Was vital in making a save late in the first half and could do little more than he tried for the penalty. A calming presence at the back when the side faced pressure. 6
Beastly, strong anticipation, great pace to sniff out and stomp on danger. All that is missing from his game is a bit of cunning, knowing when to avoid silly fouls which come naturally from his immense physicality. Other than which I remain very happy indeed to have such a talent in the ranks. 7
Certainly at fault for the penalty when making a clumsy challenge, yet this was more a case of the Crotone player outfoxing him to make the ‘tackle’ look like far more contact than was there. Such is the modern game and Leo should know better. However, not exactly in his defence, but of note – the lead up to that goal had me writing down that we have no RM just a gaping hole from RCM to the touchline which was being exploited. This is the problem asking a very attack minded RWF to play at RWB. Besides conceding the penalty I thought Leo was valuable, made some very telling interceptions and lacked mainly in any creative zeal from deep. 5
Another solid performance. Went about his business calmly, showed consistent aerial dominance and was unfortunately often out-numbered in the RWB area as he had zero support from Chiesa. Possibly could have imposed himself a little more yet far from poor. 6.
The Brazllian showed some classy touches, quick turns, and is gaining sharpness yet this will take time. His eagerness to move the ball at pace is something we need to learn to make use of and I was encouraged to see how press-resilient he can be in tight spaces. Much more to come and a decent outing for the new signing. 6
Another who is working his way back to form, and the longer the game went on, the more he began to impose himself, not just with more confidence on the ball, and in the tackle, but with his creativity flinging some smart balls into the final third such as the one which led to the disallowed goal. This season is important for Rodrigo, his progression from dependable to dominant could prove pivotal for our fortunes. 6.5
A bizarre debut. Perhaps I found him defending deep once, other than which he was playing his usual RWF role in a system which requires a RWB. His work in the mid to final third however was brilliantly industrious, high octane, constant hustle and bustle and the cross to create the equalizing goal was superb. Extremely harsh and nonsensical decision by a generally hapless ref to spoil his debut, yet overall we must be pleased with what was a very promising start to his juve career. 7
Very impressive, perhaps the most curious and unexpected addition to the first team squad who instantly looks comfortable. Excellent in the defensive phase, strong in midfield and got forward constantly to support the attack. He is playing with maturity, enthusiasm and a high level of technique for one so young and inexperienced. To contrast his movement and involvement in all areas of the flank with Chiesa confirms for me the issue we have with this system. A true wing-back covers the whole flank, a wide forward is very much focused on the final third. The youngster could be a key player this season. 7
Absent in the first 45 minutes. Unable to get involved to link midfield and attack. Did show in the box for a couple of chances before being subbed, but this was a poor game for the 20 year old making his full debut. Was no surprise to see him replaced. We cannot expect every youth player to hit the ground running. He will get more opportunities. 5
Much more effective playing off the front man. Roamed deep, wide, attacked with precision passing and never afraid to take on opponents. Unlucky not to find himself with an assist for Morata’s header against the post and looked ever likely to make something happen. 7
Led the line superbly, perhaps more so when we went down to ten men. Dropped deep to help win the ball and drag the team forward. Played well with his back to goal as well as on the front foot. His disallowed goal was cruel and appalling, added to his unlucky header off the post and on another day he would have had a hatrick to show for his endeavour. Early days on his fitness and connection to the side but a vast improvement on the showing in Rome. 8
Threatened to dominate the middle of the park soon after appearing but was kept too deep to ensure the counter attacks met a wall. 6
Charged forward several times, only to turn, drop the pace completely then play backwards. One decent cross field pass to Juan was the only positive moment for a player Pirlo must work on hugely, with a set role to focus upon. 5
Always valuable as a sub to bring on and use his pace and trickery to create a chance or two. Created the tap-in for Morata which the officials deemed offside by an inch of the spaniards heel and looked dangerous throughout his cameo. Also showed that he can cover the whole flank. 7
Whilst both the result and performance are disappointing, I remain positive and excited about this new adventure. We were missing Chiellini, Dybala, Ronaldo, Sandro, Ramsey. Szceseny and Mckennie, all of whom are in or around any regular first XI. Add to this the high amount of air miles racked up by many of the squad heading off on international duty and the small amount of time Pirlo has had to implement even his initial plans . In the least, circumstances are far from ideal to make any serious judgement presently.
