Rarely have calls for a coach’s head been as vociferous as those screeching for Massimiliano Allegri’s head. Juventus fans are desperate to move on, and put his return into the deepest caverns of their conscience. Even those that are revelling in their slump see his continued presence as an eyesore.
For the time being, Allegri is going nowhere. Things cannot continue as they are, however. The Old Lady are depressing on the eye, struggling for results, and Allegri refuses to keep pace with the development and flexibility exercised by other sides around them.
This piece will aim to dissect the data behind Juventus‘ tactical drudgery, as well as offering a potential solution to their alarming decline.
A forgotten identity
Juventus has never been a by-word for expressive, attacking football. It has always been the hallmark of a winning mentality, and hoarding silverware by means of a clinical approach to matches.
Having only won two of their opening seven Serie A matches, this identity has clearly deserted the side. Sluggish football can be excused if the results keep rolling in, not when the season record reads two wings, four draws, and a defeat.
That sole defeat came to bottom-placed Monza; the newcomers first win of the season and first-ever in Serie A. Juventus had been beset by injury and suspension following the dramatic 2-2 draw with Salernitana a week prior, but this was no excuse for a performance so tepid.
They are without a win in any competition since August 31, and sit bottom of their Champions League group. This is more than just a current season issue too. Since a three-match winning streak in March, Juventus have won just seven of their last 19 matches; a 36.8% win rate.
The writing has been on the wall for many months. A proactive summer was largely lauded, but even the glitzy, galactico signings brought in have failed to gloss over the widening chasms in Allegri’s plan.
Attack? What attack?
Nine goals from seven Serie A matches is a meagre return for a squad with so much attacking quality. Looking beyond this, Juventus’ attack starts to look even worse.
Their current rate of 12.57 shots per 90 minutes is the 12th best in Serie A, but their 3.14 shots on target per 90 minutes is better than only four other teams. It is also the 17th-highest shot accuracy percentage across Serie A.
It gets worse too. When you take penalties out of the equation (Juventus have scored one from two penalty attempts), Allegri’s side have amassed an xG of 6.8 from their seven Serie A outings. That is under one goal, per the metric, per match.
These shortcomings continue when assessing the individual players. Dušan Vlahović, top scorer on four goals, is the only player in the squad to be taking over three shots per 90. Having been a real threat from set pieces, the Serb is struggling from open play despite being their highest scorer.
There also seems to be no chemistry between those in attacking positions. Absent are the intuitive combinations and telekinetic relationships. Juventus have three main attacking routines:
- One is to play in one of the full-backs or Filip Kostić down the outside, and pray that a cross finds one of Vlahović or Weston McKennie
- The second is Vlahović spinning in behind and being fed by a lobbed pass from deep. This also requires a firing and confident version of the Serbian that is currently lacking
- The third is a set-piece or dead ball; a moment of magic such as Vlahović‘s free-kick against AS Roma to pull his side forward
These are not the mechanisms of an unlucky attacking unit, waiting to hit a purple patch. they are the repeated punts of a poor side.
Allegri’s teams have never been aggressive, front-foot pressers. There is also no prerequisite for all teams to play in that manner, but off the ball Juventus are as laboured and uninspired as they are on it.
Whatever the system, be it a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3, Juventus offer little aggression from front to back out of possession. They rank 18th, 16th and 13th for pressures in the attacking, middle, and defensive thirds respectively, and fourth lowest overall.
Low pressing numbers is nothing new for Juventus. In both the 2019/20 season under Maurizio Sarri and 2020/21 under Andrea Pirlo, the Old Lady were second and third lowest in the total pressure charts in each season.
The difference is that under these managers they would dominate the ball. More time in possession (58.3% in 19/20 and 57.1% in 20/21) naturally resulted in less time out of possession; bringing the pressure count down.
Allegri’s team of 2022/23 are only holding 49.1% of the ball, and yet they are still showing no sign of engaging aggressively out of possession. This could be a feature of available personnel. Federico Chiesa is typically a proactive presser but is out injured for another while yet, while the likes of Vlahović, Moise Kean and Angel Di Maria offer little without the ball.
An adaptable and reflexive coach can manage such issues, however. Especially with a squad as full and talented as this. Allegri’s refusal to adjust and instil a new, riskier approach rather than sitting deep and inviting pressure, is the main cause at play.
Another failing in Juventus’ set-up is their midfield. A quota of Paul Pogba, Manuel Locatelli, Weston McKennie, Leandro Paredes, Adrien Rabiot and Fabio Miretti should not be lacking in quality. Pogba is yet to step on the pitch through injury, Locatelli and Rabiot are short of form, while Paredes and McKennie are failing to improve the team.
Paredes’ signing was interesting. His best form at Paris-Saint Germain and Argentina has come when playing between two energetic and athletic midfielders. At Paris Saint-Germain it was Marco Verratti and Idrissa Gana Gueye; for Argentina it’s Giovani Lo Celso and Rodrigo De Paul. These ground-eating, aggressive players protected Paredes, and would supply him with a constant flow of passes having won possession.
The likes of Rabiot, Pogba and McKennie especially do not offer anything close to this protection. Miretti has impressed and has shown himself to be a willing presser, but Locatelli is arguably at his best playing in Paredes‘ spot; the very base of a midfield three.
It’s even worse in a 4-4-2, like at Monza. Paredes and Miretti played as the central two, while McKennie was shifted out to the right of midfield. Paredes would drop deep in, yet only had Miretti for protection. The system offered Paredes no passing options as the middle of the pitch sat almost entirely vacant. A long punt upfield was often the only option.
The only way is up… right?
There are possible solutions, and with the resources already at Allegri’s disposal.
Juventus have the means (just) to move to a back three. This could help remedy a number of issues, especially their porous defence. The Old Lady might have only conceded five times this Serie A season, but their xGA of 8.5 suggests they have benefited from the good form of goalkeeper Matteo Perin.
It will also see a number of players return to their best positions. Bremer was Serie A’s best defender last season playing in the centre of a back three, and Filip Kostic’s excellent crossing skillset is best utilised as a wing-back where he can hug the touchline. A midfield of Paredes, Miretti and Locatelli is functional and should improve control in the centre of the pitch.
Juventus and Allegri are not in a position to seek perfect remedies. Changing tact to a system with aggressive wing-backs and a ball-confident midfield should see their fortunes pick up.
Allegri has been left behind by a raft of coaches who flex and adapt to each and every team they face without losing sight of their principles.
Until Juventus get their own manager of that ilk, the cycle will never truly break