3 points forward, three steps back…Palermo 0-1 Juventus


I pity those still labouring and suffering under the illusion of an Allegri of their own manufacture. Myself included! For I am prone to chide yet not castigate…as mentioned elsewhere of late; my angst and surprise is quickly assuaged, if not silenced, by the knowledge of Allegri formed in not only his first two seasons at the Juve helm, but before.

In short, he has a reputation for making a slow, sometimes haphazard start to the season. The reasons for this are up for debate. Perhaps he has never quite worked out a thorough pre-season conditioning or tactical plan for the ritiro, leaving the squad having to gather their rhythm both physically and mentally after the season has started, rather than before. Possibly Mister Max focuses more on the physical side with the aim of the hard work on the training ground early doors paying off smartly deeper into the season, the squad ideally peaking in fitness when all competitions become more serious, namely March and onwards.

Also worth mentioning are mitigating factors – at least in the last two season beginnings – for we suffered a horrendous injury crisis as the 15/16 campaign approached on the horizon, which whilst lessening further down the line, was a debilitating factor throughout our campaign. Add that to the departures of three world class players in Tevez, Pirlo and Vidal and the heroics performed by both Coach and the players deserves immense praise.

Many players were involved at the EUROs this summer just passed. Not only did this lessen (considerably in some cases) the rest and recovery time after a gruelling season but it also interfered with pre-season training. Allegri had to try substitute players with youth options in order to begin working on tactics, which is a tough task by any measure. By which I mean by example; he tried to integrate the new signings into our 3-5-2 system replacing Mandzukic with Cerri, Khedira with Kastanos etc.

And finally there are injuries to mention. Mandragora may well have been sent out on loan had he not fractured his bones, yet the fact remains he is the only natural DM in our squad, and with the failure to sign Witsel, he would surely have been considered for the senior squad. The mainstay in that role, Marchisio, remains on the road to recovery and could be nearing selection in late October. It remains to be seen how long it will take Il Principino to return to match sharpness after such a lengthy lay-off yet I have great faith in his strongest asset; namely his mentality.

Aside from Marchisio (who is capable, sometimes superb) and Rolando, both injured, we have no other natural DM in the squad. Which for me has been the major problem this season to date. Allegri had hoped that Pjanic or Lemina could play there. They can, but the Bosnian lacks the hustle and the Gabonese lacks the experience or composure. In fact, the only player who has looked comfortable in that integral part of the 3-5-2 has been Hernanes, and that was against a weak, even cowardly Cagliari who were focused on damage limitation from the first whistle.

As regular juvefc regular dar black recently outlined – the balance of the midfield is the major issue at present. I am unsure if it is the presence of Big Sami which causes most woe in the middle, for technically he is extremely gifted and his reading of the game is top drawer. My opinion is that dar black is spot on, and the lack of balance is down to the absence of a natural DM. More on such thoughts in due course…Suffice to say, after the midfield finally looked balanced mid-week, Allegri decided to once again change it.

We lined up not only with Manduzkic playing as a second striker but Lemina back in the DM role, after impressing in a more offensive Khedira role on Wednesday. Rugani came into the defence to offer Chiellini a break, just after the veteran had begun to look like he was gaining rhythm…In short, those who upped their game in the 4-0 drubbing of the Sardinians, were then benched or moved out of position. Other than Higuain, yet he had his strike partner removed and had we a natural CF in the squad other than Mandzukic (who was playing), no doubt he would have also been given a break…Higuain is gaining sharpness and fitness in spite of Allegri’s rotation policy.

The game began with the false dawn of Higuain snatching at a half volley on 10 seconds. After which proceedings plunged into biting fouls and the first signs of bad blood between the sides. Alves played a poor pass which forced Big Leo into taking a yellow for the side, yet the replay suggested very little contact was made. Soon after, former Juve player Goldaniga entered the book for a similar foul, before Mandzukic got up close and personal far too easily after a series of niggly fouls reached his heels; the Croatian earning a pointless yellow for his poor temperament.

Despite the fact that we were creating chances with Higuain mightily close to rounding the keeper after a gorgeous ball from Pjanic, Mandzukic missing a gilt edged chance in the air, and others finding themselves in decent positions in and around the box, the unsportsmanlike conduct of the home side was spoiling the game almost as much as our own ineptitude mainly in midfield.

Diamanti is a conniving ferret of a footballer, disgusting in his playacting, undignified in his eagerness to see other’s booked. And it was no surprise when a slight touch from Alves caused the italian veteran to collapse as if shot. Dani knew he has been done so took the card with a shake of the head and half smile. Soon after, Rugani found himself chasing the ball with Balogh, and as he reached the target and pushed it to safety he came off second best from the tackle. Down and clearly hurt, the Palermo player’s reaction was to demand a yellow. Absolutely appalling behaviour. Which was unfortunately common throughout the game from the sicilians. And clearly part of their tactics. Still, if it works and it is legal, why not eh?

