the players on the roster are a step or two below the tippy top, they’re good enough to be able to do this, especially against a team like Udinese. If, after almost three years, Allegri hasn’t been able to study things and come up with a plan to get through these provincial sides, it’s a serious problem.
Juve’s next opponent is just as entrenched in the relegation battle. Saturday’s game against Hellas Verona at the Bentegodi will hopefully be an opportunity to get back on track. Then a week later it’s a lunchtime kickoff against Frosinone.