Juventus fans probably woke up on Tuesday morning, went to get the Serie A table and smiled.
I Bianconeri was third with 27 points – just four behind leaders Milan, and with an ongoing game against struggling Fiorentina to shoot one point away from I Rossoneri.
Fast forward 24 hours and Andrea Pirlo’s side have fallen in the standings, are three points worse off – now seven behind Milan – and lick their wounds from the worst blows they’ve ever received since moving to the new Allianz stadium in 2011.
As for the nightmare days in football, it was as bad as it gets for a team of the old lady’s stature. Juve’s morale must have taken a slight hit when it was announced ahead of their home game with La Viola that they had been deprived of the three points originally awarded to them for the game which had not managed to unfold against Napoli, putting them even. points with I Partenopei and AS Roma.
It remains to be seen whether the players carried this news to the pitch with them on Tuesday night, but they ended up making the worst display of the Pirlo era, conceding early, receiving a red card for a reckless challenge and dispatching two more. in an embarrassing 3-0 loss. Defeats on and off the field.
It was Juve’s first league loss of the season under their new boss and served as a reminder for those who had been cradled in a false sense of security by this undefeated streak: this team is in an aerial fight for the title.
While a 13-game loss portrays Pirlo’s reign in a positive light, only six wins and a worrying six draws tell the true story of their start to the end of the season for the 2020/21 campaign. Juventus are still in the process of figuring out who they are and who they would like to become under their new manager, and while any learning curve takes time, time is running out for the boss to get it right.
Tuesday’s loss was certainly a damning step in the wrong direction for this Bianconeri side, as Fiorentina rioted and clinched a famous victory over their bitter rivals. It won’t take long for Juve fans to point out Juan Cuadrado’s 18th-minute dismissal as the deciding factor in the contest, but truth be told, La Viola was in charge from the start.
Dusan Vlahovic broke the deadlock in three minutes, after Franck Ribery’s exceptional ball wiped out the entire backline, leaving Leonardo Bonucci and Matthijs de Ligt in pursuit of their own tails. It was a brilliant pass from the shrewd Frenchman, but it was much, much too easy for the Serbian striker to run behind the defense without any opposition.
Then came a moment of stupidity. Cuadrado launched into a high, late, nasty tackle, and although he survived the referee’s initial refereeing, he couldn’t get past the long arm of the VAR. A bad decision and out of character for the defender? Perhaps. But the red card spoke of a deeper problem in the whole team.
The Colombian’s dispatch was Juve’s fifth of the season, the highest of any team in the top five leagues. These statistics highlight a major lack of discipline and management of the game in all areas, with players either being forced to earn a second yellow when pursuing or protecting a match, or the red haze descending in front of a player far too coiled up. .
Whatever the cause, Pirlo must eradicate these bad habits. It’s hard enough to win games with 11 men on the pitch in one of the most competitive Serie A seasons in years, let alone spend more than a third of your games being a lightweight man.
While their mental approach is miles from the mark, tactically there are some gaping holes to the side as well. Pirlo is determined to get Juve playing in the style he wants, with a return of five that can seamlessly turn into a four-man defense (and vice versa) if needed, without changing staff.
While this may seem like a creative and exciting plan at first, one major flaw remains. There will always be at least a square peg in a round hole across the defensive line, and that poses more problems than solutions for champions.
On Tuesday that square peg was Alex Sandro. The Brazilian played on the left side of a three-way defense, and he just didn’t look comfortable from start to finish. His misery was compounded by comedic means of a cross into his own net for Fiorentina’s second, then allowing Martin Caceres to outsmart him and tap to hit a third from close range.
No matter how hard you sand this square dowel, it will never fit the round hole perfectly.
Is Pirlo making his own job harder than it should be with these tactical choices? May be. But he’s trying to imprint a new identity on the team, which is really needed after a year in the wild with Maurizio Sarri.
But the Italian boss must be careful: his luck took a turn for the worse on Tuesday. Points were wrenched, questions raised about his tactics and team selections, and the goodwill grace period has indeed expired.
Rivals Juve smell blood and Pirlo knows they are now in the biggest fight to defend their title in a decade. It’s time to be fine, Andrea.