While one traditional power of European soccer might only be in a temporary blip, there’s another that has fallen off its horse and then had that horse piss on them. Bayern Munich will most likely recover. Juventus, on the other hand, might be headed to the muck for a while.
Juve lost to Monza on Sunday, its fifth straight game in all competitions without a win. They were deservedly thwacked at home by Benfica in the Champions League previous to that. They drew with Salernitana at home leading into that European adventure, which came after PSG pretty much kicked them around the Parc de Princes before that. They’ve only won two games out of nine so far this season.
All of that has left Juve eighth in the Serie A table. And they deserve to be there. Going by metrics like expected goals and expected goals against, eighth is about the best they could hope for so far in this campaign. They might actually be lucky, as their goalkeepers have saved three goals over expected so far in Serie A, second best in the league. If they were getting just average goaltending, they’d be in the bottom half of the table.
It’s a mess all over the field. Juventus are fourth-worst in Serie A in generating shots on target per match. They’re third-worst in passes into the opposing penalty area. They’re middle of the pack in shot-creating actions per 90 minutes. They don’t ever pressure the ball in the opposing half, and barely do so in the middle third either. They win the third-least amount of tackles. They don’t attack well, and they don’t defend well, which is a funny way to go about winning soccer matches — which is supposedly the business that Juventus are in.
Juve thought they had everything solved by doing what European powers do, which is throwing money in every direction, and hoping what comes out of the assembly line purrs. Last winter, the prize was Dušan Vlahović from Fiorentina, and there certainly can’t be any complaints there. He’s been everything a true No. 9 should be since arriving, pouring in 11 goals in 21 league matches since arriving in the middle of last season.
But symbolic of the current dysfunction in the black and white half of Turin, Denis Zakaria was bought last January, and this August was loaned out to Chelsea. And it’s not like there’s been a manager or regime change. They just spun around on him within months.
It continued this summer. While calls for manager Massimiliano Allegri to be axed have certainly echoed throughout the hills, the front office has said that there is a project that will take years to come to total fruition. But what is that project? Paul Pogba was brought back from Man United and Angel Di Maria signed on a free transfer. But they’re 29 and 34. Pogba hasn’t even gotten on the field (spell casters just aren’t what they used to be) and won’t until January. Matthijs De Ligt, just 23, was punted to Munich, despite being someone they could have built around. Danilo and Juan Cuadrado have started a lot in defense, and they’re both over 30.
Further clouding whatever this project might be in the midfield. No one’s sure what exactly it’s supposed to do. It hasn’t helped that Allegri keeps flipping between two or three centerbacks behind them. It can be heavy on creativity, especially through teenager Miretti or Rabiot or Paredes, but it doesn’t have a lot of bite. We’ve documented how West McKennie runs around a lot, but he doesn’t really do much other than pop up into the box late to score. He’s a “full of sound and fury” player most of the time, except when he’s scoring. There isn’t a shutdown defensive mid here, and it’s not going to be resolved by Pogba’s return.
They aren’t helped by the immobility of the front line when they don’t have the ball. Vlahović doesn’t press the ball at all, and neither does Filip Kostic (both are in the 10th percentile or less in any pressure or defensive category amongst forwards). Di Maria is a jalopy without the ball. This was the same problem Juve had when Cristiano Ronaldo was bitching and moaning and not moving when he wasn’t trying to score, and allowed teams to scorch through the midfield through the open gate he left up front. Nothing’s changed.
All of it has combined to make Juventus just a dreadful watch. Too many guys want to do the same thing, too many guys don’t want to do enough, and everyone seems to be not where they’re supposed to be. They’ve only managed to generate over 2.0 xG in one match this season, and they’ve only had one game where they’ve managed over five shots on target. They are inert.
And it’s not going to be easy to get back into the Serie A race, or even the top four race, or get up off the mat in the Champions League. In the latter, they get a double-header against Maccabi Haifa after this international break, but even if PSG takes all six points off Benfica at the same time, Juve would still have to travel to Lisbon and get a result and likely another one at home against PSG to progress. And Juve does not fancy itself as a club that plays on Thursday nights.
In the league, Milan, Inter, Napoli, and Atalanta all look to be significantly better, and Roma and Lazio can easily argue they’re equal to Juve. At least most of these teams seem to have a plan, which Juve only claim to.
And quite frankly, it’s hard not to enjoy. Chairman Andreas Agnelli is still holding onto the cracked dream of the Super League, thinking Juve had somehow outgrown Serie A, when they were admittedly racking up Scudetto after Scudetto. But now they’ve sunk and can’t seem to find a way out. The hiring of Maurizio Arrivabene as director is pretty hilarious, as most F1 fans will tell you that in previous life running Ferrari is what left Ferrari the current mess they are now. If ever there was a team that hoisted itself on its own petard, it’s Juve.
Not many tears will be shed for them around Italy, unless they’re out of laughter.