The following is a Juventus Q&A session with Jon ahead of the Bianconeri’s Champions League match against Maccabi Haifa. You can follow him here on Twitter.
1. Aside from Allegri, what do you think is Juve’s biggest issue right now, be it on or off the pitch?
Injuries, which have been a constant theme for the team for several seasons. In my opinion, one of their biggest issues is that by January/February, they’re struggling to put out a full lineup so the healthy players get played into the ground by the time that the UCL knockout phase comes around. The best example of this is Alex Sandro.
Now they had an injury crisis to start the season, with Pogba and Chiesa being unavailable and Di Maria only making it through one game before having injury issues. Allegri’s ideas are what they are and deserve fair criticism, but when healthy, they have one of the best lineups in Italy (if not the best).
Getting Chiesa back in the next few days, even just on the bench, will be a big positive. Having him available should make the attack better, even if he just comes in during the second half and tries to stretch defences. If Pogba can come back as a starter before the World Cup then we’ll see what Allegri can really do, but it’s also possible that Allegri will still struggle even with his full expected lineup.
2. How do you expect Juve to approach the game?
I would hope that Allegri approaches the game like it’s the most important match of the season, but Allegri under Juve, even during his first spell as boss, would often play down to their opponents (and they still do).
I expect Allegri to rotate his lineup partially, but play his best XI and expect to win anyways. I expect the players not to take it seriously enough until they have to. And in this, we see a major problem Juve have: they don’t focus on the small things because they focus on the bigger things and think that they have the small things taken care of.
Juve can’t take Maccabi lightly, they played very hard vs PSG and didn’t try to park the bus, we saw that in the first leg: they will go forward and try at least. They play like they have nothing to lose and Juve has to be ready for that.
3. Feelings and thoughts on Allegri right now? Would you back him or sack him?
I think Allegri is as good a game day manager as there is in the world. He is truly amazing at tactical changes and seeing the pitch while the game is ongoing. However, the problem he’s had since his time at Milan is that he picks godawful gameday lineups and is so risk averse that he undermines his talents with lineups that can’t adjust with Allegri’s mind. Combine this with a demand that Juve play slow to avoid any breakaways and this isn’t going to work for Juve right now. It might work when they get Chiesa/Pogba back because teams won’t be able to double team Vlahovic, but I don’t think that’s guaranteed.
As for his job: If I were Agnelli, I’d wait and see where the team is much closer to the World cup break. If they qualify for the knockout rounds of the UCL and are top 6 in the Serie A, give Allegri the rest of the season. That said, Juve can’t replace him with Montero or some caretaker. Montero isn’t ready to walk into this team and get them focused and some other caretaker will just be ignored by the locker room. If Juve is firing Allegri before May, they have to have someone good to take over for the rest of the season and the next season. I think that could only be Pochettino, Zidane, Tuchel or Deschamps.
I think Allegri is going to stay until May, barring some collapse. Juve would prefer to let him find a new job so that they won’t be on the hook for the rest of his contract (€18 million over the next 2 seasons) and that’s only realistic in May.
4. Which player do you think will be the difference maker for Juventus?
Locatelli. He’s a much more important player that people realize since he doesn’t fill up a stat sheet. He plays a position that I can’t really define. He’s a central midfielder, but watch him carefully and he really doesn’t clearly play one spot in the midfield. The best way I can describe him is that he creates triangles on the pitch to get the team flowing on the attack and defensive triangles to support the other midfielders. It’s quite interesting to watch it play out.
5. Do you think Juve can still qualify from this group or do you think it’s the Europa League for us?
Absolutely they can, but their margin of error is zero and they need to run up the goal difference to help their chances. If they lose another match, it becomes almost impossible for them to make it to the knockout rounds. Can they do it? Absolutely. They could win their last 4 games all by 3 goals and that’s what’s so frustrating about this team right now.
6. Would that be a good thing/bad thing right now?
If Juve isn’t the last Italian team left in the Serie A, it’s a major financial problem for them. Maybe to the tune of €20-40 million. And they’re a team that needs every cent that they can get a hold of. And for a team that might be paying Allegri €9 million a season not to manage them and is bleeding money (mostly due to COVID), they really need to see making the knockout rounds as their top priority.
7. What would be your starting XI?
Allegri will never do this lineup for many reasons. No Rabiot, Cuadrado or Sandro for one. Bonucci doesn’t get the middle spot for another. And not defensive enough for him. But the goal difference is a big problem for Juve now in the group, they have to run up the score when they can now.
8. Expected scoreline?
I’ll be hopeful and say 2-0 Juve.
9. Looking forward, how do you think we will fare against PSG and Benfica?
Benfica will be playing hard when Juve faces them next because beating Juve basically means that Benfica makes it to the knockout round. While every UCL match from here on in is a must win match, that match in Portugal is the biggest must win match. I’ll assume Chiesa is playing and maybe Pogba makes an appearance which leads to a 2-1 Juve victory.
As for PSG, it really depends on how PSG has been doing vs Benfica and Maccabi Haifa. If they sweep all 3 matches, then they don’t need to win vs Juve and I could see PSG deciding to sit their important players. I’m going to assume that they win those 3 prior matches and Juve walks away with a 2-1 win.