Stubborn Allegri Costs Juventus Again

Juventus Training Session

With the league just about wrapped up, Juventus travelled to Madrid with massive expectations on their shoulders. Crash out of the Champions League, and their season is effectively over. Despite the magnitude of the clash, the bianconeri looked a broken side at the Wanda Metropolitano and allowed Atletico Madrid to dominate from start to finish. Armed with Cristiano Ronaldo, this season was supposed to be different for the Italian giants and yet, Juventus arguably put in their worst European performance in six years.

While many of their stars frankly didn’t show up, Massimiliano Allegri will have to shoulder much of the blame for Juve’s most recent European embarrassment. With the score tied at zero, and still all to play for, Diego Simeone acted proactively bringing on Thomas Lemar, Alvaro Morata, and Angel Correa, essentially giving his side the extra push they needed to claim the victory.

Allegri, by contrast, acted timidly both with his starting lineup and in-game substitutions, keeping Joao Cancelo on the bench in favour of Mattia De Sciglio and only introduced Federico Bernardeschi by the time it was too late. Meanwhile, the former Milan tactician had Dybala operating from the right, as if he was a natural winger. Naturally, what transpired throughout the ninety minutes was an unmitigated disaster, culminating in a heavy defeat, which if we’re being honest, could have been much, much worse for Allegri. He’ll will be thanking VAR and Diego Costa.

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Three Things Lazio Need To Do To Get European Dream On Track

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Following their last-gasp defeat against Genoa, serious doubt was cast over Lazio’s top four hopes. The biancocelesti now find themselves four points behind Milan, and three back of fierce rivals Roma. Factor in a narrow first leg defeat in the Europa League against Sevilla, and you quickly see that Lazio’s Champions League dream is quickly fading. Here are three things Simone Inzaghi must do to get his side back on track in the race for top four.

1) Inzaghi must decide his best eleven, once and for all. 

Over the course of this season, Inzaghi has often tinkered with his starting eleven, leading many to believe he’s not yet aware of what his best lineup is. While injuries have constrained his choices, Luis Alberto and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic are set to return this week. With 14 games left to the season, Lazio cannot afford another slip-up, especially considering Milan’s red-hot form. Ciro Immobile is undoubtedly the first name on the team-sheet, but who should accompany him up top is not always clear. Joaquin Correa has proven to be dangerous, but typically thrives in a three-pronged attack, which allows him the freedom to drift wide.

When deployed alongside Immobile in a two-striker setup, Correa often leaves the Italian striker isolated as he roams freely. With Luis Alberto returning to the fold against Sevilla this week, Inzaghi would be wise to field a three-man attack with the Spaniard and Correa flanking Immobile. Against Juventus, this tactic worked wonders and if it weren’t for their own wastefulness, the biancocelesti could have put the tie to bed early in the second half.

With Milinkovic-Savic and Lucas Leiva in the midfield, Lazio will have all the solidity they need without compromising offensive firepower. Against Sevilla this week, Inzaghi’s men will need to be at their best if they are to overturn the tie, and could do so with this lineup. Let’s not forget – a Europa League win equals safe passage into next year’s Champions League.

2) Beat the teams below them. 

This one is rather obvious but could prove to be crucial in their hopes for European football. All too often Lazio are guilty of stooping down to the level of their opposition and giving them a chance at beating them. Just recently in their 1-0 win over Empoli, Lazio were wholly unconvincing and gave the Serie A minnows ample opportunities to hurt them. Luckily for them, they were able to nick a goal against the run of play and maintain the pace at the top. The same occurred the week before against Frosinone and will continue to happen if it goes unaddressed.

This season, Inzaghi’s men have dropped points against Serie A’s mid-table sides including the likes of Genoa, Torino, Chievo, and Sassuolo. While on their day all these sides possess quality and enterprise to take on any team in the league, Lazio should be claiming all three points regularly against the provinciali. With the season soon coming to a close, this is a pattern Inzaghi will be looking to rectify immediately.

3) Alter their shot selection and stop being wasteful in front of goal. 

Only Juventus and Napoli take more shots than Lazio in Serie A, as the biancocelesti are currently averaging 17 shots per game. Yet, that doesn’t always translate to goals. Right now, Lazio have the fewest goals scored of any side chasing top four football and would have the fewest goals scored in the entire top half of the table if it weren’t for Walter Mazzarri’s Torino.

