Another opportunity to keep pace with the leaders in Serie A slipped Juventus by in a game they could have and certainly should have won. While Luigi Del Neri’s men displayed an admirable desire to win towards the end of their clash with Fiorentina on Saturday evening, it was the lack of that urgency and determination in the first half that ultimately cost the team yet another two points in the race for honours. Nonetheless, a terrific free-kick from the ever-devoted Simone Pepe saw them extend their undefeated streak to ten matches.
With each passing day, Pepe endears himself more and more in the eyes of the Juve fans. A funny man who conducts some of the most humorous interviews, it is his willingness to do all he can for the sake of his Club that is slowly turning him into one of the Bianconeri’s most valuable assets, even if he isn’t necessarily one of their best.
The gritty midfielder has already stated he would happily play as a full-back, if need be, to help out the depleted defence, and has excelled in the role. He has also confirmed he is happy with a seat on the bench if it means the outrageously gifted Milos Krasic gets to play and create magic.
And after delivering a sensational free-kick on Saturday night, Pepe admitted he has been staying behind after training to improve his skills in dead ball situations from the maestro that is Alessandro Del Piero. Combine this dedication with the endless running he does on the pitch, and his continued dedication to the black and white jersey, it is truly hard not to develop a soft spot for the winger.
When he stepped onto the pitch last night, Pepe not only managed to rescue a point for the side, he also brought with him a renewed sense of belief in the Old Lady’s chances of winning – and it was then the team began to play their most dangerous and determined football. If Juve had managed to play with such hunger in the first half, the result would surely have been kinder.
However, it has to be said the Fiorentina players are slowly learning how to adapt to one another and have returned to being the team we have admired in the last few years. They double-marked to perfection, muzzled all Juve’s key players, and successfully stifled the fearsome Juventus midfield. The Viola’s only achilles heal lay in a blunt attack due to a lack of options up top – a problem they share with the Old Lady, funnily enough.
If ever there was a game highlighting the need for a new Bianconeri striker, this was it. Starting a match with two second strikers against a side full of energetic, youthful players already dealt the home side a disadvantage. Fiorentina ultimately demonstrated exactly why this Juve team, albeit one growing steadily, is still short of being a title-winning side.
There is too much reliance on the midfield to drive the side forward and to shut down the spaces at the back. By marking Krasic and Alberto Aquilani so keenly, the Viola restricted the offensive power of Serie A’s highest-scoring team, which says more about the state of attack than it does about the brilliance of midfield. Furthermore, without a set of offensively- minded full-backs, the team was devoid of another outlet to help the attack.
Marco Motta has come under fire for his terrible performance on Saturday night, and most of it is merited. He did not push up enough to help the Serbian winger in his quest to create, and was a huge liability at the back. However, it should be pointed out that the young defender was left alone for much of the night when carrying out his defensive duties, and was far too overwhelmed to contribute to the attack.
Del Neri’s style of play relies heavily on the wingers’ input, both in attack and defence. They act as the focal point of the team and must be apt at pushing forward and slotting back when needed. Whilst Krasic was often spotted tracking back, his defensive capabilities are virtually non-existent, and Motta was left suffering with the sheer amount of work he was forced to shoulder.
This was the very reason Sebastian Giovinco was hardly allowed to play as his frailties in defence created double the amount of work for those behind him. Krasic is far too brilliant offensively to berate his lack of man-marking skills, but he requires a full-back who simply defends to allow him a greater freedom to focus solely on attack.
With the addition of an out-and-out striker capable of playing on the shoulder of the last man and exploit Krasic’s creativity and pace, offensive contributions from the full-back position would hardly even be necessary. Now it is up to the management to spend wisely and capture the right player if the Bianconeri are to rise to the next level.