It wasn’t just that a two-goal half-time lead was inexplicably shelled, but the identity of the team that let it slip. The Serie A champions have personality, a seemingly unbreakable spirit—usually—superior fitness and resolve to all comers.
It felt like something epochal and mood-changing had happened at the Stadio Artemio Franchi, where Juve hadn’t lost for 15 years. The concern for coach Antonio Conte is that this is just the culmination of weeks of warning signs.
Just as Vincenzo Montella’s side carved apart Juve with four goals in 15 barely believable second-half minutes, there is a worry that the club’s painstakingly authored revival could fall to bits as quickly.
This is the season in which many a learned judge had uttered the phrase 'dark horse' in reference to Juventus’ Champions League hopes. All of a sudden, when the Bianconeri reach the Bernabeu to face Real Madrid on Wednesday night, it’s do-or-die time.
Juve’s superb recent record against Real Madrid—the Italians have won five of the last six meetings between the two heavyweights—pales in significance to the recent cracks in the Turin club’s metaphorical rendering.
Fiorentina’s fightback was aided by the concession of a cheap penalty, a surprising misjudgement by Gianluigi Buffon for Giuseppe Rossi’s second and the complete absence of a defensive left side as Joaquin ploughed in the third unmolested.
The Viola managed this with the injured Mario Gomez only able to watch from the stands.
Not only did it pull the rug out from under Conte’s men after a first hour in which they had appeared in total control, it confirmed some concerns of recent weeks.
Juve have now conceded 10 times in eight Serie A games—they only let in 24 in a full 38-game season last term—and the neglect in Florence recalled the goals given up to Galatasaray in the second Champions League group match.
No further slips can be tolerated in the Spanish capital this week. There is no question that Juve have the quality to flourish.
However, having brought in Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente, it is clear that more is expected than last season’s quarter-final place.
The problem is that the two opening draws with Copenhagen and Galatasaray mean Juve could well need at least three points from the two meetings with Real.
They left themselves in the position where they had to produce a superhuman display against champions Chelsea in last season’s fourth group match to get on track. It is expecting a lot to pin one’s hopes on the same again.
Conte can take encouragement from the sheer openness of Carlo Ancelotti’s side. The home team are, as Spain international Llorente said on the Football Italia site, “an opponent that allows you to play”. If Juve defend like they have of late domestically and continentally, though, Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel di Maria and company will make mincemeat of them.
At least Arturo Vidal should return. He incurred Conte’s wrath by returning late from international duty with Chile, and Juve’s key midfielder was left on the bench in Florence. He was missed, despite being brought on in the final quarter-hour.
The whole slapdash episode is symptomatic of Juve’s current intensity, which is well below their dervish-like best.
It is important they recover that power, and fast. Conte’s legacy—whether his Juventus are regarded as a very fine team or a truly great one—depends on it.