Let’s say I told you back in June that after five games, Roma would be undefeated in first, while Juventus would be in third having just barely escaped matches against Hellas Verona and Chievo Verona with victories?
You would think I was crazy, not so much for the latter bit (grinting out wins over Chievo is a Conte tradition) but for the first part, and yet, it’s true. Juventus sit right now in fourth place, with 13 ponts, two points behind the league leaders.
Now, obviously it is a long season, but I want to highlight a new reality for Juve this season: There are a lot of good clubs ready to pounce on any and all mistakes they made. I haven’t even mentioned Napoli, who I am now considering a very credible threat to Juve’s quest for a third consecutive Scudetto.
So how does Antonio Conte’s Juventus respond to this? Well, they give up an opening goal for the fourth consecutive match. In fact, had the referee not been awful today, Chievo may have won 2-1 or fought out a decent 2-2 draw. That said, the ref also made some mistakes that worked against Juve, there were some calls for penalties that were not given, so it’s sort of a moot point, but as a Juve fan I feel less fulfilled since we won due to poor refereeing.
The team itself wasn’t too bad, although the presence of Angelo Ogbonna instead of Leo Bonucci against Chievo left a bit to be desired. That said, on the whole the defense is letting up very few chances in general, and Juve’s opposition has been very clinical in the past few matches. However, some of these goals came from individual errors or other mistakes that you would not expect Juventus players to make.
Against Verona, the first goal was the lone fault of Gigi Buffon, who had a bad pass that turned into an opposition goal. He was also a bit poor on the (not really) offside goal but this wasn’t only on Buffon, the entire team lacked the focus and intensity that one identifies with Juventus.
Part of this is due to Conte’s weird quirks involving rotating players. He seems to either do too little rotation or too much, and you need only to look at the squads Juve put out against Lazio last year in the Coppa Italia to see this in action. Conte, only in his second ever season coaching in the Champions League, is still learning and gradually getting better, but in the mean time we are still feeling his growing pains.
Speaking of growing pains, Fernando Llorente is exemplifying the term. After much speculation and rumors, he was started against Verona on Sunday, and he scored a go ahead goal off of a header. Against Chievo, he started alongside Quagliarella. Neither man had a good game (although Quagliarella scored Juve’s first goal) and the partnership really lacked chemistry.
Quagliarella isn’t a great striking partner in general for most strikers (too mercurial, not good enough at picking out passes and making them, but someone who can really finish a chance) and with Llorente still adapting to the Italian game the duo fell pretty flat. When Tevez came on against Chievo, he immediately lit a fire and showed these two what had been missing.
I am not pressing the panic button, I don’t even think Conte has done poorly the last week, nor has Juve. They have been unlucky and a bit off of their game, but my point is that they really have almost no room for mistakes if they want to win the Scudetto. This weekend they play Torino in the Derby della Mole, so hopefully they can keep up the good form they showed against them last season.
After that, games against Galatasary and Milan. On paper, neither look too challenging, but I expect both sides to really step up against Juve, especially Milan. Juve will need to stop giving out so many freebies to their Scudetto rivals, it’s already time to bunker down.