Prior to Saturday evenings game in Calabria, a Juventus victory was widely anticipated. However, come the end of 90 minutes, the Bianconeri will perhaps feel somewhat relieved to leave with a point given how the game unfolded.
A lacklustre performance from Andrea Pirlo’s men was compounded by some questionable officiating and an offside VAR decision that again left you questioning how the technology is being implemented. Those decisions aside, the main focus remains on Juve’s display and how the team are progressing under their novice tactician.
On reflection, Pirlo will perhaps feel he contributed to his side’s troubles. His starting XI contained four summer signings and two players from the u23’s, the team was unrecognisable so a lack of cohesion was certainly expected but did he have many alternate options? Aaron Ramsey was out of action, Paulo Dybala and Federico Bernardeschi had only returned from injury in the week, while Weston Mckennie and Cristiano Ronaldo are isolating as a result of contracting COVID19 and Alex Sandro remains on the treatment table.
Add to the mix that a number of the other players available would have only returned late in the week after completing an intense two weeks with their respective national teams. Then all of a sudden, a trip to Crotone was made increasingly difficult. The fact remains that The Old Lady had more than enough quality available to dispatch of Giovanni’s Stroppa’s side, but a mistimed Leonardo Bonucci tackle gave the hosts the early boost they needed and before the visitors could settle, they were already chasing an equaliser.
Juventus are still finding their feet under Mister Pirlo, these types of results are likely to be a common occurrence this campaign. The former Italian midfield player is trying to implement a completely new style of play whilst having little to no time training time to work on the tactical details. Pirlo is effectively having to use the real season as his pre-season. The unprecedented circumstances of 2020 meant less preparation time and as a further consequence there is an overly pact fixture schedule, resulting in less time on the pitches at Continassa.
Reduced training hours and having to use matches to find balance in your side is far from ideal, even more so for a first time coach like Pirlo. The subject of balance is key. There was an apparent lack of it against Roma and although the line-up against Crotone appeared better equipped it wasn’t a problem that was likely to disappear in the space of a couple of weeks.
We have already seen the ideas behind Il Maestro’s vision for this Juve. A hybrid system depending on the phase of the game with a commitment to collective football, purposeful play and an attempt to control their opponents. Until these ideas come to fruition there will be holes in Juve’s game, specifically in transition where they have shown a real vulnerability to the counter.
The right side defensive partnership between Danilo and Leonardo Bonnuci is a concern. Pirlo has a very specific role in mind for the Brazilian. At times as a third centre back or as a more orthodox right back but also stepping into midfield to create an additional centre. If Danilo’s movements are timed incorrectly it leaves Bonucci exposed, Leo then becomes a target for the opposition. Crotone made the most of the open space down their left, with debutant Federico Chiesa positioned high and being supported by Danilo one pass behind the Juventus pair left the experienced Bonucci in situations he is far from comfortable defending.
The Bianconeri conceded more space on the Stadio Ezio Scida pitch that Pirlo would like, the gaps between Juve’s defensive lines were not tight enough allowing dangerous forward passes into attacking areas. If they are to commit to pressing, then they must push higher up the pitch.
Of course, a second consecutive away game playing a period of time with 10 men is detrimental but Pirlo’s players again showed bravery in risking the result. Not content with a draw they pushed for three points – as they did in Rome – and they were literally centimetres away from making it happen.
Dejan Kulusevki again played a key role and was behind all of Juve’s best attacks in the first hour of the match. The Swede fits perfectly with Pirlo’s ideas, accompanied by the likes of Alvaro Morata, Federico Chiesa – who made a promising start - and of course Ronaldo, they offer Juve the attacking verticality Pirlo desires. The midfield combination of Arthur and Rodrigo Bentancur showed glimpses of the technical quality that pairing will bring, even if the Brazilian does need to play forward quicker. All of this and a certain number 10 has yet to feature.
At this point it is easy to question Pirlo, but he should be commended for his approach and reasonable start. He has ambitious plans for how he wants Juventus to play and he is not hiding away from them. Pirlo is placing faith in young players and committing to attacking football, the Turin giants are on an interesting journey under their former player and the fans should enjoy the ride. Another opportunity soon approaches with attention quickly turning to the Champions League and a visit to Kiev on Tuesday.