At the moment, Lazio are not only being wasteful in front of goal, but they’re also firing low percentage shots. Moving forward, Lazio should prioritize high quality chances over the long-range screamers they seem to be enjoying. Inzaghi’s men would be wise to play that extra pass instead of firing away from outside the eighteen-yard box. With players like Luis Alberto and Correa, they can afford to take on an extra man or take a few extra touches before sliding through a teammate.

If they are to qualify for Champions League football, they’re going to need to start scoring more – starting with their clashes against Sevilla and Udinese. Fewer shots of higher quality will yield better results than shots from just about anywhere – a lesson Inzaghi’s men must learn sooner rather than later.

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Allegri Opting For Caution Against Atletico Madrid

Juventus Training Session

With their crucial Round of 16 clash approaching, it appears Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri will go for pragmatism when the bianconeri take on Atletico Madrid on Wednesday. Rather than sticking with his three-pronged attack, the former Milan tactician has reportedly been tinkering with Joao Cancelo at right midfield and Mattia De Sciglio at right back in a 4-4-2 – leaving Paulo Dybala on the bench in the process.

Allegri has opted for caution in the past, and has often used this defensive 4-4-2 in away clashes in the Champions League. With Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira occupying the two central midfield positions, Blaise Matuidi typically shifts wide on the left, blocking the opposition’s right flank.

Up top, the tactician is reportedly going to field Mario Mandzukic alongside Cristiano Ronaldo. While a 4-4-2 would essentially mirror Atletico’s formation and would go a long way in nullifying their offensive firepower, this setup has backfired for Allegri in the past before. Against Real Madrid in the Champions League final, the Italian manager went for a similar formation, with Dani Alves occupying the right wing.

His pragmatism worked initially against the Spanish giants, however, as soon as Zinedine Zidane made some tactical tweaks at half-time, his 4-4-2 and by consequence, Juventus’ European dream, soon fell apart. The bianconeri found themselves consistently on the back foot, and had nothing to show for in the final third.

On Wednesday, Allegri cannot afford a similar performance and must find a way to achieve defensive solidity without sitting too deep and playing too safe. An away goal at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium could go a long way in this tight affair and might prove to be the difference over two legs.  While having players like Paulo Dybala, Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi come off the bench against tired legs could sway the tie, one of them needs to start against Los Colchoneros. 

Considering Mandzukic’s flexibility and ability to play on the left both in the offensive and defensive phases, Allegri should field Dybala alongside Ronaldo. The Argentine has played his best football when deployed in a partnership and has recently developed a blossoming relationship with the Portuguese superstar. Coming off an impressive performance and a thunderbolt of a goal against Frosinone, now would be a good time to provide La Joya continuity. Against a defensively staunch Atletico Madrid side, Juventus will need all the creativity they can get to break their deep block.

With Ronaldo attracting much of the centre-backs’ attention, Dybala will have the license to roam between the lines and could carve out space for himself – either to fire strikes or find a teammate in space. As Ronaldo and Dybala wreck havoc centrally, Mandzukic will have ample opportunities to let his presence be known in the eighteen-yard box going up against Santiago Arias.

As it stands now, Allegri’s reported setup will stifle his side in the final third and will inevitably isolate Ronaldo and Mandzukic – forcing Juve to go wide to Cancelo. Considering Godin’s aerial presence and Jan Oblak’s command of his box, filtering in crosses from the wing – a common Allegri tactic – will fail miserably. With the clash approaching, time will tell if Allegri’s caution will be repaid or whether another European disaster is on the horizon for Juventus.

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Allegri Must Make Amends With Dybala

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With Juventus entering a crucial stretch in their season, Massimiliano Allegri must put aside his differences with Paulo Dybala and find a place for him in his lineup. Immediately. 

When the bianconeri took on Parma last weekend, La Joya was left on the bench and stormed off in frustration after Allegri used his third and final substitute. The former Palermo man has since apologized for his outburst and was constrained to the sidelines once more in Juventus’ most recent win against Sassuolo, coming on in the 83rd minute.

This season, Dybala has seen a change in his role and has typically operated from deeper, as per Allegri’s instructions. The Juventus tactician even went so far as to dub him a “box-to-box” midfielder in a press-conference earlier this season. Adapting to a completely new role, Dybala has experienced some growing pains and has struggled to influence games from the midfield.

All too often, the 25-year-old wanders wide in hopes of carving out space for himself. What this leads to, however, is Dybala getting less touches near the opposition’s goal and far less chances to use his creativity to dictate play.