Cuadrado came on to replace Rugani, who had been playing confidently and powerfully. About time we saw the Colombian who can prove a rather divisive figure in the juvefc community, with opinions on his value at best, rather varied.

The breakthrough – deserved on the balance of play and chances created – came not long after the restart. Alves smashing a speculative drive from range towards goal which took a wicked deflection of the heel of Goldaniga to wrong-foot the keeper. Hope sprang from the celebrations that we could go on and secure the 3 points, grab the game by the scruff of the neck and own it. Yet this wasn’t to be.

Palermo continued to push us back with 9/10 men behind the ball, aim for the counter to salvage a point and we grew less accurate in our passing. Asamoah did little to improve matters. Chances came for Manduzkic once again, who also had a goal ruled out for offside, and Higuain was unlucky late on. However, we failed to convert any of our opportunities, which coupled with our horridly unbalanced midfield led to a shaky final ten, with the home side pushing hard. It was a sigh of relief when the final whistle came, not because we were hanging on, but because the match was dire. The closest Palermo came to threatening was a handful of crosses which nobody got near. Other than which, they conned the ref, hacked us down and played extremely defensive. Which almost worked a treat.

Player Ratings

Buffon – One pearoller of a shot to save throughout. Could have brought a book to read. N/A

Bonucci – Still not quite himself, yet was barely involved as Palermo refused to attack. 6

Rugani – Looked lively, confident and eager to push up and make up the numbers in midfield. Such a shame for the injury. 7

Barzagli- As with Bonucci, barely noticed as barely required. 6

Sandro – An odd match for the player who for me has been our most consistent attacking threat this term alongside Dybala, for Alex was rarely to be found with the ball at his feet. Palermo made efforts down their left as we did down our right, with very little involvement of the opposite flank. Whether this was a tactical ploy from the home or away side I could not tell. Yet it was very much the shape of the game for the entirety of the match. 6

Slowly winning me over.
Slowly winning me over.

Alves – Scored his second in a week, cut inside and tried to make things happen, put some intelligent balls into the final third and was unlucky to see yellow when tricked by that curly haired fuck Diamanti. Still yet to convince he is as solid and dependable defensively as Lichstiner. Nonetheless a positive showing. 7.

Khedira – Hardly seen for the first 45 other than in brief glimpses in between the ocean of pink around him. Was more pro-active in the second period yet failed to impose himself. I am increasingly less keen on his CMR role combining with the movement (forward runs) of a second striker. I agree with Dar Black on this score, in that his inclusion pulls the midfield out of shape to leave gaps and frenzied defensive efforts to cover, even against hardly the greatest sides. A rethink is required. 5.5

Lemina – Inconsistent passing, poor positional play and failed to create much of value. He can look a decent player one moment and then play an atrocious pass the next. Nowhere near ready to play a steady role in a position as important to the side as DM. He lacks the reading of the game, the composure and the consistency. 5.5

Pjanic – Generally tidy on the ball and was useful from set pieces, and tested the keeper on a couple of occasions. However, he was unable to build on his fine performance mid-week. Still finding his place in our colours yet his quality is beginning to shine through more constantly. 6

Mandzukic – Zero connection with Higuain, had two great chances to score and another ruled offside. I wish we had kept Zaza and sold Mandzukic, for at least Simone offers power and menace. Mario cannot be expected to be super sharp as he has been playing second fiddle (and rightly so) to the Argentine arrival from Naples. However, he generally slows down the play, has never been prolific and will be forced to accept the bench more than the field as the season wears on. What is a concern is if Hugauin is injured we have no natural goal-scorer on the bench. Valiant effort, yet little end product. 6

Higuain – Buzzed around the field like a killer wasp desperate to sting. His fitness is returning swiftly, his one touch and link-up play is a joy to behold. Unlucky with several efforts on goal, yet again he is finding the spaces, forcing the keeper into decent saves. Lacking the service, especially in the second half, it was a bother to see him heading deep to find the ball as the rest of the side retreated into their shell to accept a scrappy 0-1 victory against one of the weakest sides in the league. He deserved better. 7

Cuadrado – Woeful. I had not missed him in the slightest. He beat no opponent, put us defensively in jeopardy on several occasions, halted the progress of the impressive Alves, produced a number of wretchedly lame passes and was guilty of poor decision making when finding himself in the box with the ball at his feet. This was a poor second debut. I will hold fire on too much despondency as he deserves the chance to work his way into top form, yet what is that top form? He really offered nothing of value in his hour on field, other than just the one recovery in defence. Other than which he was horrid to watch. Lacking invention, confidence, even the one element of his game hard to fault; acceleration and pace. Why the devil did we bring him back? 4

Asamoah – Given 20 minutes to blow some wind into our flagging sails, yet continued his cringeworthy form with poor distribution and worrying inability to make anything of note happen. And then the poor chap’s troublesome knee gave way, the source of his injury nightmares of the last season or so. I wish him well in his recovery but on the generally dire form he has shown since returning to the ranks, it may be safer for the team for him to be injured. 5

Reasons for bother

We were largely abject. Rarely stringing together more than a handful of passes other than at the back where we were rarely under any meaningful pressure. The midfield was disjointed with Lemina yet again failing to convince. Our quality came from individuals, nothing seemed fluid or cohesive in the moments when we found route to goal scoring opportunities.

