Wednesday November 22 2017
Juventus must find middle way

The Bianconeri have switched from defence to attack, but Gaby McKay says it’s the midfield that needs to be addressed.

Buddhist tradition holds that the path to enlightenment is the ‘Middle Way’; neither sensual indulgence nor self-mortification. To go to one extreme or the other is to ultimately limit oneself, as neither represents the true experience of the human condition.

Football may not be a matter of life and death - although some may say “it’s much more important than that” - but what is the beautiful game if not a microcosm of the trials and tribulations of everyday live? Joy, sorrow, loss, anger - football fans can go through all of these and more in the space of 90 minutes, and in kind the best teams are perfectly balanced between attack and defence, cynicism and beauty, flair and pragmatism.

By any yardstick, Juventus are one of the best teams in Europe. The Bianconeri have won the Scudetto for the past six seasons in a row, the Coppa Italia in three successive years and have reached two of the last three Champions League finals.

While accusations that Juve were defensive, physical or indeed boring were always way off the mark, that success was built on a fearsome defence; ‘the BBC’ of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, backed up by Gianluigi Buffon.

After the 4-1 loss to Real Madrid in last season’s Champions League final though, the Old Lady switched her focus, intent on finally tasting European glory. Bonucci left for Milan and Dani Alves went to Paris Saint-Germain. The summer transfer campaign focused on the attack, with Federico Bernardeschi and Douglas Costa arriving to bolster Max Allegri’s attack.

In a sense it has paid off, with Juventus scoring 37 goals in their first 13 Serie A games. The 19 goals conceded in all competitions could be forgiven if that stellar attack took the Bianconeri closer to Europe’s elite. Unfortunately though, they’ve ignored the middle way, or in this case the midfield.

Tonight’s match with Barcelona saw Allegri deploy close to €200m of attacking talent in the shape of Gonzalo Higuain, Juan Cuadrado, Paulo Dybala and Douglas Costa. At the other end of the pitch, Buffon barely had a save to make, even after the introduction of Lionel Messi.

However, Juve were never truly able to get a grip on a must-win game, due to a lack of balance in the midfield.

Allegri’s decision to switch to a 4-2-3-1 midway through last season paid huge dividends, but in Cardiff against Real Madrid and in big matches so far this season his side have looked lightweight in the middle of the park.

Tonight saw Miralem Pjanic partner Sami Khedira, and neither could offer the intensity and pressing to unsettle Barça’s rhythm. Indeed, as the game progressed Allegri brought on three central midfielders: Rodrigo Bentancur, Claudio Marchisio and Blaise Matuidi.

The Bianconeri don’t lack talent in central midfield, but the two games with the Blaugrana - as well as the losses to Sampdoria and Lazio - indicate that three players are needed in the engine room.

Higuain, Dybala et al will see the Old Lady past teams like Benevento and Sassuolo, but they can’t do much against Barcelona if Juventus have just 62 per cent of possession and the ball never reaches them.

The 4-2-3-1 was a fine solution last season, when Allegri had to find a place for Dybala, Cuadrado, Higuain and Mario Mandzukic. The Coach famously called it a “mad idea” but it carried his side to a domestic double and the Champions League final. It may even be enough for a seventh Scudetto in a row - though the Turin giants face a bigger challenge than ever this season - but can it really get them over that Champions League line?

Juve now face a must-win game at Olympiakos, but even if they prevail they don’t currently look like a side capable of going all the way.

How do you add balance to the midfield without moving Dybala out of position? How does Mandzukic fit into the team with Higuain, if not on the left wing? Allegri needs a new “mad idea” if Juventus are to find a balanced approach, the Middle Way, in both Italy and Europe.