With Ronaldo occupying the sole striker position, it doesn’t leave much room for the Argentine international in the final third. Factor in Mario Mandzukic’s importance and ability to combine with the former Real Madrid star, and you quickly realize Dybala is an awkward fit in Allegri’s current setup. While the obvious solution would be to field Dybala behind Mandzukic and Ronaldo, it would take away from the Croatian’s aerial threat – something Juventus could ill afford.

Since being fielded on the left wing, Mandzukic has been able to bully the opposition’s fullback and take advantage of the notable height difference to head home crucial goals. Fielding him centrally again would make the former Bayern Munich man face off in the air against centre-backs and would reduce his aerial presence. This season, Mandzukic has been immense for the bianconeri and has established himself as their big-game player, scoring against Napoli, Inter, Milan, Roma and Lazio. Moving him positions at this point in the season would not only be detrimental to his game, but to Juventus’ overall play. So where does all this leave Dybala?

Over the course of his career, the Juventus playmaker has been at his most dangerous playing behind a striker as a trequartista. In this role, he’s capable of playing between the opposition’s lines and play off his teammate. Last year, Dybala scored 22 goals in league play when playing alongside Higuain – something that Allegri should not banish from his memory just yet.

Juventus v SSC Napoli - Serie A

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Three Positives From Lazio’s Win Against Frosinone

With a number of teams vying for top four, Lazio desperately needed to claim the three points against Frosinone to maintain pace. While the biancocelesti weren’t at their best, Simone Inzaghi’s men did just enough to get the victory and remain in the race for top four alongside Milan, Atalanta, and fierce rivals Roma. As a whole, Inzaghi will be pleased with his side’s recent form, given their indifferent end to 2018. Here are three positives from Lazio’s win against Frosinone.

Opting to give Lucas Leiva a rest, Inzaghi fielded Milan Badelj  at the heart of midfield and tasked him with shielding the defence. Until now, the Croatian hasn’t lived up to expectations and has largely disappointed when given a chance. Against Frosinone, however, Badelj was at this best and demonstrated exactly why Lazio were so eager to snap him up this past summer.

The former Fiorentina man finished the game with the most aerial duels won, the most tackles, and the most ball recoveries. When Frosinone looked dangerous, Badelj was typically there to clear; something Inzaghi will be hoping continues, especially considering the biancocelesti are competing on three fronts.

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Squad Overhaul on the Horizon at Juventus

With Juventus conceding six goals in their last two games, question marks have been raised about Massimiliano Allegri and his side’s ability to deliver the Champions League for the first time in 23 years. In just over two weeks time a clash against La Liga giants Atletico Madrid awaits where the stakes could not be higher. A round of sixteen exit would be a disastrous end to an indifferent campaign for the bianconeri; a campaign in which European success was stressed from day one at Villar Perosa. Despite signing Mr. Champions League himself – Cristiano Ronaldo – the Italian champions look no closer to winning Europe’s elite competition than they were last season. In fact, you could argue their chances at winning it all are lower. If Juventus’ recent woes are anything to go by, it means a squad overhaul is on the horizon.

After whimpering out of the Coppa Italia in embarrassing fashion against Atalanta, Juventus hosted newly-promoted Parma. For the first time since March 2012, the bianconeri lined up without one member of their famous ‘BBC’ trio and fielded a hardly inspiring centre-back partnership of Daniele Rugani and latest acquisition Martin Caceres. Since Mehdi Benatia’s departure, reports have surfaced that the Juventus brass would entrust Rugani with a bigger role moving forward, however, it’s safe to say, the defender failed in his first real test.

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Atalanta and Sampdoria: Serie A’s Party Crashers

Every season there’s one team in Serie A that pushes above their weight and vies for European football among the league’s elite. With Lazio, Milan and Roma all fighting for top four this year, they all seem to have forgotten about Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta and Marco Giampaolo’s Sampdoria. Both sides have been in excellent form playing impressive football and have now entered the Champions League race without making too much of a fuss. Right now, the five teams are separated by a mere three points going into a crucial stage of the season.

Led by the eternal Fabio Quagliarella, who has now scored in 11 consecutive games equalling Gabriel Batistuta’s record in the process, Sampdoria find themselves just two points back behind fourth place Milan. Giampaolo has been able to get the most out of his men in his preferred ‘Christmas Tree’ formation (4-3-1-2) and has since attracted interest from the peninsula’s elite for his good work. Insisting on possession football and building patiently, the blucerchiati have dominated the opposition at times, and have proven to be a match for any team in the league.

