To the surprise of some, Massimiliano Allegri hasn’t been able to click his fingers and make all of Juventus’ problems dissipate like they ceased to exist in the first place.
Allegri’s return to Turin has been far from plain-sailing with the manager enduring reality check after reality check this term. The manager’s pragmatic, perhaps outdated, ideals only exacerbated Juve’s woes despite the odd vintage result.
For much of 2021/22, Juventus have been coached like a side from yesteryear. Blocking space and counter-attacking is a blasphemous ploy for a modern-day superpower, with sustained pressure on and off the ball the apparent holy grail of the current game. Thus, it’s been no surprise to see Allegri’s Juve struggle, especially with the ball.
The manager’s heavy reliance on individual brilliance as a means of chance creation and goal-scoring facilitated a lack of cohesion and mutual understanding in possession. He had to change his ways sooner or later and, thankfully, we’ve seen a more dynamic and progressive iteration of the Bianconeri manifest in their last two Serie A outings. Let’s just hope this upturn doesn’t prove to be a mere false dawn as Juve’s 4-2 victory over Zenit in the Champions League proved to be.
Juventus have improved in terms of chance creation
Against Salernitana at the end of November, members of the faltering old guard were replaced by the exuberance of youth as Allegri drifted away from the turgid 4-4-2/4-5-1 and opted for a 4-2-3-1. This configuration is rather trivial in the grand scheme of things as Juve shifted to various shapes and structures in and out of possession. Nevertheless, there was a clear emphasis upon utilising two midfielders to create an overload in the build-up phase, as well as using them to unlock both full-backs in attack.
The advanced positioning of the full-backs facilitated the infield drifts of both wide players and, as a result, Juve frequently had three reference points to access between the lines, with a premier ball-progressor in Manuel Locatelli receiving possession more often than usual due to Juve’s build-up rotations.
The result was a cohesive, dynamic performance that continued into last Sunday’s 2-0 victory over Genoa. The Bianconeri, now stretching the pitch both laterally and vertically, were able to manipulate the defensive structures of their inferior opponents at will. Chances were created at a canter.
After notching a 2.54 xG haul against Salernitana, Juve registered their highest npxG figure of the campaign in the win over Genoa (3.01), according to Understat. While this is a huge positive from a chance creation perspective, a new problem is beginning to emerge: their efficiency in the final third.
Juventus’ inefficiency in front of goal is a concern
For a lengthy period at the start of this season, it was Juve’s efficiency that kept them alive. They were able to squeak out 1-0 wins after capitalising on the rare moment(s) they had in front of goal. But, since they’ve become more possession-oriented and dominant in recent outings, woeful finishing has seemingly emerged as an unwanted by-product.
Fortunately, such issues haven’t undermined Juventus’ improvement in almost every other regard. The Juve defence have been able to keep clean sheets in three consecutive games and have barely had to exert themselves in their last two.
Against Malmo, we saw the very worst of Juve’s problem. On the night where the Bianconeri topped Group H, they flattered to deceive against poor opposition. It was a combination of the old and new Juve, with the rotated personnel perhaps compromising them somewhat. It was a drab contest with Juve having plenty of possession but lacking the penetration to unlock a deep-lying defence. Their key creator was Rodrigo Bentancur in the pressing game and in the second half, the Uruguayan created several promising transition moments following high turnovers.
They would end the bout with a 2.0 xG in the 1-0 victory, with goalscorer Moise Kean accumulating 1.6 of that xG tally alone. The young Italian was particularly wasteful and he, along with substitute Alvaro Morata, were incredibly infuriating in the second period. The Spaniard’s decision-making was worryingly conservative, while Kean – who was often set-up by Morata – was bereft of any precision. The former Everton striker was responsible for five of Juve’s 16 shots on the night, only seven of which were on target. They were so erratic in front of goal, but Malmo’s incompetence combined with the post-match celebrations mean that many will be happy to sweep such woes under the carpet.
But, it’ll come back to bite them at some point.
So, while Allegri’s change in tack is beginning to facilitate a more structured, cohesive and creative Juventus, their inability to finish off chances will slowly start to undermine any progress if improvements aren’t made. It’s all about execution; Morata’s decision-making and Kean’s technique/eagerness are the primary issues for the strikers.
Nevertheless, this is perhaps the best problem Allegri has had to solve all year. The Bianconeri don’t appear so systematically outdated as they did not so long ago.