Have your say...
BENCH KHEDIRA.I'm sick and tired of him starting every damn game and in every game he starts he has a probability of messing things up and be one of the reason the team lose.Pls for the sake of the team switch him for Marchisio forever and put that useless khedira in the bench until the club decides to sell him off during the winter transfer window or the next summer transfer window.Lastly the coach needs to change the current 2 man midfield to a at least a 3 man midfield.
on the 25th November, 2017 at 2:52am
BENCH Khedira.It's time for Max to do the right decision to bench that slow Khedira and replace him with Marchisio.Not only that the coach seriously has to put at least a 3 man midfield for the oncoming matches cos if they continue with the 2 man midfield.I am sure that Juventus will not win any trophies at all this season.I really hope after the Barca game max will bench Khedira forever until the club sells him off in the January transfer window or the summer transfer window.
on the 25th November, 2017 at 2:44am
ON Another note Howedes plus Pjaca are working their way into the squad so hopefully we'll have a solid and multi format squad for Allegri which could give him options on certain fronts at certain key points during games where he might need to TWEAK certain plays during the season.A shout out too Benatia on the BARCA GAME he defended VERY WELL AND ALSO MARCHISIO during the 2nd half he sparked the midfield more so than the 1st half KUDOS to that.All in all good game BUT COULDA BEEN ALOT BETTER...
on the 24th November, 2017 at 2:16am
3421 has been the formation I've been screaming out for this Juve squad for a while during this season may I add.Juve always produce with a 4 man mid at the least but not at a 3 man mid which is too risky with Khedira and Pjanic.HENCE FORTH AND HOPING WE DO GET IN THE JANUARY MARKET THE LIKES OF "EMRE CAN AND MATTEO DARMIAN" AND WE'LL BE MORE THAN COMPLETE,Now knowing well they both cannot play for CHAMPS LEAGUE COMP,They will provide ample play and solidity in the COPPA ITALIA & SCUDETTO RACE.
on the 24th November, 2017 at 2:03am
Matuidi is clumsy, terrible to watch, so is asamoah, the midfield lacks creativity, the defence are all over the place at the minute, now when I watch Juve I have no confidence in them, they will likely concede, meaning they need at least 2 to win a game. I would be surprised if they win the elague and I thin last 16 will be the extent o their success this year, at best. Napoli press and play fast, I fear for that game, it could be the end of the title challenge.
on the 23rd November, 2017 at 8:33pm
Barcelona played for the tie and played keep the ball. Juve should have attacked more and put on Mandzukic in the second half for Cuadrado. Allegri had the perfect formation in the first half and needed to attack more in the second half.Barcelona had only one shot on goal and was very boring and dull.
on the 23rd November, 2017 at 5:54pm
Agree with this article. But I believe starting Marchisio instead of out of form Khedira might be a good bonus, besides the fact that the midfield looks lonely. Three midfielders are much needed, and if Pjanic should be allowed to act on his offensive attributes a combo of Marchisio, Matuidi or Marchisio, Khedira is much needed.
on the 23rd November, 2017 at 5:35pm
As much as Juve was awful, I prefer a 2nd place finish for them. Khedira is slower than most players that are over 33yrs, and most of Juve's players have the worst ball control of any top team. Of all the big teams, Juve cannot counter attack... it's usually in slow motion. A 2nd place finish only sees Chelsea or City as a big threat. We can beat all the other current group winners. Sevilla, Bayern, Real M, Shak... all tricky
on the 23rd November, 2017 at 3:54pm
It's not a problem of personnel nor tactics/formation. The match yesterday needed to happen the way it did for Juventus to get back to basics. After so many poor defensive displays, we needed this clean sheet badly, especially against a team like Barca.

