Published On: Mon, Nov 26th, 2012

Juventus Club Focus: Absences Weigh on Bianconeri’s in loss to AC Milan

Juventus experienced both the highest and the lowest points of European football last week.

On Tuesday they demolished Chelsea 3-0 at Juventus Stadium, a match which seems to be unanimously regarded as the best of Antonio Conte’s reign at the club.

Then on Sunday Juve lost 1-0 to their midtable rivals, A.C. Milan. While Juventus put in a terrible performance (perhaps the worst of Conte’s reign, a complete turn around from the form displayed against Chelsea) they were defeated by a penalty from a non-existent handball.

Mauricio Isla, who had perhaps the worst match out of any Juve player, was called for a handball in the box around the 30th minute. Milan coach Max Allegri has even admitted that after seeing the replays the call should not have been a penalty, as the ball hit Isla’s chest (his armpit really) and not his arm or hand. Regardless of the validity of the call, Robinho dutifully converted the spotkick to give Milan a 1-0 lead which would hold for the following hour of game play.

In all fairness Milan were the better side. They came out ready to fight, while Juventus seemed complacent at best. Juve had only two shots on target, a stat that becomes only more pathetic when one learns that they had 61% possession. Isla was not the only stinker, he was joined by Arturo Vidal and Kwadwo Asamoah in the no show department.

What caused the total 180 from Juve’s Chelsea performance? I’d say it was down to the absences of some important figures: Giorgio Chiellini, and Antonio Conte.

Granted, Conte has been absent from the touchline since last May. However, his replacements have fared differently. Massimo Carrera oversaw some triumphant performances, but he also oversaw lackluster draws against Shahktar and the ever excellent Fiorentina who have been experiencing a renaissance under Vincenzo Montella. Carrera was replaced by Angelo Alessio when the latter’s ban was expired in October before the victory against Napoli.

Alessio has overseen arguably more success than Carrera, including blowout wins in the Champions League and in Serie A. He’s also overseen Juve’s only two Serie A losses in recent history, to the Milan clubs. Is there a difference between the two replacements? I’d say yes.

For whatever reason, it seems that Alessio is less adept at encouraging the team to step their game up during matches, while Carrera was a fiery (if insubordinate) presence on the touchline. Carrera oversaw the biggest display of “grinta” this season, in the come from behind 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge.

On Sunday, Alessio’s lack of “spirit” was equaled by his baffling substitution choices. Mauricio Isla was subbed off at half time in favor of Simone Padoin, a capable if a bit underwhelming wide player. Why Padoin? Why not Stephan Lichtsteiner, who was excellent against Chelsea, or Simone Pepe who has recently recovered from a nagging injury? Pepe’s greatest quality is his ability to fire up his teammates, and he’s been at the center of some of Juve’s grittiest moments like his late winner against Lazio last November.

Instead we get the lesser Simone, the man from Atalanta. This guy attempted 11 crosses, and only completed two accurately. Then he took of Fabio Quagliarella, Juve’s most in-form striker, for Sebastian Giovinco. Giovinco is talented, but he’s struggled against bigger sides and seems like a provinciale specialist for Juve. Granted, A.C. Milan might be a provincial side in the context of this season, they were certainly playing like a top club yesterday.

Proper substitutions may not have made a difference, but what Juventus fan would argue that Simone Padoin is the best choice when the side is down 1-0 at the San Siro?

Finally Juventus were sorely missing Giorgio Chiellini. Juve suffered an “injury crisis” in the backline, with Leonardo Bonucci almost missing the match due to sickness and Chiellini definitely missing the match through a minor injury.

As an aside, Bonucci was maybe Juve’s best performer against Milan. He’s Juve’s best centerback when it comes to organizing his centerback peers, a category where Chiellini has taken some flak from critics like me over time.

But, Giorgio Chiellini is Juve’s best centerback. Period. He may not be the vocal leader that Bonucci is, but Chiellini’s play leads the defense in a way that verbal direction cannot. He’s the one who pulls out the last minute tackles from nowhere, and his presence alone beefs up Juve’s defense. It didn’t help that his replacement, Martin Caceres, had a mixed performance.

Juve were heavy favorites on Sunday, but they ended up losers in a controversial 1-0 match. The absences of Antonio Conte, Massimo Carrera, and Giorgio Chiellini heavily damaged the side, as Angelo Alessio struggled to inspire the players and made some questionable decisions in player substitutions.

I may be wrong about the effect that these replacement coaches have on the side, and we will see how my thesis fares when Antonio Conte returns to the touchline in a few weeks against Palermo.

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