After a brief fling against Udinese with his mistress 3-5-2, Juventus manager Antonio Conte returned to his faithful 4-3-3 formation today against Siena. The formation and player selection was almost identical to the usual starting XI that Conte uses, with one exception.
Giorgio Chiellini, situational left-back, was shifted back to central defense. Paolo De Ceglie came in at left-back, while my beloved Leonardo Bonucci was sent to the bench. Bonucci has suffered a dip in form of late, as I have discussed, and while I may have supported his benching, it appears now that it may have had a calamitous effect on Juve's fortunes.
It's well known that one of Leo Bonucci's best skills on the pitch is his ball-handling ability. He's known as a defender who can carry the ball and help start movements from a team's own half. He played this role at Bari, and he has played this role at Juventus under Antonio Conte. Of course, today he was on the bench.
While he was on the bench, Juve's attack languished. They had only seven shots on target, and of those only two were truly dangerous attempts on goal. Conte seemed to think this was the fault of the forwards, as he subbed off all three of his starting forwards. Granted, Simone Pepe came off due to injury, and not for tactical reasons.
Of the other two, Alessandro Matri and Mirko Vucinic, only one deserved to be taken off. Vucinic had a lousy game from the start. He couldn't find a rhythm, and he was frequently turning the ball over or being dispossessed. He later came off for Marco Borriello.
On the other hand, Ale Matri did pretty well with what he was given. Matri is a poacher, and lately (before the Udinese match) his problems had been in finishing. Today, he was not given very many chances to finish anything.
Matri only had one shot on target, though there was one impressive play where he spun around a defender to service Mirko Vucinic with a cross. The cross was received by Mirko, but he sent it straight over goal.
Indeed, chances like that made up most of Juve's scoring opportunities today. This is because Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio turned into black holes today.
The entire midfield area truly was a black hole. That is, of course, not including Andrea Pirlo, who had a magnificent game despite the team's general struggle.
Pirlo took up the lion's share of those missing Bonucci long balls. Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini also increased their output of long balls, but neither was as successful in either quantitative or quantifiable terms as Pirlo was.
Pirlo went 21-of-23 in long-ball attempts, and his passing accuracy rate was 90 percent today. Chiellini and Barzagli were both in double digits for both long balls attempted and completed, but they both lacked Bonucci's effectiveness.
Thankfully, Barzagli and Chiellini were much more effective in defense than they were while attacking.
Barzagli started off a bit slow, with a pair of noticeable errors, his first of the season. The first one came when Alessandro Gazzi had the ball in Juve's half. Barzagli went at Gazzi with a lousy challenge and ended up fouling Gazzi. Like I said, it was Barzagli's first noticeable error of the season, or at least it seemed that way.
The next mistake came when Mattia Destro received a pass in Juve's half. Barzagli's challenge attempt totally failed, and Destro continued on.
The rest of his game was up to the usual Barzagli standard, but if that had been Bonucci, the haters would be screaming for blood.
The one Juventus player who was truly great today was Andrea Pirlo. His long balls were the only thing that kept the Juve attack alive, and it seemed that the most dangerous scoring opportunities always had something to do with Pirlo.
Thirty-three minutes into the game, Pirlo sent forward a beautiful pass to Stephan Lichtsteiner, who was alone in front of goal. The pass was dead-on accurate, and Lichsteiner leaped up to kick it in. His kick sent the ball over the cross bar, but it didn't take away from Pirlo's skill and vision.
The substitutes, Marco Borriello, Fabio Quagliarella and Emanuele Giaccherrini, didn't do much to spur scoring, either.
Giaccherini was lively, as he tends to be, but it wasn't enough to tip the scales. Quags was only on for a little bit, but his influence was extremely small. Perhaps Conte should have instead put Alessandro Del Piero in, especially as Del Piero has a strong scoring record against Siena.
Borriello was on for a good amount of time, and he showed great passion. Unfortunately, that passion came out in the form of arguments with Siena players and the referee, who gave Borriello a yellow card for arguing.
I would have liked Borriello to turn his aggression into goals and not dust-ups, but he does what he wants.
Borriello's foil, the referee, had as bad a game as the Juventus attack. His most egregious error came when he ignored a Siena handball in the box. Chiellini fired the ball into the box, and it was met with a Siena defender's forearm. The ref made no call, and Juve were not given the penalty kick they deserved.
That said, Siena played well.
Their defense, one of the top in the league, obviously had a part in shutting Juve down. Their offense wasn't too dangerous, but they can still be proud of a tough 0-0 draw away to Juventus. Siena has struggled on the road, and Juve has been excellent at home.
Today marked the first-ever home shutout against Juve. They had scored in all the games in the new Juventus Stadium before today. They are still undefeated in the stadium and the league.
Juve now has three days until their big Coppa Italia semifinal leg against A.C. Milan on Wednesday. Milan also drew today, against Napoli, and their star striker (and money-loving mercenary) Zlatan Ibrahimovic was given a red card for slapping another player. It was an unsurprising, if eventful, day for Zlatan.
The red card means that he will probably be suspended for three Serie A games, meaning he will miss the league match against Juventus. He will also miss a match against Udinese. The suspension should not affect his eligibility for the Coppa match on Wednesday.
Juve's disappointing result today is brightened by big losses by Inter (4-0 to Roma) and Udinese (3-2 to Fiorentina). The Milan draw, plus the losses by Inter and Udinese, mean that Juve's status at the top of the table is unchanged and even strengthened a little bit.
Juventus need to put this performance behind them, as a big game against Milan starts off a period jam-packed with games. In a 10-day span, they have the Milan game, a match against Bologna, the makeup game against Parma and one final game against Catania.
The week after that Catania game, they face A.C. Milan in a Serie A match. It seems that they will not have to worry about Ibra, but after today I think Juventus needs to worry more about their own offense.
Praise Conte, and Forza Juve.