Listening to Juventus boss Maurizio Sarri post game bemoan his sides lack of concentration and hard work instantly brings to mind an old football quote that is very relevant to the 90 minutes we witnessed on Saturday evening.
“Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard” is an anecdote that rings worryingly true for Juventini after recent performances. Despite taking a second half lead through Cristiano Ronaldo, the Bianconeri always looked vulnerable in a game they never had any control of. The Portuguese superstar has now directly contributed to an impressive 50% of his side’s goals in Serie A, a statistic that shows a concerning reliance on CR7.
Prior to falling behind, Hellas and their coach Ivan Juric had shown just why they have been one of the peninsula’s outstanding teams this campaign. A relentless desire to run intensely had their illustrious hosts on the back-foot for the majority of the opening half. Bravely opting to deploy a player orientated press paid dividends for Hellas, as they left Juve flustered and forced them into playing more direct passes into attacking areas.
Verona took risks, but showed courage in doing so. There is much to admire about this youthful team who knew they had little to lose against Juventus and rather than cower at the prospect of facing The Old Lady, the Gialloblu took it as an opportunity to showcase their talents to a wider audience.
This performance from the home team was underpinned by their will to run, but Juric’s players executed their striker-less system intelligently. Matteo Pessina marshalled Miralem Pjanic well out of possession, but when his team had the ball, he provided an attacking link by occupying positions around the Juventus midfield, freeing himself to receive the ball.
Hellas forced Sarri’s back four to defend narrow, creating spaces down the sides for marauding wing-backs Marco Davide Faraoni and Darko Lazovic. The smart positioning of Fabio Borini and Mattia Zaccagni played a key role in helping Hellas create overloads in wide areas. Zaccagni on the left stationed himself between Juan Cuadrado and Matthijs de Ligt, whilst Borini did the same on the right, helping to occupy Leo Bonucci and Alex Sandro in the same way.
Aside from watching rivals Juventus struggle, Fiorentina fans would have been doubly delighted with the performance of Sofyan Amrabat in midfield. La Viola’s new recruit for next season seemingly covered every blade of grass between the boxes, bringing fantastic balance to his side in the process. Registering the most touches and attempted passes in the Hellas team, he formed part of an excellent midfield duo with Miguel Veloso.
Further back young defender Marash Kumbulla enhanced his growing reputation as he completed all six of his attempted six tackles, pocketing Douglas Costa throughout and only allowing the Brazilian space when he was substituted because of another injury.
For all Verona’s hard work, it appeared as though a passage of world class play from CR7 would leave them empty handed, but Amrabat and co were never likely to go quietly. They pushed on, Juric sent on a striker in the form of Giampaolo Pazzini, thus taking further risks by leaving bigger open spaces, but they received the rewards their play deserved. Punishing two Juventus mistakes in a clinical manner turned the game around in the space of 10 minutes and once ahead, Hellas never appeared in danger of conceding a late goal.
As for Juve, the lazy way in which they surrendered their lead summed up a dire performance. Beyond Ronaldo, Sarri’s players made little impact on proceedings and there is a growing concern that the Turin giants are heading in the wrong direction.
The midfield continues to be an anonymous part of the team. Pjanic was expected to savour playing under Sarri, but instead the Bosnian is regressing, and it is perhaps now time for Juve to find a different solution in his role, even if this causes further short-term pain.
Mister Sarri’s words around issues with concentration and superficial attitudes within the squad are without doubt a problem. However, needing to work harder and “get dirty” as he mentioned are not attributes that are not strongly associated with Sarri, so if he expects things to change in that department, he will need to be the man to push it.
In truth, the problems for La Vecchia Signora have been growing over the last couple of years and it should not be overly surprising if this is the season when the winning run finally ends. Pieces that are glued together over time always run the risk of becoming unstuck and at this moment, Juve are very much in danger of doing just that. The club’s management could be facing some harsh criticism in the near future.
Hellas Verona have just added extra spice to what is an already enthralling Serie A season.