Juventus escaped with a 1-1 draw yet the performance at the San Siro left a lot to be desired. The Bianconeri looked out of sorts and lacked composure during the first 45 minutes against the hosts. Juve only took charge once Milan’s players appeared to slow down and suffer from fatigue. Without taking away credit from the Rossoneri who were in control for around 60 minutes, Juve lacked energy early on and were undone by Leonardo Bonucci’s mistakes which allowed Antonio Nocerino to strike first.
One reason behind the unconvincing performance was coach Antonio Conte’s decision to start certain players, in particular Marco Borriello and Marcelo Estigarribia. Borriello has failed to impress since joining Juve on loan while Estigarribia is useful coming off the bench late when opposing teams are tired. One other intriguing point is why the dynamic Emanuele Giaccherini did not feature during the match. Giaccherini can take advantage of any space given to him while finding the right spot to either create or score goals. Perhaps Giaccherini should have started instead of Estigarribia or even Claudio Marchisio. Conte could then replace him by Marchisio or Simone Pepe if he did not perform well.
Here is a recap as to why Juve struggled to impose their game on Milan:
1) Conte: Coach Conte has been one of the bright spots in Juve’s resurgence this season. However, in the last couple of weeks he appears to be suffering under the intense pressure which comes with coaching a club of Juve’s stature. Nothing against Conte (who is still relatively inexperienced when compared with the veterans who took charge before him such as Claudio Ranieri and Alberto Zaccheroni, both of whom failed to return Juve to glory) because the former Juve captain has been able to reinvigorate the squad and instill the famous Bianconeri fighting spirit in his players.
Conte has used his players wisely but when the club suffered successive draws and began to face difficulties scoring, the coach started to alter a successful system while replacing certain key players (such as Alessandro Matri) instead of choosing to carefully rotate some ineffective players such as Bonucci and striker Mirko Vucinic. Conte did the extreme by putting both Matri and Vucinic on the bench in the last couple of matches instead of leaving Matri as a starter while benching Mirko.
There are other questionable decisions such as leaving Pepe on the bench against the Rossoneri while starting Estigarribia. No doubt Conte has been dealing with rising pressure as witnessed by his recent refereeing remarks which veer away from his calm and assured demeanor earlier in the season.
2) Borriello: Conte chose to start Marco Borriello and the striker’s performance was one to be forgotten. It has been surprising to see Borriello get some starts considering he has performed poorly when called upon as a starter or substitute in recent matches. Some might say Borriello needs more time but the fact is the striker should not be signed permanently. Nothing would shock the Juve fans more than having Borriello as a permanent fixture in the squad since the supporters could not wait to dispose of another flop in Amauri and would not want to see Borriello as a long-term member of Juve.
It is unlikely Borriello will be permanently signed by Juve during the summer. He would take away a spot from another striker with the club in desperate need of attacking reinforcements at the end of the season to replace club legend Alessandro Del Piero. Juve will probably sign two attackers during the summer, one to replace Del Piero and another one who is likely to be a goal poacher. This would leave Juve with better attacking options.
3) Pirlo: One of Juve’s and Serie A’s best stories has been the form of Andrea Pirlo with the former Milan schemer bossing the Bianconeri midfield and playing at a high level. Pirlo has been influential throughout the season but struggled mightily against his former team. Obviously Pirlo was affected by his return to the San Siro to play his first match in Serie A against a club he spent many successful years with.
To blame everything on Pirlo would be a mistake since his midfield partners, particularly Arturo Vidal, were having a nightmare during the first hour against the Rossoneri. Pirlo was uncharacteristic with his erroneous passing and his inability to dictate play. He did improve slightly once Juve took charge but this will certainly go down as one of his few bad performances of the season.
3) Attack: Conte did make a mistake by starting Borriello but the decision-making of Vucinic has been a major concern. When inserted during the second-half, Mirko was once again unconvincing as he often tried to take on multiple players instead of passing when he should have. In recent matches Vucinic took ill-advised shots when he should have crossed or passed. Mirko is looking increasingly frustrated by his lack of goals. This has affected his judgment. Against Milan he did not perform well while Borriello was poor.
