While Juventus’ defeat to Sassuolo last Wednesday brought to light brewing concerns of the sustainability of Massimiliano Allegri’s pragmatic approach, the Bianconeri’s humbling in Verona raised a more damning query.
Is this Juventus side even competent?
The manner of their 2-1 defeat to Igor Tudor’s Hellas Verona was worrying. Just last week we were waxing lyrical over the grittiness of this Juventus side amid a nine-game unbeaten run in all competitions, but suddenly the Old Lady appear weak, feeble and devoid of any confidence or ideas.
Allegri’s team selection isn’t helping things
Allegri’s system is regressive, and he certainly isn’t helping himself regarding team selection. While rotation is necessary amid the Bianconeri’s current hectic schedule, the faith he’s placed in certain players and the number of minutes he’s consequently handing them is criminal. Adrien Rabiot is the prime example.
The Frenchman enjoyed a fine end to last season playing as part of Andrea Pirlo’s double pivot but has been used in an alternate role by Allegri to start 2021/22. It’s a hybrid function on the left side of midfield in the boss’ favoured 4-4-2. Thus, out of possession, he defends narrow in a bid to prevent the opposition from progressing via the half-space. When Juventus have the ball, the idea is that he’ll drift infield to open up space for the left-back to overlap. That way he can receive possession in more familiar zones as opposed to the touchline.
Ideally, Rabiot will receive as much as possible between the lines where he can link play between defence and attack, but he rarely does. He’s so ineffective. This is a player who’s started every Serie A game he’s been available for, but he doesn’t even do his job. Rabiot has received 17 progressive passes in Serie A this season – the ninth-most among Juventus players. Considering his primary function in possession is to serve as the secondary linker between defence and attack, that’s a woeful figure.
Last season, Weston McKennie and Aaron Ramsey performed a similar function for Andrea Pirlo, but they instead drifted in off the right. While Rabiot is receiving a poultry 3.09 progressive passes per 90 minutes in Serie A this season, McKennie received 6.67 progressive passes and Ramsey 8.63 last time out.
Admittedly, those two were helped by the marauding Juan Cuadrado serving as a reliable outlet from right-back. Rabiot, in his defence, has been flanked by Alex Sandro who, after a bright start to the season, has been woeful since he returned from international duty earlier this month. The Brazilian has been bereft of any assertiveness in possession and his own attacking incompetence has exacerbated Rabiot’s anonymity. The left side has been a distinct problem in Juve’s back-to-back defeats and Allegri deserves blame for persisting with such unreliable personnel.
Adrien Rabiot has started every game he’s been available for this season. Drink that in again, please.
Will a system change facilitate a resurgence?
As things stand, with tough domestic clashes against Fiorentina, Lazio and Atalanta upcoming either side of the November international break, it’s hard to envisage Juventus turning things around in their current set-up.
A change is paramount. Allegri can’t persist with the overbearing pragmatism that’s established a system wholly reliant on Paulo Dybala for a creative spark. The Bianconeri’s pitiful possession structure and positional play mean that despite Dybala’s best efforts, he often has little support. The Old Lady’s other star, Federico Chiesa, has also been inhibited by Allegri this season. The Italian has just one Serie A goal, and so often looks disconnected from the play or isolated when deployed out wide.
This isn’t a call for Allegri to tear up his coaching manual, but systematic alterations need to be made for Juventus to enjoy a resurgence. He needs to get the very best out of his two attacking stars. There’s a gritty identity to fall back on when the game state calls for the defence to hold on to a lead late on, but Allegri needs a more progressive ‘Plan A’.
Fans have been crying out for a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 but, in truth, such configurations are trivial. What’s important are the functions each player performs within the system. That’s what’s got to change. If he wants to retain his 4-4-2 with similar dynamics, shift over the hybrid role to the right, utilise McKennie in that position and return Juan Cuadrado to right-back. Danilo can then shift over to left-back and create the back three when Juve have possession from there.
Juventus must do the basics right
Systems, however, can only get you so far and to improve, the Bianconeri must do the basics right. In their two recent defeats, their technical level has been abysmal and mistakes have been pounced upon by the opposition.
What we can establish from the past week is that Juventus are fundamentally flawed, both from a personnel and systematic perspective. “We’re in a bad situation,” Allegri said after the Verona defeat that left his side ninth in Serie A and already 16 points adrift of the league leaders after 11 games.
“We have to accept the reality that right now we are a mid-table team. We can get out of this situation with a little more determination and quality,” he added.
The upcoming Champions League clash against Zenit, who aren’t very good, gives Juventus a great opportunity to let off some steam, but Tuesday’s contest won’t be a good indicator of whether they’ve swiftly turned a corner.
It’s going to take a lot more than mere “determination and quality” for Allegri to have his Juventus side playing at the level he desires.