On Wednesday, Juventus kicked off their Champions League campaign in disappointing fashion against Sevilla playing out to a nil-nil draw. Massimiliano Allegri made some rather questionable decisions in this clash that ultimately cost his side the three points.
When the lineups were released for the Juventus-Sevilla clash, it left many, including myself, scratching their heads. Both Alex Sandro and newly-acquired midfield dynamo Miralem Pjanic were rooted to the bench in favour of the offensively limited Patrice Evra and Kwadwo Asamoah. While both are solid players for league play, they simply don’t have what it takes to make a difference in Europe. Often times, Evra left a lot to be desired going forward while the same could be said for his Ghanaian counterpart. Until they came off in the 67th minute (and 10 seconds) Juventus truly struggled to impose themselves on this game. Sampaoli’s Sevilla were happy to break up the flow of the game with choppy fouls encouraging Juventus to try and break them down. However, until Pjanic assumed the reigns in the midfield it looked unlikely. Juve’s lacklustre midfield meant Paulo “La Joya” Dybala often had to drop all the way to midfield to try and create chances for himself and his teammates. To his credit, the former Palermo man succeeded in this respect on a few occasions but was unable to do so with regularity.
All this begs the question: Why didn’t Massimiliano Allegri play Pjanic and Alex Sandro from the beginning of this game? With them on the pitch, Juventus created a number of chances but simply ran out of time. The only plausible explanation would be that the former Milan tactician knew something about their fitness levels that we didn’t know. After the game, however, Allegri confirmed that wasn’t the case and he thought Pjanic would have a bigger impact on the game coming off the bench. In addition, with a clash with Inter coming up on Sunday, it’s possible Allegri took the luxury to rest some of his players. If that’s the case, their exclusions from the starting eleven are, quite frankly, ludicrous. Pjanic was brought in from Roma to take Juventus to another level and play in the Champions League. The same goes for Alex Sandro. The bianconeri have conquered Italy for the last five seasons and could afford to take a risk domestically to set themselves up for European success. Seeing that it was the first game of the group stages and it was at home against a Sevilla side that are still coming to terms with their new identity, this was very much a must win game. In the Champions League, the contenders win their home games and come away with something when visiting the opposition. It’s a simple equation.
After a summer of considerable upheaval and investment from Juventus, it would be foolish to deny their Champions League aspirations. This is a team that wants to take the next step and join Europe’s top dogs for good. If Juventus keep playing a conservative 3-5-2 and don’t field their best eleven, this won’t be possible. It’s time for Allegri to trust his men and take the handbrake off, once and for all. Given his current options, a 4-3-2-1 formation would be ideal in Europe. That way, Dybala has some creative support in the form of either Marko Pjaca or Juan Cuadrado and Dani Alves can return to his best form. Moreover, it maintains Allegri’s preferred 3-man midfield that he wrote a thesis about. In the past, Juventus put in their best performances in Europe playing with a back four. The only problem with it is that one of Andrea Barzagli or Giorgio Chiellini sits on the bench as Leonardo Bonucci is undroppable. That said, having a wealth of quality options off the bench is a “problem” Allegri will welcome.
Let’s not sugarcoat this: Juventus are the favourites in this group and must come out as group winners if they want to progress deep into this tournament. Last season, Juventus, despite beating eventual group winners Manchester City twice, finished behind the English giants as they faltered at the last hurdle, ironically against Sevilla. As a result, they finished second in the group and drew Bayern Munich in the round of 16. The rest is history. Manchester City, by contrast, made it all the way to the semi-finals beating Dynamo Kyiv and Paris Saint-Germain. This year Juventus cannot afford to make the same mistake and need to put this group beyond doubt as soon as possible. In order to do this, Allegri must stop thinking he’s managing in Serie A and unleash this Juve’s true potential in Champions League play. Over his career, the Italian tactician has never topped his group in the Champions League, a trend he must overturn this season.
Would these lineups give Juventus more of a chance to succeed in Europe? Let us know on social media.
Luckily for Juventus and Allegri, it’s only match-day one in the Champions League. Therefore, there’s plenty of time to turn it around for the Italian champions ahead of their next clash with Dinamo Zagreb on September 27th. Given the financial backing this past summer, it’s a make or break season for Allegri. It’s now time for him to be fearless and take off the shackles from this Juventus side. If not, both Juventus and him will pay the price.
For more ramblings you can find me on Twitter @GCaltabanis. Skip ahead to 22:39 until 24:55 for my rant and take on Juventus-Sevilla and Massimiliano Allegri.