Points of concern
My own reservations of the current system deployed and our mercato as out of sync seem unfortunately accurate for neither Kulu nor Chiesa are in any way a natural fit for a RWB role. Both are final third specialists. For whilst Chiesa was impressive on his debut (before the stupidly harsh red card) he was impressive in the final third and with his hustle, bustle, high octane zeal when roaming. Not much help defensively deeper, other than perhaps once or twice coming back and the pressure he applies high up the field. He will be a massive waste of money to try convert into a wingback, so the system needs changing.
This led to a gaping hole in our right flank which was exploited and will be exploited far more potently by better sides. It is from this issue that the counter-attack came that led to the penalty.
A 3-4-3 or 4-3-3 is the logical solution there, but it seems Pirlo wants to play with just 2 CMs and wide players roaming up and down the flanks and the trequartista linking the lines centrally.
Leo was drawn into the clumsy tackle for the penalty too easily. I am often quick to jump to his defence, as I have long felt he gets far too much criticism and yet these mistakes are appearing frequently in the small amount of games played so far. We cannot afford to have anyone regularly making errors that lead to goals conceded and if he does not improve I sincerely hope Pirlo trials Danilo- De Ligt- Demiral. It has vastly more pace, perhaps better concentration and could well prove our strongest combination at the back.
Freddy’s cameo was loathsome. Nothing has changed. Yet I am clinging onto the hope that miraculously, Pirlo can revive him as a footballer of any value.
We conceded enough chances to have lost to any better side than probably the worst in the league.
Our awful away form continues. A worrying run stretching back deep into last season includes losses in Napoli, Verona, Lyon, Milan, Udinese, Cagliari with struggles beyond this to salvage draws or scrape victory in many others. We have to improve on the road to have any serious chance of success.
Reasons to be cheerful
Morata looked more spritely, is quickly finding his feet in black and white and Serie A more generally.
We yet again showed a strong spirit when facing adversity. Our game improved soon after we conceded. We upped the tempo and whilst never in control for lengthy periods, never looked like a team with one less man after Chiesa was sent for an early shower. With so much youth in the side, many new players in the squad, these kind of games are valuable for building cohesion and resilience.
Whilst any semblance of form or balance in the new system is fleeting, morale is clearly high.
Pirlo’s substitutions improved. Portanova was the most obvious player to be hooked early – and we had very clear problems defending the right flank. Bringing on Juan was a smart – if obvious -move.
Rabiot entering the fray made sense, yet Freddy proved a complete wash-out, too much a roll of the dice with a player who has offered next to nothing for many months now. I was screaming to see Dybala given at least 15 minutes…
We had only 2 players involved over the age of 30 from a selection of 14 involved. This is a stunning step in the right direction towards potentially building a side year upon year, with players growing together. The inclusion of several players from the U23 side suggests Pirlo is comfortable offering more opportunity to youth than we have seen for decades at the club.
Expectations for this season differ greatly from fan to fan. I had assumed we would struggle to coast to the title this season whilst Sarri was still in charge, and this was a conclusion based more on the progress of other sides and the serious issues with our own squad and lack of direction. Since Sarri has gone, and Pirlo has replaced him these conclusions have not changed much, if anything they have solidified.
We may well have the strongest squad in the league but its not by the country mile it once was. And what is certain is that Inter, Napoli, Lazio, Atalanta, AC Milan all have an established system and bond between tactics, the players and the coaching staff. Which is where we find ourselves at a serious disadvantage, which has come through our own mistakes of the last few years.
There are the ingredients in place for an exciting new team to build, a fresh style and identity, but this can only come at the cost of the inevitable mistakes and failures required to get stronger. It also requires time and patience.
If we are to seriously invest in Pirlo and his philosophy, we must expect a rocky road this season with less guarantee of success than for most of the last decade.
As for what the boss made of the game:
Looking forward to Kiev…
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