Four days after a disappointing home draw against Sevilla in the Champions League, Juventus continue to slide out of form as they lost 2-1 to Inter in the Derby d’Italia. The Bianconeri coach Max Allegri was already facing a media and fan backlash going into Sunday’s visit to the San Siro. Having lost the lead on a corner kick and an avoidable giveaway by Kwadwo Asamoah, Allegri has no choice but to question some of his decisions and strategy for the match. Perhaps the 3-5-2 is not Juventus’ best formation right now. With all due respect to Sevilla and Inter, the Old Lady have not played to their potential or their expectations. Even team captain Gianluigi Buffon took a moment to blast his teammates for throwing a lead away in his post match comments.
Unfortunately for the Bianconeri faithful, Allegri’s approach for the Inter match was to stay with the 3-5-2. Rather than changing his formation to field the best 11 players at his disposal, the same formation that was slow and predictable against Sevilla was chosen with a few key player changes. Pjanic was moved back into the holding midfield role to replace Mario Lemina, with Asamoah and Sami Khedira completing the midfield trio. Gonzalo Higuain was surprisingly left out in favor of Mario Mandzukic, and Alex Sandro replaced Patrice Evra wide left. From a tactical point of view, Allegri’s 3-5-2 is less rigid than his predecessor Antonio Conte’s, which is a weakness right now. The passes are not getting played at the exact correct angles and the runs are not being timed as accurately as they were when Conte had the amazing MVP (Marchisio, Vidal, Pirlo) central midfield combination. Allegri needs to realize that his current central midfielders are not as star studded as that MVP trio, and he either needs to be more pragmatic in how the passing progression operates to open passing lanes for penetrating balls or needs to change the formation altogether.
Further analysis shows that using Asamoah in a central midfield role is not in Juve’s best interest, and they paid the ultimate price when Inter capitalised on his giveaway for the winning goal. In both the Sevilla and Inter matches the Ghanaian had difficulties advancing the ball on the pass or even dribbling out of trouble. His passes are usually sideways or backwards, thus not totally fulfilling the role of a midfielder that links the defense with the attack. In addition, his dribbles often end in him turning around and losing the ball. His ability to provide a spark of danger in attack–getting into the box and getting shots on target or drawing fouls, are all lacking in Asamoah’s game. In all as a replacement for Pogba’s position, he is a huge step down. The return of Claudio Marchisio can not come soon enough for the Bianconeri faithful.
Moving further upfield, Max Allegri decided not to start expensive summer signing Higuain in a game when Juve needed a hold up forward and a reference point high up the field. Mandzukic is a quality forward, but not a 36 goal in a season scorer or a €90 million player. What was Allegri thinking leaving the Bianconeri hitman on the bench in such a big match? Paulo Dybala was having obvious difficulties linking up with Mandzukic throughout the Derby d’Italia. With justification fans and media alike will be left wondering why Pipita was left out of the starting lineup, not to mention when they will be able to see the coach field his best 11 players at the same time.
Interestingly Allegri has chosen not to use Cuadrado in the last two matches, yet both against Sevilla and Inter the players playing instead of him underperformed. This is something to consider when the Colombian often last season looked like the lone spark in Juve’s attack. On the other side Alex Sandro set up one goal and looked dangerous down the left flank throughout the game. Why wasn’t he chosen Wednesday to start against Sevilla? Or better yet, why not use a 4-4-2 with Alex Sandro, Pjanic, Khedira, and Juan Cuadrado playing across the midfield and Dybala, Higuain as forwards? This combination allows Juve to play Evra and Alex Sandro in combination on the left side. And on the right side, Juventus would have both Dani Alves (or Lichsteiner in Serie A) and Cuadrado creating havoc up and down the flank. It is a far more talented lineup and a more potent attacking group than either 11 Allegri put forth last week. It’s also a dual role formation in that in attack when a wide player advances it appears to be a 4-3-3 which is difficult to defend. But when the wide player retreats the team can defend again as a 4-4-2. It’s a formation Juventus had success with in the Champions League in past years, and one Allegri will have no choice but to consider to find form and start achieving maximum points.
Following Lapo Elkann’s social media outburst, tifosi and media will be poised to see how Allegri reacts, how many changes he makes and which players are replaced. There are two things the former Milan coach does well, first is dealing with media pressure. The second is adjusting formations and players when necessary. Keep in mind it was Allegri that had the courage to move away from Conte’s 3-5-2 in favor of a 4-4-2 in order to get his best eleven players on the field. This was the move that helped Juve get over the hump and into deeper stages of the Champions League. Without a doubt Allegri and his staff will be studying every minute of film in the short season to find a solution. Squad rotation is a guarantee when players of the highest caliber are able to be interchanged, but the key is finding the right combination of players fitting into the correct formation. As of yet, Allegri’s Juventus is not firing on all cylinders. The hole in the midfield left by Marchisio’s injury and Pogba’s departure is gaping right now. Marotta will undoubtedly rue the misses on Matuidi and Witsel in August, nonetheless the pressure shifts to Allegri to attain results with players at his disposal. With a midweek clash against Cagliari and a trip to Palermo on Saturday, Juventus will waste no time reshuffling their squad and refocusing on getting back to winning ways.