As they prepared to face Genoa on Sunday, Juventus were unsurprisingly in good spirits, the Turin giants having secured their place in the knockout rounds of the UEFA Champions League just a few days earlier.
Now guaranteed to progress to the last-16 courtesy of Tuesday’s 3-1 win at Sevilla, Massimiliano Allegri and his players knew they could concentrate on domestic matters until the New Year.
“We must bear in mind that between now and March, our focus is going to be entirely on Serie A,” the coach explained to reporters at his most recent press conference. “It’s all about the league for now and we mustn’t lose sight of our objectives here at home.”
Max Allegri demanded focus from his players.
Allegri also urged caution however, praising an opponent who had not lost any of their six previous 2016/17 home games. “The Marassi is always a difficult place to go and get a result,” the former AC Milan boss continued, and that analysis would prove to be wholly accurate once this game got underway.
It took Genoa just 29 minutes to stun the Bianconeri, opening up a surprising 3-0 lead in that time thanks to two goals from Giovanni Simeone and an Alex Sandro own goal. From there, Grifone coach Ivan Juric instructed his side to frustrate the visitors, sitting back and not allowing them a clear path forward.
According to WhoScored.com, Juve managed to dominate possession, taking a 65.1 per cent share over the entire game. Yet they barely mustered any real openings, the same source showing that the reigning Serie A champions managed to get a total of just two shots on target.
3-0 – Last time Juventus were 3-goal down at half-time in a Serie A match was in October 2005: Milan-Juventus (3-0 HT, 3-1 FT). Skid.
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) November 27, 2016
As noted in the tweet above, that marked the first time in over 11 years that the Old Lady conceded three times in the opening 45 minutes of a game, a statistic that shows just how dominant Juventus have been in recent years.
They came into the game with long-term injury absentees Paulo Dybala and Andrea Barzagli still missing, while Giorgio Chiellini, Claudio Marchisio and Gonzalo Higuain were only healthy enough for a place on the bench.
Allegri threw on the latter as his side chased a way back into this encounter, but it would be Miralem Pjanic who eventually handed them a lifeline. The Bosnia international curled home a superb free kick in the 82nd minute, but they created very little else and truthfully deserved to lose.
The 3-1 final scoreline ended a four-game winning streak against Genoa for Juve, but it also brought an end to this season’s unconvincing run of results. In 18 previous competitive outings, the Bianconeri had failed to win just four times, losing to both Milanese clubs at San Siro while Olympique Lyonnais and Sevilla held them to draws in the Champions League.
They had not lost in six consecutive fixtures before this one, going back to Milan’s triumph in late October, but had also not played well in quite some time. Indeed, perhaps other than September victories against Sassuolo, Cagliari and Dinamo Zagreb, Juve had failed to look impressive during the current campaign.
Common wisdom tells us that the very best teams win without playing well, something which undoubtedly has proven to be true for most title-winning sides. It certainly has for Juventus over the past five years, their overall quality and depth often helping them to wins even when they have not been in good form.
Ivan Juric prepared his Genoa side perfectly.
Yet doing so only takes a squad so far, and eventually they need to find the cohesion and harmony of champions. This current incarnation of the Old Lady has not done so with any consistency, and Juric’s Genoa unquestionably punished them for it here, outplaying their opponents from start to finish.
The visibly proud 41-year-old coach spoke to Sky Sport Italia (h/t Football Italia) shortly after the final whistle, explaining his approach and praising his players for executing that game plan to perfection:
We did well to be clinical, determined, aggressive and get the maximum points. We are working hard with Giovanni Simeone, as he can improve in many areas, but it’s a pleasure to train him because he always stays for extra training and has great instinct in the box.
There have been dropped points this season and that causes regrets. Today things just seemed to be going our way, as we usually have to work a lot harder to score three goals. … I want to give the credit to my lads rather than say it was a bad Juventus performance.
Giovanni Simeone caused problems all afternoon.
But while the Grifone—and Diego Simeone’s son in particular—deserve that praise, both the final result and the overall performance from Juventus merit reflection, improvement and criticism.
It began, as it has so many times this season, with a previously excellent defence once again making inexplicable errors. Stephan Lichtsteiner was caught out of position on numerous occasions, exposing those behind him far too often in yet another abysmal display from the Switzerland international.
Leonardo Bonucci compounded one of those lapses with a ridiculous attempted back heel when he simply needed to clear the ball. That eventually led to Genoa’s opening goal seen in the video below, and the poor display from the defence was worsened by yet another incoherent midfield showing.
Two monster saves from Buffon and Gio Simeone taps home #GenoaJuve pic.twitter.com/O6RdQiGkXr
— Scot Munroe (@scot_munroe) November 27, 2016
Rarely this season has the centre of the pitch been a strong point for Juventus, with Allegri’s constant rotation and a steady stream of injuries causing further issues. Here it was Pjanic, Hernanes and Sami Khedira, but no matter which three players have filled the roles, the quality has simply not been there.
Mario Mandzukic looked out of sorts again in attack, where the absence of Dybala continues to be a problem. Robbed of his creativity, the team has often looked blunt, but Genoa’s cause was boosted by rare poor games from both Sandro and Juan Cuadrado, who have been among Juve’s most consistent players this term.
Indeed, beyond that pair, Buffon and Bonucci have arguably been the only ones to deserve praise this season, with far too many members of the squad below par and Allegri’s team selection rarely helping.
Buffon and Bonucci have consistently impressed.
That must end quickly. The coach and his players must look back on the loss to Genoa and recognise that it is emblematic of wider problems, then work together to rectify as many as possible before their next outing.
The defence must recover their concentration and communication, the balance so sorely lacking in midfield must be restored, while the cohesion and creativity needed in attack must also be quickly rediscovered.
Only by doing so can Juve hope to keep their domestic rivals at bay while seeking the progress in Europe they so sorely crave. The losses to Milan and Inter should have been wake-up calls, but now the alarm bells are truly ringing for a team in danger of losing its invincible aura.
Allegri and the team have hit the snooze button twice; they must not do so a third time.