Missing out on Witsel was the single biggest failure of the mercato and it continues to haunt us. For only Hernanes has shown any comfort in the role thus far this season.

The injury to Rugani leaves us short at the back for the Dinamo tie yet the youngster was walking once off and all reports point to something innocuous (UPDATE – The poor lad is out for 45 days with a ligament strain!). However it will be interesting to see what Allegri does mid-week. Set up the side for 3-5-2 and hope no defenders are injured? For we have no other fit CB in the european squad…Who can say eh? He might surprise us with a 4-4-2, yet that could mean Cuadrado plays, which is a worry as he was atrocious.

Khedira had a lifeless showing, give or take a couple of compelling bursts into the box.

Essentially we are terribly disorganized in the middle of the park and carrying too many players bang out of form.

Reasons to be cheerful

We kept our second clean sheet on the trot and remain top of the league.

Higuain is continuing to sharpen, run harder and faster and to connect with his new team-mates more fluidly.

We need to see some of this grinta return to the ranks. Sharply.

“We have to take the points and two consecutive clean sheets, but cannot think this was the real Juventus.”

“When we misplace as many passes as this, it doesn’t matter who is on the field, we are Juve players and cannot do that.” (Leo)

It is this lack of concentration and quality which feels horrid to endure and I am pleased the Bonucci relates. We are simply not playing as a Juve team should and I have not seen a team produce so many errors on simple passing, since the Del Neri/Ciro debacles, when we had a far weaker side, yet were comparably disjointed.

The defence is improving yet we still look a little wild at the back from crosses and corners. Still, two clean sheets on the trot is encouraging. Up top, Higuain and Dybala are in fine fettle. The flanks are well covered and vibrwnt, with Sandro, Alves and Lichsteiner all contributing at a high level. Clearly the problem is the midfield.

Although we played very well in patches against Sassuolo, when Lemina was in the DM role, I believe this was largely due to the opponents missing their key players and moreso that we took our chances. We were three up within 30 minutes due to some clinical finishing.

Against Cagliari we also scored early and were 3-0 before half time. The difference in that game was that the midfield appeared balanced throughout. Lemina was much improved in a more offensive role at RCM and Pjanic had space and time to focus on finding space in the pockets between midfield and attack and pick out some delightful passes. The man in the middle was Hernanes, who recycled the ball intelligently and swiftly, read the flow of the incoming attacks and affected the tempo of the game from deep. He was also reliable in the air, never found out of position and got forward late to drive at goal from range with aplomb.

Yes, it must assuredly be noted that Cagliari were fearful and lacking any sense of adventure. It must also be noted that this combination in midfield, in fact all over the first XI, felt the most balanced system deployed this campaign. We carried no-one.

Could Hernanes be the key to balancing the midfield?
Could Hernanes be the key to balancing the midfield?

I do not find any value in dropping Hernanes after perhaps his finest showing in our colours, let alone changing the midfield which worked so well.

More frustration will come and the season remains larval and still brimming with hope and expectation.

Other than the tactical chopping and changing, which precludes any momentum or blossoming of form, I cannot help but return to the words of last week, written after the Inter nightmare. I suggested, I believe, that at times it seemed like a disease was spreading through the squad. Players normally proficient at the basics and more, were misplacing passes, kicking the ball straight into touch or to our opponents for no obvious reason other than lack of focus, drive or belief. Remnants of this disease remain in the ranks, and must be removed hastily.

With a deep sigh I leave this alone and head off to watch Match of the Day, but not before adding some positivity to what is largely a cynical yet accurate report.

We are certain to improve. The season is young and nothing is won or lost in September. Given we are top of the league when playing generally disjointed, abject football riddled with individual errors, winning games on moments of individual brilliance or good fortune, try to imagine how well we could be playing when everything starts to fit into place…That is the only question we must be asking ourselves. Will it come right before anything is lost? The beginning of the answer to that question will be found on Tuesday evening in Croatia, then in France three weeks later.

Allegri can rightfully state that he would rather win whilst playing badly than to draw whilst playing well, for that is his job. And would I really be sulking in virtual ink if we had taken even one or two more of the myriad of real chances in front of goal conjured? Perhaps not. I simply see more missing than merely the conversion of the multiple openings we are making each game.

Forza Juve