As the old italian saying that suggests that after seeing Naples, there is nothing else worth seeing, we find ourselves questioning our Scudetto chances, after a lacklustre performance on the newly baptised Diego Armando Maradona stadium.
As mentioned after our loss against Inter, Pirlo had to go on a winning streak in the upcoming matches in order to keep Juve and his job afloat. Thankfully, he (almost) did that, as Juve have won another Supercoppa, have qualified to another Coppa Italiana final and have gained valuable Serie A points. However, After 6 wins and a draw, Juve have crumbled and thus the most successful part of our season (yet) has come to an end, at the hands of Napoli, one of our main competitors for a top 4 spot.
Juve lined-up in the once fashionable 4-4-2: Szczesny – Cuadrado, De Ligt, Chiellini, Danilo -Chiesa, Bentancur, Rabiot, Bernardeschi – Morata, Ronaldo, and yet some of Pirlo`s choices left me clueless.
Apparently, Pirlo reverted to his “shift the players all around” style, as we had 4 players out of position, with Cuadrado-RB, Danilo-LB, Bernardeschi-RM, Chiesa-LM. Basically, both flanks were filled with players in unfamiliar positions. Even if all of them have played in these positions before, I maintain that this is by no means a long term solution. As another saying goes: You can fool some people all the time, you can fool all the people sometimes, but you can never fool all the people all the time.
Rightly so, Pirlo`s first substitution was Alex Sandro for Cuadrado, as Danilo moved as RB, and Chiesa was moved to the right. And shortly after we began pushing the game towards Napoli`s goal. That halftime substitution alone was a clear indicator of Pirlo`s mistake of fielding Danilo as a LB, while leaving Sandro and Frabotta on the bench.
Another dubious choice was the Rabiot-Bentancur as our only CMs. These guys need someone with more vision, technique and willingness to go forward, otherwise they look like a pair of rudimentary, defensive midfielders, that have troubles of transitioning the game from defence to offence. And even if Arthur and Ramsey are out injured, why not play Kulusevski as a trequartista, a sort of liaison between the lines? Why on earth could not Pirlo opt for: Bentancur, Rabiot – Ronaldo (LW) Kulusevski (CAM) Chiesa (RW), Morata (ST)? Why do we have to stick to this 442 plan, with 40% of the team played out of position….
The consequence was clear, as both Ronaldo and Morata would retreat to our own half to help our midfield in moving the ball forward. Unsurprisingly, Pirlo substituted Bernardeschi and Bentancur with Mckennie and Kulusevski in a bid to finally find the formula that would pin back the opponent.
A last word on Chiesa: to have a such an extraordinary and expensive talent, a final third specialist, that has already convinced us numerous times of his quality, and to play him as a LEFT midfielder is beyond my understanding. What`s the point of using his technique in midfield struggles? What`s the point of exposing him to midfield bullying? Do we want him to get injured in the centre of the field? Chiesa should play upfront. Period.
The first half was a show of Juve`s impotence, as we produced absolutely nothing of importance upfront. A Morata shot blocked by Ronaldo, a Bernardeschi rugby style shot into the stands, a Ronaldo free kick into the wall (another one, why is he even trying anymore?) and that`s about it. Napoli did not produce much either, but since one of their crosses forced Chiellini to face-slap an opponent in the box, let`s presume that they produced more: a well-deserved penalty, a well-taken shot by Insigne, a lovely message to his “amore” and we were down 1-0.
The second half showed an improved Juventus, after the above mentioned substitutions. Ronaldo and Morata missed from close range, Chiesa`s effort was denied by Meret. Worth mentioning are also Sandro`s and Chiesa`s long shots and Ronaldo`s selfishness in finishing on his own a good looking counter attack, as McKennie screamed his frustration.
Surely, had we played the first half in the same way, we would have never lost the match, so this one is clearly on Pirlo, who got it wrong last night and used his substitutions to make up for his mistakes. He must forget his hybrid ideas, as this is not beach football or play-station. In real life, fluid football is obtained by playing players in their best positions. Hey, even in computer-gaming there is an indicator called Chemistry, that sanctions team`s overall performance for out-of-position players.
Our MVP (if we can name one) was Chiesa. The guy is fantastic, he can create danger out of nothing and it`s a shame that we still treat him like a “fill the hole” player, that must play as a RM-LM, just because the coach is stubborn in his ideas.
Post match reactions
Pirlo was more interested in the referee`s decisions, rather than our own performance, that he seems to considers to be very good.
“We never allowed a shot on goal, we lost due to a dubious incident, but it’s a pity we didn’t get the win. We put in the performance that we needed to, but not the result that we deserved. We moved the ball around, but not quickly enough, so Napoli were able to get into position. In the second half we were more enterprising, created more chances, but didn’t get the goal.”
“If you give a penalty for that, then any contact will be punishable by a spot-kick. If that had been given for us, there would’ve been a lot of controversy and complaints, assuming it’d be given to us at all. I am just saying the incidents went that way today. It was a dubious penalty, a doubt over the double yellow card for Giovanni Di Lorenzo. Some incidents are treated differently when against Juventus, because everyone talks about us. Sometimes that tactic works, sometimes it doesn’t. Never mind”.
“It’s natural when playing this many games that we lack a bit of sharpness, but it was a good performance and the only thing we were missing was a goal. There’s no guarantee the team that scores the most goals then wins the Scudetto. We create plenty of chances, the Napoli goalkeeper was Man of the Match, so I can’t complain about my strikers today. We could be 10 points off the top with a game in hand, but it’s still only February and if we keep playing at this level, we’ll do well. If we put in this type of performance and score goals, then I am sure we’ll get the results we want.”
Right, let`s blame the referee for our own incompetence in misusing Ronaldo, Morata, Chiesa, Kulusevski against a Napoli side missing their prized 100m defender Koulibaly.
There can`t be any excuses against Porto, Maestro!