Matri was the single bright spot having scored a valid goal only to see it ruled out incorrectly for offside before he went on to score the equalizer to earn Juve a precious win which could determine the fate of the Scudetto when the season draws to an end. As for Fabio Quagliarella, he was better than Borriello and Vucinic yet he failed to convert a great opportunity following a majestic pass driven-in by Giorgio Chiellini. Fabio will continue to earn playing time but Borriello should not be used again this season. While the legendary Del Piero cannot perform at a high level for 90 minutes, he should be used as a late substitute in certain games.
4) Midfield: The Juventus midfield has been the major force behind the club’s rise this season. While the stats show Juve as a defensive force, a lot of the credit should go to the Bianconeri midfield with the likes of Simone Pepe and Arturo Vidal as well as Claudio Marchisio and even Pirlo often tracking back to help the defenders to retrieve the ball and stop opponents.
Unfortunately for Juve, the midfielders have been underperforming in recent weeks for various reasons. Vidal was horrific against Milan and his decision to tackle Mark Van Bommel from behind might prove costly as his red card will see him miss matches with suspension. Vidal was erratic and lethargic against the Rossoneri while Marchisio was very quiet and lacked the energy which was key during his incisive runs into the penalty area of opposing teams earlier in the season.
Marchisio scored a number of important goals for Juve but has been well below his best for most of 2012. As for Pepe he suffered from a couple of niggling injuries during recent weeks which must have affected his form yet it was surprising to see him start on the bench against Milan. When coach Conte rectified his mistake by subbing in Pepe, the winger rewarded his manager with a number of runs on the right wing and was much more effective than any of the other midfield players.
5) Bonucci: Leonardo has been error prone throughout the season and it remains a mystery why he continues to start matches when coach Conte has better options available to him. Following the addition of Martin Caceres who can serve as a full-back or a centre-back and the improving performances by Paolo De Ceglie, the underperforming Bonucci should not be starting as often.
Chiellini can play as a centre-back or a left-back and the same can be said about Caceres who usually played as a right-back during his first stint with Juve. Thus, there is no excuse for Conte and he has the players who can fit the two systems he has used this season. A 4-3-3 for instance can see Caceres, Andrea Barzagli, Chiellini and De Ceglie play while a 3-5-2 can also have Caceres, Barzagli and Chiellini form the back three. Of course Juve will be using Swiss full-back Stephan Lichtsteiner regularly so he can too perform in a 4-3-3 or 3-5-2 either in place of Caceres (for a 4-3-3 system) or to complement Caceres in a 3-5-2 with the Swiss player performing as a wing-back in the five-man midfield.
Simply put, Bonucci should not be starting unless the coach intends to rest certain players against weaker sides. He has cost Juve a number of points and there is no doubt Juve have overpaid for his signing. The only upside is the fact Bonucci is not old so he has time to learn and improve, in particular when it comes to his passing and concentration levels. He was behind Nocerino’s opener and prior to that he also cost Juve when he allowed Andrea Cossu to pounce on his bad clearance to deny Juve a win against Cagliari. If one carefully watches the Milan clash, Barzagli made at least three critical tackles to save Juve while Chiellini was instrumental with his fighting spirit, aggressive approach and crunching tackles during the second-half.
While there are concerns about Conte’s decision-making in recent weeks, particularly his player section and choice of system, there are still many positives following this away draw in Milan. Conte has shown he is willing to learn from his mistakes and he can address them with the season reaching a critical point. Juve remain undefeated after 24 matches in Serie A and they are a mere point behind Milan. Having played one match less than the Rossoneri, Juve can top the standings by winning the postponed match.
Conte must make sure he remains focused on selecting the best players at his disposal while avoiding comments about referees. His changes in the system used, some of his player selections (particularly against Milan) and his venting against refereeing decisions are starting to annoy many neutrals following a near flawless start to the campaign which has seen him receive plenty of positive reviews. There were a number of decisions made by Conte which raised concerns yet it must be said he corrected his mistakes with the successful substitutions he made, in specific those of Matri and Pepe.