It is a shame to think that the team once renowned for conquering Europe is now barely capable of making an impression on the continent’s smaller competition. Against the mighty pace of Manchester City’s back-line, the Bianconeri attack, led by a 19-year-old youth player, snatched the opening goal and could have well gone on to win the match. Unfortunately, a defensive error ensured they registered their sixth draw of the tournament as the club say goodbye to what they viewed as a distraction to their Serie A objectives this season – much to the dismay of calcio.
The Old Lady’s defensive line was feeble on the night and they especially struggled at set pieces when huge gaps in the centre of the back line were made far too evident. As was to be expected, it was a defensive error that denied the Italians their first win of the tournament as Nicola Legrottaglie left Manchester City’s striker Jô with all the space and time in the world to calmly score the equaliser. In the latter third of the match, Roberto Mancini’s boys began to increase their intensity and with each push, the Juve defence shuddered to reveal the weaknesses at the back. However, their full-backs on the night – an area in which Juve receives its most criticism – put in a fine performance. Zdeněk Grygera, who has only just returned from injury, managed to contain Adam Johnson fairly well whilst Armand Traoré made a good impression when he ventured forward and appeared defensively capable despite the initial stutter at the start of the game.
Even with the absence of both midfield maestros, Alberto Aquilani and Claudio Marchisio, Juventus still performed well in midfield and managed to hold on to the ball long enough to pick out Alessandro Del Piero, who was then tasked with creating opportunities. The manner in which he took full advantage of the space on the left flank and outwitted the defence to provide a perfect cut-back pass to Niccolò Giannetti explains the reason why the club just cannot allow the legend to depart. With Simone Pepe contributing so little to the attacking play of the team, the search for a left sided midfielder should now be a priority for the Bianconeri management, who on an average weekend still rely on a central midfielder to occupy the role.
Juventus, for all their snobbery with regards to this tournament, made the odd decision to play Milos Krasić and Felipe Melo on the night despite this match counting for nothing more than pride – pride they should have shown earlier in the competition. The same two, who were once-upon-a-time deemed far too valuable to start Europa League matches, were fielded last night in spite of the threat of potential injuries and in lieu of other players who hoped to get the chance to play on the night – perhaps a sought after left winger?
Davide Lanzafame, who now seems certain to leave Juventus this winter, was allegedly left out due to a minor ankle injury suffered in training. However, his agent has since insisted the player was fine thus shrouding his exclusion from the squad in mystery. A youth product who returned only this summer after a sensational term at Parma, he seemed ideal for Luigi Del Neri’s tactics. He can play both down the middle or on the flank, can be explosive and loves to impose his blistering speed outside the area. Antonio Conte and Pierluigi Casiraghi have repeatedly compared him to Cristiano Ronaldo and yet according to his agent, Del Neri did not even feel the youngster warranted a phone call to inform him of his exclusion from the fixture – he was notified via SMS.
Wingers, perhaps more than most other roles, require continuity to improve their game as they must learn the dynamics of the squad. When it comes to playing on the left, Del Neri likes to depend on players capable of helping the defence like Marchisio or Pepe as he cannot afford to play with two attack-minded wingers due to the supposed defensive ineptitude of Juve’s current full-backs. With Krasić barely able to contribute to the defence, balance is needed in the midfield to maintain ball possession. However, one can understand Lanzafame’s distress. As a youngster who has risen through the Bianconeri ranks, he is seemingly being punished because of the frailties in defence and the Serbian’s lack of defensive skill – things that are well beyond his control.
Yet the fact that Del Neri chose to bring on Del Piero over Lanzafame in the last minutes of the Catania match, in which Juventus were winning by a healthy margin, implies that his absence is due to other reasons. When it comes to youth, the current Coach has demonstrated that he believes in the players of tomorrow and has done quite a remarkable job with Frederik Sorensen. As such it seems that if he chooses to bench a player, the fans have no choice but to trust his decision.