To the disappointed fans, I don't know what to say. I want goals too, especially for our superior attacking line-up. But I don't want a game like v Sampdoria ever again. Think hard before you run into the market for once.
on the 23rd November, 2017 at 3:25pm
I was really disappointed by Juve last night. Happy to do just enough is not what made Juve great. I like Allegri, his record speaks volumes, but it seems like his Juve are becoming uninspired and lazy, just like his Milan did, albeit with amuch worse squad. They could and should have beaten Barca yesterday, they have an important trip to Valencia coming who are showing all signs of being a proper title contender, and they were ready to sacrifice last night's result. Juve didn't take advantage.
on the 23rd November, 2017 at 3:21pm
Mez things you say make zero sense. Last night's defensive performance was actually solid. Also it's not Higuain's fault if he doesn't get adequate service. It's Allegri's responsibility to figure it out. The 3-0 against Barca was last season. What fluke? Back then Juve were 20 times better and Barca played like garbage. They didn't even deserve to beat PSG to begin with...
on the 23rd November, 2017 at 2:36pm
It was a good point earned and clearly that was the objective. The team were solid and achieved it fairly comfortably. Barca were tactical and fearful of another hammering in Turin and played inside themselves. Gaby is right, the midfield were weak, Pjanic had no urgency and was poor distributing the ball. Khedira is not at his prime and Cuadrado can be great and also terribly frustrating in the same game, its a lucky dip with him.
Juve need one additional signing -a Midfield General.
on the 23rd November, 2017 at 2:08pm
I am sure the likes of Dybala yearn to play in a more possession based team like Barca. It's clear that Juve's 3-0 win over Barca was a complete fluke. Barca did not even get out of second gear last night whilst Juve players were running around like headless chickens. Cuadrado is one of the worst players Juve has ever bought. Sandro's price tag is halved after his display last night and the less said about Khedira the better. Time to clear them out with Allegri leading the way.
on the 23rd November, 2017 at 12:41pm
I fully agree that Khedira isn't the most complying partner. Aside from a hattrick, Khedira deep in form is prevailing and worrying and I would of pick Matuidi who I personally feel is the best performer so far this season. That however is not an excuse for our top players to be performing this badly. The root of the problem with Juve is not down to one player and I have a piece for just about every players in the team.
on the 23rd November, 2017 at 12:30pm
I'm not saying that a top player shouldn't be making mistake, even a godlike Messi once-in-awhile make them, but to make them in and out almost every game is simply unacceptable for a stature he is given. If his teammates are accountable for losing the ball and so he have to defensive contribution, that is fine, but Im strictly speaking from when he has got the possession and what he does with the ball.
on the 23rd November, 2017 at 12:22pm
Pjanic is deemed as the best passer in the league and one of the top few passers in the game. Yet he loses the ball in dozen occasion. Forget the contribution made by his teammates a.k.a Khedira. Why would anyone need to cover him in the first place when we are talking about the best passer? His job is as simple as having the ball on his gifted feet and spray them across the pitch, not lose the ball only for his teammates to recover his mistakes.
on the 23rd November, 2017 at 12:16pm
Among the top 4 teams, Juve is unquestionably the most excruciating team to watch. When pushing the ball forward, there is little to no intensity at all, highly predictable horrendous passing with no imagination and quick-witted movement . They loses the ball quicker than knowing that they have had lost the ball and find themselves in position literally playing monkey rather than actual football. We are talking about a team which comprises million of dollars portraying this sort of play.
on the 23rd November, 2017 at 12:06pm
I lost count of the number of times Juve gave the ball straight back to Barca - and sometimes just outside their own box. It is the same inferior brand of Italian football showing its ugly head over and over and there is niente Allegri can do about it. Juve will qualify from the group but wont go past the next round. Lets be honest they just cant hack it in Europe with the way they play.
on the 23rd November, 2017 at 11:18am
the 3-4-2-1 that we started with yesterday seems like a good idea. you have a lot of people in midfield, solid defensively and let's face it the 3 best attackers in their proper positions. the 4-3-3 seems like the most balanced formation around but then you're chucking dybala on the wing which isn't exactly he favorite or best place. The problem really is that this team seems to be built for the 4-2-3-1 and now that formation doesn't seem good enough.
on the 23rd November, 2017 at 11:18am
I dont think Benatia was weak, in fact he was one of the high points for Juve last night. Cuadrado and Douglas Costa are very frustrating. Fast and so skillful with the ball at their feet, but Cuadrado cant pass the ball at all, and Costa cant shoot on target. I think we can see why Chelsea and Bayern let those two players leave, and we just have to hope that they improve, or Bernadeschi improves. Dybala was the one player who actually looked skillful enough to start an attack.
on the 23rd November, 2017 at 11:14am
Juve took 1 point form a possible 6. This is very worrying for a club with lofty ambitions for this competition. Even more worrying when the likes of Barzagli think it was a good point. The fact is that Juve were inferior in every part of the field. Once again we saw why the likes of Higuain, Sandro and Cuadrado unable to deliver when it matters the most and why investing that huge of sum of money in Higuain is not paying any dividends in this competition.
on the 23rd November, 2017 at 11:11am
khedira and pjanic can make tackles and don't have the required workrate. I think the 3-4-2-1 can have success in the league. but in the c.league I believe a 3 man midfield must be played. I honestly rate marchisio more than khedira in c.league games.
on the 23rd November, 2017 at 10:10am
This "Middle Way" issue wouldn't float on surface if Pogba and Vidal were still around. However, this is not as hard as it looks. In second half, Put three central midfielder in. Problem solved. And yeah, Khedira should be benched.
on the 23rd November, 2017 at 9:23am
Khedira and Benatia both are the weaklinks of the team.
on the 23rd November, 2017 at 8:29am
Marchisio just got back from yet another muscular injury. When a player has torn ACL at the age of 30, chances are good he never becomes the same player again. I'm not sure if he has the match fitness for a single 90 minutes, let alone benching Khedira for good. This messy situation is more on the management and the coach than the individuals and players.
on the 23rd November, 2017 at 6:13am
I've been thinking the same thing for a few weeks. Juve definitely need 3 midfielders. Not strikers playing midfield. Manzukic does it pretty admirably but it's still not his natural position. I hope to see Marchisio played more from the start with 2 others. Matuidi, khedira, pjanic, bentacur. I think rotating some combination of those 5 would be very effective. It unfortunately seems Dybala is tired of chasing the ball and will be looking to move on to more of a possession team like Barca.
on the 23rd November, 2017 at 5:27am
If you check the statistics you will realize that Marchisio and Bentancur contribute more in defense. So why does Allegri keep playing Khedira instead of someone else? It is not a coincidence that our best matches last year were against Monaco. We were superb both when attacking and when defending. And in those games our midfield was composed of Pjanic and Marchisio. The point is Marchisio and the rest do more than Sami does both in attacking and in defensive phase. #KHEDIRAOUT
on the 23rd November, 2017 at 12:21am
Bench Khedira and the problem is solved. Simple as that. Matuidi is a decent physical player, gives energy to our midfield and contributes in defense. Marchisio and even Bentancur are more technical players. They help the team keep possession and can alleviate some pressure from Pjanic in organizing our play. Now back to Khedira. What is doing? He is slow and not good with the ball in his feet. He is supposed to be a defensive midfielder but did anyone see him tackle often? Or steal the ball?
on the 23rd November, 2017 at 12:16am
Leave it to Allegri to say it was a great tactical game, when we got dominated in possession for almost the whole 2nd half. This is becoming all to normal now for Juve to come out uninspired in the 2nd half of big matches, and Allegri to sub in Matuidi, Bentancur and Marchisio was very frustrating. It clearly shows he was scared to lose.
on the 23rd November, 2017 at 12:11am

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