When Juventus defeated reigning European champions Chelsea 1-0 in September, certain observers believed it was a Massimiliano Allegri masterclass.
Will 'strategic' Allegri outdo Chelsea at Stamford Bridge?
The Old Lady travel to West London seeking a positive result to, more or less, seal top spot in Group H.
The Old Lady made Thomas Tuchel’s side appear pedestrian for large periods, particularly in the opening half where the visitors utterly struggled to play through or around what looked to be a sea of bodies in black and white.
Juventus had 28 percent possession on the night, but they kept the West London side at arm’s length until Tuchel made a clutch of second-half substitutions.
Their shape was broadly a back five out of possession, but they looked to defend in a back six at times — intermittently evident after Federico Chiesa’s goal — and held on for a slender 1-0 win.
Of course, observers with a Chelsea persuasion will reckon they deserved something from the game. Despite struggling to make in-roads into Juventus’ third, Romelu Lukaku had a couple of chances to score, as did Kai Havertz who directed a late header off target at the death.
The expected goals tally of 1.0-0.9 in favor of Allegri’s team highlights how little both sides created in 90 minutes, but probably also suggests a draw was the fairer result.
Interestingly, that win was the first of four successive 1-0 victories on the trot, further proof that the returning manager was showing Juventini how to win ugly again after a couple of years in which the Old Lady were perceived as soft in some quarters.
However, following the aforementioned run of wins has been another run of mixed results and, especially, incoherent performances.
They eked out a late 1-1 draw in the Derby d’Italia clash with Inter Milan, suffered consecutive defeats at the hand of Sassuolo and Hellas Verona before putting in arguably their best attacking showing of the campaign in their 4-2 Champions League win over Zenit in match-day four.
Having said that, the last two games in Serie A have somewhat showcased ‘bad Juve’ and ‘good Juve’.
Allegri’s team lacked ideas in their 1-0 win over Fiorentina before the international break, failing to have any attempt on target before Nikola Milenkovic’s dismissal with 15 minutes remaining.
While an absence of shots on target can often be used out of context, their eventual xG of 0.7 underscored the Bianconeri’s final-third struggles on home turf.
On the other hand, Saturday’s victory at Lazio was just what the doctor ordered for the Turin outfit who ended the hosts’ 19-game unbeaten run at Stadio Olimpico. Juventus limited Maurizio Sarri’s men who had almost 60 percent possession to little or no chances throughout 90 minutes and deserved their win on the balance of play.
The pre-match discussion appeared to focus on the men in the dugout, with Sarri’s possession-based approach facing off with Allegri’s more pragmatic modus operandi.
The Juve boss played this down after the game, opting to focus on the need for balance and having the right strategy.
“It was Juve against Lazio, not Allegri against Sarri, but football is also strategy,” the Bianconeri boss stated following the 2-0 success. “There are moments you need to keep the ball, moments when you have to counter, moments when you must defend.
“I thought Lazio would keep the ball for 70-80 per cent, but we did well in this area as well, so that was an improvement. As time goes on, we’ll do better. It’s the kind of thing you can only learn with time and a run of victories.”
In a sense, the Old Lady face another test on Tuesday when they come up against a side that is expected to have a lion share of the ball on home turf.
Chelsea have found another gear since that loss at the Allianz Stadium in late September, and the added dimension of a fluid attack and marauding wing-backs ought to trouble a backline that had little to do in the reverse fixture in Italy.
The precedent favors Allegri’s team, though, with the Blues surprisingly winless in their last four meetings with the Serie A giants, losing the last two in 2012 and this term by an aggregate score of 4-0.
Allegri has been in charge of only one of the quartet of encounters between the teams, but the five-time Scudetto winner will strive to extend the London side’s ongoing poor run against Italian sides that has seen them pick up a win from their last 10 encounters with teams from Serie A.
Juventus’ boss reckons this is a group with great potential and another strong performance against an improved Chelsea at Stamford Bridge will get more doubters believing in the Old Lady’s flip-flopping project.
Seye Omidiora is a passionate football writer and pundit whose deep appreciation for the beautiful game exceeds the usual. He is currently a columnist for Goal Africa and has previously written for Vital Football UK, IBCity Info and Opera News.
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