In a period of just a few weeks, Juventus lost the Supercoppa against Lazio, were hammered 3-0 by Barcelona in their Champions League opener, threw away a 2-0 lead against Atalanta and suffered their first home defeat in more than two years. On top of that, Paulo Dybala missed two late penalties and added further misery to the Old Lady’s start to the campaign.
If that happened to any other Serie A club, there is little doubt that we would’ve been talking about a very serious crisis right now. However, Juve’s dominance has been so unconditional in recent years, that the champions can afford to face the situation with serenity and remain confident in their quality.
There are multiple reasons for La Vecchia Signora’s dreadful form early on, as injuries, bad physical form and some wrong tactical choices have all played their part in the side’s bad results. Losing some key figures during the summer, as well as Max Allegri’s old habit of starting off slowly, didn’t help either.
However, if Dybala had scored the two penalties against Atalanta and Lazio, the Bianconeri would’ve equalled the tally of league leaders Napoli and practically top the table with 25 points. Putting all that aside, the genuine feeling when watching the Bianconeri is that they are still the team with most quality and that a tiny change in their mindset can make all the difference.
There is little doubt that last year, Juve’s strongest link was the defence, as Allegri had the luxury to choose from so many quality options. However, losing defensive linchpins like Dani Alves and Leonardo Bonucci in a single transfer window proved to be too much for the Turin giants, as the side’s backline currently looks like a shadow of the side that conceded just one goal throughout the knockout stages of the Champions League last term.
While Mad Max will definitely have to improve that shortly, the additions of Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi on the wings, as well as those of Rodrigo Bentancur and Blaise Matuidi in midfield, mean that the tactician already has the tools to overcome the current struggles while the new defensive unit gels.
The plethora of quality attacking options mean that Allegri should encourage his side to take a more adventurous approach, press more aggressively and not just sit deep, trying to absorb the opposition’s attacks. Juve used this in many games last season, but the team did not look so comfortable when trying to press. Now Bentancur and Matuidi can provide the muscle that the Bianconeri’s midfield was lacking back then. When you add the physicality and tenacity of these new additions to the speed and dribbling ability of Dybala, Bernardeschi, Douglas Costa and Juan Cuadrado, the Old Lady’s pressing game can become a lethal weapon, if Allegri gives it a chance.
“The Coach should make the others watch videos of him and how he played today to motivate players. I really loved his performance”. That’s what Gigi Buffon said about Gonzalo Higuain after Juve’s 6-2 win against Udinese on Sunday. Pipita has been far from his best since the start of the campaign, but he looked much faster, sharper and fitter in Juve’s last few games, which is another reason for Allegri to increase the aggressiveness of the side.
Sami Khedira is another man who can have a huge impact on Juve’s rejuvenation, as his return to fitness after his latest injury is already having a very positive impact on the team. The German international looked in great physical shape and bagged his first professional hat-trick against Le Zebrette with the Bianconeri being reduced to 10 men after just 25 minutes.
The game against Udinese is actually the perfect example for the need to adopt a more aggressive approach, as the Bianconeri were too cautious initially and were struggling even before Mandzukic was sent off. As Juve conceded an early equaliser for 2-2 at the start of the second half and were down to 10 men, it seemed like another bad result was coming the Old Lady’s way. However, the clearly improved fitness and bravery that Allegri’s men showed allowed them to comfortably outclass their opponent, despite being a man down.
The prospect of what this side could do when with 11 men and at full strength can really be frightening. While Juventus will need time to deal with some problems, such as improving the defence and recovering key players from injuries, Allegri already has the necessary pieces to build a new puzzle that can prove to be even more fascinating than the old one. He just needs to be brave enough.