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Chiesa struggling and Nedved fuming - 'The Allegri cure isn't working' at Juventus

09:00 BST 30/10/2021
Massimiliano Allegri Federico Chiesa Pavel Nedved Andrea Agnelli Juventus 2021-22 GFX
The Bianconeri boss was re-hired to restore order in Turin but his Bianconeri side are seventh in the Serie A table after a dire start to the season

Pavel Nedved was incandescent with rage, ranting and raving, waving his hands about wildly as he paced back and forward in the VIP box at the Allianz Stadium. 

The Czech even turned to shout angrily in the direction of Andrea Agnelli, who remained stone-faced as he took a drag on a cigarette.

Was Nedved upset with the Juventus president? Maybe, but unlikely. The Czech was probably just furious with what he had witnessed on the field below.

As Juve pushed for a winner in the dying seconds of Wednesday night’s Serie A clash with Sassuolo, they lost possession and were, ironically for a team accused of being overly conservative, caught with just one man in defence.

The visitors exploited the situation superbly, with Domenico Berardi producing a sensational cross-field pass to put Maxime Lopez through on goal. The Argentine finished with aplomb, scooping the ball over Mattia Perin and into the net to secure Sassuolo a first-ever away win over Juventus.

Amid rapturous celebrations on the sidelines, visiting coach Alessio Dionisi ended up taking an accidental blow to the head. It was his Juventus counterpart who was really hurt by Lopez's late goal, though.

Massimiliano Allegri's return to Turin is not going well; Sassuolo's historic triumph merely provided painful confirmation of that fact.

Nedved, remember, had played a part in Allegri's Juve exit in 2019, given both he and former sporting director Fabio Paratici felt his style of football was needlessly negative and unsuited to Champions League success.

However, two years of regression, and embarrassing European exits, convinced Agnelli that he actually needed Allegri back at the helm. 

Paratici was removed from his post but Nedved remained, although it was reported that he was not exactly enthused by Allegri's return. His furious reaction to Wednesday's 2-1 defeat, which left Juve seventh in the Serie A standings, could well be partially attributed to previous tension between the pair.

However, Nedved, like everyone else at the club, was well aware that this was always likely to be a season of transition at Juventus, given the club's financial problems and the sudden upheaval caused by Cristiano Ronaldo's departure just before the close of the transfer window.

What's more, Juve's current squad is nothing like those that Allegri led to Champions League finals in 2015 and 2017. It was accepted that even with the summer signing of Manuel Locatelli, the midfield was still desperately short on world-class quality.

However, Juve have problems all over the pitch. Indeed, the stats speak for themselves, telling a sorry tale of inadequacy at both ends of the field.

Juventus have conceded 13 goals this season: their worst defensive record after 10 rounds of Serie A action in 33 years. They have kept five clean sheets in total, but just two in the league. 

Going forward, meanwhile, Juve have only managed to score more than one goal in four of their 13 outings to date. Not once have they managed to win by more than one goal.

Allegri says it's all a question of "mentality". He described the performance against Sassuolo as both "neurotic" and "frenetic". However, there are obvious tactical concerns too, concerns which are now being expressed in the media.

"The Allegri cure is not working," according to the Gazzetta dello Sport, who also gave the coach 5/10 in their match ratings. "There's no idea of play," Fabio Licari wrote. "Nothing. At this stage, will he dare to do something?"

And this gets to the principal gripe with Allegri's tactical approach up until now.

Many ex-players, pundits and supporters feel that Juve are playing far too cautiously, that Allegri wrongly believes that the only way forward is by going backwards, retreating into their own half in the hope of winning games by a single goal via a counterattack or a set-piece.

Tellingly, four of their seven wins in all competitions this term have come courtesy of 1-0 scorelines.

Some of his selections have also been puzzling. For example, Adrien Rabiot is being used on the left flank in a 4-4-2. He is utterly unsuited to the role and lasted 45 minutes before being replaced against Sassuolo.

Locatelli, meanwhile, is best utilised as a mezzala (half-winger) in a midfield three, so it's hardly surprising that he's been ineffective in a holding role.

Then, there's the curious case of Federico Chiesa.

One of the stars of Euro 2020, the Italian is arguably Juve's best player. At the very least, he's their most reliable big-game player. So, there was widespread disbelief when Allegri left Chiesa out of his starting line-up for last weekend's Derby d'Italia against Inter.

"I see a little confusion in Allegri's management... I did not expect to see Federico on the bench at San Siro," admitted former Juventus winger Angelo Di Livio in the Gazzetta. "Allegri has to understand who must play in certain games."

In the coach's defence, he admitted afterwards that he had erred by omitting Chiesa, whose introduction helped Juve earn a 1-1 draw at the Giuseppe Meazza, and he restored the winger to the starting line-up for the visit of Sassuolo.

Again, though, Allegri's use of Chiesa was questioned, with the former Fiorentina man stationed wide and high on the right-hand side of his rigid 4-4-2 formation, severely limiting the 24-year-old's ability to influence the game.

Nobody is giving up on the coach just yet. Allegri remains one of the most respected tacticians in Italy. After all, he has won six Serie A titles, including five with Juve.

However, there is growing concern that he learned little during his two years out of the game, and that his pragmatic brand of football is now out of place in modern football.

It's worth noting, of course, that the last time Juve lost three of their first 10 matches, in 2015-16, they went on to win the league. It doesn't bode well, though, that nobody has ever recovered from a 13-point gap to the top of the table to claim the scudetto.

Of even greater significance than the colossal deficit, and the sensational form of joint-leaders AC Milan and Napoli, is the fact that Allegri does not possess anything like the same quality of players in his second spell in charge as his first.

The lack of proven performers is something he has alluded to himself, but even that does not explain just how poorly – and negatively – Juve are playing right now.

"Juve have the best squad in the league," former Italy international Daniele Adani argued on RAI Sport. "They have great players. But, at the moment, Juve are directionless. And if you try to only win games by one goal, then you end up losing by one."

That is, of course, exactly what happened on Wednesday night and the worry is that Juve will continue to suffer such infuriating setbacks if they do not change tack.

Victory over Verona on Saturday is obviously the primary objective. Three points are required if they are to have any chance of getting back into the title race but, as Allegri acknowledged, it's pointless for Juve to even look at the table right now – let alone discuss their scudetto hopes.

This is an onerous assignment for Juve too; they have failed to win any of their past three meetings with Igor Tudor's free-scoring Verona, who have already beaten Roma and Lazio at home this season. Indeed, the fear is that the Gialloblu won't just beat Juve, they'll do so with a far more attractive style of play.

Allegri needs a positive result, then, and, perhaps even more importantly, a positive performance.

Anything else will only increase the pressure on the returning coach – and the likelihood of another Nedved meltdown, the only difference being that this time, it might provoke a response from Agnelli.