Despite past glories, Massimiliano Allegri’s compatibility as the leader of Juventus’ rebuild in 2022 is under scrutiny.
The unwatchability of the Bianconeri this season, as a result of the manager’s overbearing pragmatic ideals, is a major source of concern and the unsustainability of his default approach has been depicted on several occasions.
On Tuesday night, Dusan Vlahovic made Champions League history by becoming the fastest-ever debut goalscorer in the competition’s history. The Serb’s quick-witted strike handed the Old Lady the perfect start in their round of 16 tie against Villarreal. But instead of seizing the initiative and possibly ending the tie before an inevitably nervy second leg in Turin, Vlahovic’s opener gave Allegri an excuse to contain the technically proficient hosts.
While they had half-chances in transition, Juve’s second shot on-target didn’t arrive until the 85th minute. By then, Dani Parejo had made the most of a defensive breakdown in the Bianconeri backline to equalise on the night. The sequence summated the frailty of Allegri’s cautious approach. One lapse, and this one came from superstar Matthijs de Ligt (as well as Adrien Rabiot), changes the entire narrative.
Massimiliano Allegri is limiting the ceiling of this Juventus side
Ultimately, against sides that can retain possession and sustain pressure on Juve, Allegri is reliant upon luck, 90 minutes of zen-like focus and German-like efficiency in attack. For an Old Lady outfit incomparable to the juggernauts of yesteryear, sides that had their foundations laid by Gigi Buffon and the very best iterations of Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli, this approach isn’t maximising their potential.
Admittedly, said potential isn’t too much better off than where the manager has guided them so far this season. While expectations were sky-high once Allegri was announced as Andrea Pirlo’s successor, talk of an immediate regaining of the Scudetto was overly optimistic. And while I’ve been critical of the manager’s principles, Juve are in a good position to grab a top-four spot this season and potentially mount a title charge in 2022/23 should they enjoy a summer mercato that rivals their work in January.
My primary concern is that Allegri will never change his ways and that Juventus will be left behind while their competitors continue to evolve. Examples of the Bianconeri moving to a more progressive and dynamic system this season have been exciting but rare. Their potential has been teased, and it’s about time Allegri lets his side off the leash!
Why Allegri must unleash his Juventus side against Empoli on Saturday
Juve could be without eight first-teamers for the upcoming trip to Empoli on Saturday. Now, this could give the boss, much like Vlahovic’s early goal on Tuesday, an excuse for the Bianconeri to fortify their defences, contain a direct Empoli side and hit them on the counter.
But instead, Allegri should view Saturday’s bout as the perfect opportunity to unleash the Old Lady. Empoli’s defensive record this season is abysmal. Their attempts to win back possession high up the pitch has been successful at times this season, but it often leaves their backline woefully exposed. Only bottom of the table Salernitana (55) have conceded more goals than Gli Azzurri (50) in Serie A this season.
Against sides technically secure enough to retain possession in the face of pressure, they struggle. Thus, it makes almost too much sense for Allegri to deliver the midfield the masses are clamouring for: Arthur Melo, Manuel Locatelli and Denis Zakaria. These three are the most adept at playing under pressure in Juve’s ever-thinning midfield following Weston McKennie’s injury and the deployment of Arthur as the regista will finally free up Locatelli to play as an #8 alongside Zakaria, who’s impressed me since joining in January.
While the absences of Federico Chiesa and Paulo Dybala in the front line will leave them short from a creative perspective, the utilisation of the aforementioned midfield trio should allow Juve to assert control in a manner that they rarely do. Danilo, Bonucci and De Ligt also provide technical quality in the backline that’ll aid the visitors’ build-up.
This is the mighty Juventus up against an Empoli side that hasn’t won since December, for crying out loud. Go there and dominate!