While Quagliarella is the one bagging the goals, the impressive work done by midfield dynamos Dennis Praet and Karol Linetty should not go unnoticed. Juventus loanee Emil Audero has also manned the sticks wonderfully in his debut season in Serie A, especially with the veteran presence of Lorenzo Tonelli in front of him.

Atalanta, on the other hand, have played some explosive football this season and lead the league in scoring with 47 goals. In fact, gli Orobici have found the back of the net 16 times in their last four league games, three of which coming most recently in their comeback against Roma on the weekend. With Duvan Zapata flanked by Alejandro Gomez and Josip Ilicic, Gasperini’s side posses arguably one of the world’s most underrated front-lines. Zapata is currently on 15 goals on the season and has now scored in Atalanta’s last nine games in all competitions.

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Time for Allegri to take off the handbrake at Juventus

Last night Juventus put in arguably their worst performance of the Massimiliano Allegri era and still, somehow, walked away with all three points. Throughout the first hour of play, the bianconeri’s midfield trio looked devoid of any ideas moving forward and got pinned back to perfection by Simone Inzaghi’s aggressive setup.  As a result, Juventus’ front-line were starved of any service, until Blaise Matuidi made way for Federico Bernardeschi.

Had it not been for Wojciech Szczesny’s impressive exploits combined with some poor finishing, Allegri’s side could have easily found themselves down three or four. In fact, at one point in the game Lazio outshot Juventus 12 to zero. With a roster as powerful as Juve’s, this is hardly the type of performance you come to expect from the Italian champions. Right now, Juventus are a Ferrari being driven like a Prius.

Without Miralem Pjanic in the lineup, Juventus struggled in the first phase of the buildup and were quite literally pressed off the pitch at times. A superior opponent would have undoubtedly punished Juventus with a couple of goals. With Emre Can deputizing as the side’s regista, the bianconeri were unable to establish a rhythm and rarely got forward. While the German international is a talented midfielder in his own way, last night’s nightmare at the Olimpico highlighted his shortcomings in progressing play under pressure.

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Napoli Loss Highlights Lazio’s Woes Once More

Despite a relatively good start to the game, Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio still fell short against Napoli and eventually lost 2-1 to the hosts, relinquishing fourth place to Milan and fierce rivals Roma. The biancocelesti started the game nicely pressuring Ancelotti’s men high, and tested Napoli keeper Alex Meret early. The young shot-stopper proved to be up to the challenge and kept Lazio at bay until Jose Callejon found the back of the net.

Minutes later, Arek Milik would double the partenopei’s lead, rendering Ciro Immobile’s second half goal a mere consolation strike. Francesco Acerbi would also get sent off with twenty to play, compounding Lazio’s issues further. While Inzaghi won’t be too displeased with the performance as a whole, the loss highlighted Lazio’s woes once more. Incapable of generating much offence, a large part of the offensive burden falls on the welcoming shoulders of Ciro Immobile.

The Italian international has done well when called upon, scoring 11 goals in league play thus far, yet can’t be tasked with carrying Lazio week in, week out. Yesterday, it was Luis Alberto who got the start behind the talisman, but the Spaniard failed to impress. Out of his 13 crosses on the night, only one found its intended target. His dribbles completed percentage wasn’t much better, beating his man a mere three out of 13 times. Moreover, Luis Alberto often found himself drifting wide to create space for himself, a position in which he doesn’t exactly thrive from.

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Bernardeschi Shines in Mandzukic’s Absence

With Mario Mandzukic out indefinitely, Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri turned to Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi to provide the width against Chievo. While the Brazilian would steal the headlines with his thundering strike in the first half, it was Bernardeschi’s performance that stood out from the rest. The Italian made the most of his second start in three games, and dominated proceedings from the left wing, adding an assist to Daniele Rugani from a dead-ball late in the game.

The former Fiorentina man got the start in an unfamiliar left midfield role, yet proved to be a consistent threat against the visitors, combining with his teammates wonderfully. Whether he was taking on his man one on one or splitting the defence with an inch perfect through ball, Bernardeschi pulled the strings for Juventus. As Miralem Pjanic was rested, someone needed to pick up the creative burden; Bernardeschi did exactly that.

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