A forlorn Massimiliano Allegri tried his utmost to downplay Tuesday night’s massacre, indirectly citing Juventus’ own incompetence in the first knockout round of the Champions League as his rationale.
For the Juve boss, topping Group H or finishing a comfortable second is a matter of tomayto, tomahto. Even if the latter sets up a round of 16 tie with Manchester City, Liverpool or Bayern Munich.
Nevertheless, despite Allegri’s best efforts to hide behind an indifferent persona, there’s no escaping the events that unfolded at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday. Their 4-0 drubbing at the hands of a rampant Chelsea side was their heaviest defeat in all competitions since 2004, their biggest in Champions League history and largest in Europe since 2000.
Even during the grim and murky Ciro Ferrara, Alberto Zaccheroni and Luigi Delneri eras did Juventus never succumb to such a beatdown. Thus, for Juventini, Chelsea’s blitzkrieg of a sorry Bianconeri had them questioning everything that culminated in Tuesday night’s misery.
The Cristiano Ronaldo experiment. The free-agent fetish. The absence of a competent midfield. The egotism of the club’s hierarchy. It’s a concatenation of woe and it’s led to this: An unwatchable Juventus.
How did we get to this?
Signs of decline began during the end of Allegri’s first reign after a baby-faced Ajax side stunned the Old Lady in the quarter-finals of Europe’s premier competition. Juve would win their eighth and ninth successive Scudetti in 2018/19 and 2019/20, but Maurizio Sarri’s declaration that his Bianconeri side were “untrainable” didn’t prove to be a bitter departing gift, but an ominous prophecy.
As Andrea Pirlo quickly discovered during his sole season at the helm, his Juventus side were a mere shadow of the great iterations that had come before it. Woeful squad planning and the obsession with the here and now set the club back years, and it’s Sarri, Pirlo and now Allegri who are paying the price.
The returning manager deserves his own fair share of criticism for Juve’s poor start to 2021/22. As we’ve discussed several times already, Allegri’s blocking space and counter-attacking approach is outdated and unsustainable.
Sure, a combination of luck, stout defending and transition play can lead to the odd statement victory, as seen against Chelsea back in September, but the manager’s principles simply aren’t giving the Bianconeri the best chance of winning games consistently. Hence why they sit eighth in Serie A, 11 points adrift of the league leaders, having endured a historically bad start to the domestic campaign.
Allegri’s inability to adapt cost Juventus against Chelsea
On Tuesday night, Thomas Tuchel was a lifetime ahead of the traditional Italian pragmatist tactically. The German’s meticulous system facilitates dynamic possession play, easy ball retention, high-pressing, fierce counter-pressing and a compact defence. Thus, Chelsea are able to control contests and dominate territorially. This was all too easy against an, albeit, undermanned Juventus.
Now, this is where I sympathise with Allegri somewhat. His initial approach to Tuesday’s bout was understandable. Considering the players he had out, blocking space and hoping for the best in transition was a reasonable ploy, but Juve lacked direction. How can you expect to counter with any efficiency when Federico Chiesa, your primary transition threat, is forced to play as a de facto wing-back? Thus, Alvaro Morata was isolated with midfielders Rodrigo Bentancur and Adrien Rabiot about as useful as suncream in winter.
However, it was Allegri’s inability to fix Juve’s distinct problems once falling behind that proved costly. The wildly conservative 4-5-1 that had created one chance in the opening 45 minutes was retained at the start of the second half, allowing Chelsea to suffocate Juve before the eventual 4-0 scoreline became a matter of inevitability.
The contest – can we even call it that – had the dynamic of an FA Cup tie between two sides a couple of divisions apart. It was like Chelsea were playing Notts County under the lights.
The experience was chastening for everyone involved, and it harrowingly depicted how far the mighty Juventus have fallen. Tuesday night was the difference between an elite team, and one lost on their discovery to return to the pinnacle.
Juventus must follow Chelsea’s lead in rebuild
We know Juventus are in rebuild mode, and their work in recent transfer windows gives us hope that this idea has finally been ingrained in the hierarchial minds of the club. However, they must now follow Chelsea’s lead in another aspect of their rebuild.
The Blues’ showcase against Juve was spearheaded by three Cobham graduates. Trevoh Chalobah, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James were all superb in the victory as they each got on the scoresheet. Meanwhile, not one Juventus academy graduate started Tuesday night’s bout, although young Koni De Winter made his first senior appearance as a substitute. This season, only two academy graduates, Daniele Rugani and Moise Kean, have made Serie A appearances for Juventus.
During their tyrannical reign over calcio in the 2010s, the Bianconeri were distrusting of youth and eventual Italian internationals such as Ciro Immobile and Leandro Spinazzola were hastily shunted out of the door, with more experienced heads favoured by the likes of Antonio Conte and Allegri. Even this season, while steps have been made to ensure the club’s finest academy talents earn important senior minutes out on loan, Allegri is yet to trust the more primitive members of the Juventus squad.
The incompetent Alex Sandro has often been favoured over the more dynamic Luca Pellegrini, Kean has rarely started over the out of sorts Alvaro Morata when both have been fit, while Dejan Kulusevski has been limited to cameos off the bench with Kaio Jorge barely being integrated.
And while we aren’t quite there yet, we’re rapidly reaching ‘what have Juventus got to lose?’ territory. With members of the old guard perpetually letting him down, it’s time for Allegri to trust raw adolescence. Chelsea were forced into doing so once Frank Lampard took over as manager in 2019 with the club serving a transfer ban, but the emergence of Reece James and Mason Mount, now imperative cogs in Tuchel’s juggernaut, was the result.
There’s something quite special in seeing your own prosper on the biggest nights under the brightest lights. It’s something Juventus fans haven’t appreciated since Claudio Marchisio left town.
The financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic only places more emphasis on Juventus’ academy amid the club’s rebuild. The likes of Matias Soule, Nicolo Fagioli, Nicolo Rovella and Filippo Ranocchia offer hope that a youthful revolution may be imminent, but it’s down to the club to facilitate their development and integration into the first team.
In summation, Tuesday night’s drubbing at the hands of a brilliant Chelsea team was a humbling experience for Juventus. It was only recently when the Old Lady were winning nine straight league titles and competing in Champions League finals, but such heights appear dimensions away right now.
The painful rebuild is underway, but the question remains: Is Massimiliano Allegri the right man to oversee it all?