Club Focus – Juventus – Return of the Italians

Last night, Juventus failed to expose the inexperience of Manchester City in the way Channel 5 brilliantly exposed the inadequacies of British commentators. Despite all the money spent on champions, City were missing that much-needed sparkle to destroy one of Europe’s grandest teams. They owned possession, dominated proceedings and had the pleasure of listening to the raucous supportive chants of their home fans and yet they had to rely on a crossbar to save them from conceding a spectacular free kick from the perpetually youthful Alessandro Del Piero.
On the other hand this Juventus side, who many have described as bereft of champions, very nearly took all three points and only defensive substitutions and an unbalanced midfield forced them into dropping points. The English commentators may have heaped praise on the Spanish referee who often chose to play the advantage, but to most neutrals, he made several errors that benefitted the home side at the cost of the Juve attack. The Old Lady had at least one penalty shout out ignored and Miloš Krasić was unfairly penalised for what was clearly a foul. Had decisions gone Juve’s way, it could have well been a very different game.

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The defence has been Juve’s Achilles heel in recent weeks and the main reason why the Old Lady finds herself somewhere in the middle of the table. As such, the thought of facing a side with forwards that could change proceedings at the drop of a hat left the away fans biting their fingernails in anticipation. However, in his post-match interview, Adam Johnson commented that: “Obviously as an Italian side, they are going to come and defend well.” That statement alone perfectly summed up the performance of the Bianconeri defence. In stark contrast to their recent woeful displays at the back, Juventus defended like Italians, improved their man-marking skills and made crucial interceptions to halt the costly attack of the English team.
Finally, the Old Lady defended as a unit and the entire squad offered their unconditional support to the back. Unfortunately, the midfield let the team down and failed to provide the required support to avoid conceding the equaliser. Claudio Marchisio and Momo Sissoko were outmuscled in midfield and seemed overcome by the sheer physical strength of the City players. More importantly, after the initial 20 minutes of the game, both failed to maintain movement and deliver those vital passes to the top to contribute to the attacking play of the squad. Despite improving in the second-half, they were still inviting pressure into their own half and they struggled to win back the ball and maintain possession.
As the match progressed, City grew more and more frustrated and were desperate to make use of their additional man in midfield. As such, Del Neri had to make some substitutions to both balance play and alleviate pressure in the middle. But rather than bringing on key players to regain possession and allow Krasić and the forwards more space and time on the ball, Del Neri opted to make defensive changes reminiscent of Claudio Ranieri-style tactics to signal his satisfaction with a draw. His substitutions may have bolstered the midfield but he left his midfielders without an outlet for their attacking passes.
His decision to take off Krasić was perhaps the most puzzling. The Serbian winger demonstrated his defensive frailties throughout the game and seemed worryingly vulnerable when not in possession. The only way to exploit his skills in last night’s match was to relieve him of any defensive duties and force him to play further up the pitch in order for him to concentrate on his attacking display. Jorgé Martínez was clearly struggling to rediscover his form since injury, but rather than introducing Simone Pepe on in his place, Del Neri should have brought on Felipe Melo immediately. By switching to a 4-3-3 formation, the former Sampdoria Coach would have stabilised the midfield and allowed both Krasić and Del Piero ample opportunities to unleash their talent up top without having to track back.
It was a shame the Old Lady decided to settle for one point especially when she had started the match in such spectacular fashion with a clear desire to win. In the first quarter we saw what this newly built Juventus side is capable of as they imposed their game and silenced the crowd. The players passed the ball effectively, took full advantage of the width of the pitch, had incredible movement in the middle and were determined to prove that new money could never compete with historical prestige. Rather disappointingly, they decided to sit back after their goal and allowed the home side the chance to alter the score line. With stronger determination and a tighter midfield, the Bianconeri could have well achieved all three points. But it was nonetheless an improved performance from the Italian side who now await a real test of strength on Sunday as they face bitter rivals Inter.
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