Some things in football just aren’t meant to happen, and Juventus dropping points to a newly-promoted team in Serie A is definitely one of them.
The Italian champions started, taking the lead and controlling the game. But they uncharacteristically allowed Benevento back into the match on the stroke of half-time, and even more uncharacteristically failed to re-stamp their authority on proceedings thereafter.
Juve huffed and puffed, but rarely threatened their opposing goalkeeper with a meaningful effort. Neat little coincidence by the way, Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t feature at all on Saturday. Wait – is that a coincidence?
Is Saturday’s slip at plucky Benevento all down to the absence of goalscoring phenomenon?
Well, no. Not really.
It’s difficult to pinpoint one sole reason as to why I Bianconeri couldn’t get the win in the bag. Mainly because, there are a few. For starters, Benevento were actually really good. Filippo Inzaghi has got the them playing well, and their bravery and determination to play through Juve’s lines paid dividends on numerous occasions.
But make no mistake – the Old Lady would have been expecting three points from this fixture, and nothing less. Pirlo won’t want to look back on Juve’s first failed title defence in a decade, wondering whether two more points against lowly Benevento would have got them over the line, and maybe spared his job.
Everyone knows he’s new to the game, but certain, unspoken requirements remain. Winning the Scudetto is one of them. So while the pressure is off, it’s kind of still on.
However, the 41-year-old’s always going to get some extra leeway given his background as a club legend – and rightly so.
A mini revolution also took place over the summer in Turin, with Pirlo choosing the players he did and did not fancy to lead Juve into this bold new era. The likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Douglas Costa, Blaise Matuidi and Miralem Pjanic were all shown the door, while a new generation of talented starlets strolled into J Medical.
But even with this major reshuffling of the pack, one thing stands out. The lack of balance and subsequent struggles from the midfield and up front remain. The absence of a natural left-winger stood out on Saturday, made even more apparent with attacking midfielder Aaron Ramsey doing his best to fill in on that flank.
The Welshman did not look comfortable, and he was one of the first players to be substituted. Juve ended the game with Dejan Kulusesvki, Paulo Dybala and Federico Bernardeschi on the pitch, while Federico Chiesa had to make way – all four preferring the right flank to the left.
There was a distinct lack of quality in the full-back area too, as Gianluca Frabotta and Juan Cuadrado contributed next to nothing in terms of end product behind enemy lines, instead choosing the safe option (or the wrong option).
And as seems to have been the problem for several years now, there is no real creativity or drive in the centre of the pitch. Adrien Rabiot and Arthur Melo kept the ball, moved it nicely, but never broke lines or gave the Benevento defence anything to think about. It was all a bit… meh.
Juve’s passing became more wayward as the game progressed, and it became clear that whatever plan had been discussed was quickly dropping like a stone out of the window. It was very un-Juve-like. Rather than enforcing that sinking feeling of inevitability upon their opponents, Benevento were heartened and actually fancied their chances to snatch all three points in the final 15 minutes.
Both sides had sights of goal, but that clear-cut match-winning opportunity fell to neither team.
In the end, it was just one of those days – the only difference being that I Bianconeri tend to win those games with clutch goalscorer Ronaldo on the pitch. The forward makes those match-winning chances fall to his feet with his movement and mere presence, and that fear factor was in short supply on Saturday.
It was clear as the minutes ticked by and the crosses into the penalty area became more desperate, they were missing that killer instinct of the Portuguese forward. He may not offer so much to the rest of the team in terms of play outside of the final third, but there is still no one more deadly than the 35-year-old in that box.
So, perhaps the overall play didn’t suffer in his absence, but the final result sure did. But that is one of the many problems which Pirlo must overcome. It has never been the Juve way to rely on one player to dig them out of a hole, and he’ll be much more focused on building a team that can win matches with or without a key player or two.
Time and patience are a rarity in football, however, and he’ll have to rely on both of those qualities in his employers in order to build a team worthy of winning a tenth successive Scudetto.