We are practically in March and Maurizio Sarri is still saying exactly the same things he did when taking over from Max Allegri in July. It was evident during most of his Chelsea tenure too that his style of football only works when the ball is moved quickly, when movements are well-drilled and the pass is made to the space where the player will be rather than where the nearest player already stands. So are players resistant to his ideas or is Sarri just not very good at getting those concepts across?
It’s not all bad, of course, because Juventus comfortably qualified for the Round of 16 with 16 out 18 points from the group stage. Currently, they are sitting first in Serie A, with an average of 2.6 points per game. Olympique Lyonnais, on the other hand, have only collected 37 points in 26 games, they sit seventh in Ligue 1 and managed to survive the Champions League group stage by the skin of their teeth. Last night's game was the ultimate proof that, in football, numbers and records often don't account for much.
In fact, only two full months into the New Year and three away from the Istanbul Final, Juventus lost their first tie in the Champions League this season. Interestingly, the 1-0 defeat at the hands of Lyon represents only the second match across all competitions in which Sarri's men have been held goalless ever since drawing 0-0 to Fiorentina in September. For the first time in 32 games, not even the team's brightest stars were able to shine enough to cover up an all-round disappointing team performance.
Since the very start of the game, Rudi Garcia's men defended with great stamina and determination, making it difficult for the visitors to find the necessary space to unleash their attacking firepower. Lyon's gameplan looked pretty straightforward: defend with five men at all times, sit back, break the opponent's momentum, and try to capitalise on the counter. The plan worked well, often forcing Paulo Dybala and Cristiano Ronaldo to drop deep to get the ball and respectively switch positions with Rodrigo Bentancur and Adrien Rabiot upfront.
The Bianconeri dominated possession, but aside from an insidious ball in from Ronaldo, they struggled to create clear chances.
Houssem Aouar escaped far too easily from Bentancur on the left flank, got to the byline and awarded Lucas Tousart's run down the middle with a perfect mid-air assist in the box.
Despite looking livelier in the second half, the Bianconeri still moved the ball too slowly and were no threat to Garcia's well-organised defence. At the 62nd minute, Sarri substituted Pjanic after yet another drab performance that got fans wondering what happened to their once mighty midfield leader.
Juventus took their first shot anywhere near the target at the 80th minute, yet nobody made the most out of the chances that ensued. Both Dybala and substitute Gonzalo Higuain shot wide from good positions, while Ronaldo misplaced a header in extra time.
A 1-0 away defeat to Lyon shouldn't be too difficult a result to overturn for a team like Juventus. However, this was just the latest of a number of highly disappointing performances put in by Sarri and his men over the course of the season.
Be it that the players are still adapting to a new coach and system, that Sarri has been experimenting line ups and rotating different players, fans have had enough and are asking for results, consistency and cohesion.
Sarri insists the ball moves at twice the speed in training than in a match situation, so is the issue psychological? Should there be more intensive training sessions with the youth team or a local side providing some sort of opposition they can get accustomed to? Why did Napoli embrace Sarri’s style so perfectly and yet now both Chelsea and Juventus have proved resistant to the basic tenets?
Whatever the reason, Juventus have to find the solution quickly or this risks becoming a completely wasted campaign.