A rematch of the Supercoppa Italiana fixture that started the season. In that game, Paulo Dybala spearheaded a late comeback for Juventus only for Alessandro Murgia to win it in injury time for Lazio. Coming straight back from the international break and with a Champions League tie against Sporting Lisbon on Wednesday to think about, this fixture was always going to be difficult for Massimiliano Allegri to manoeuvre, but having not lost at home since 2015 he’s clearly dealt with these issues before.
Juventus started in a 4-3-3, while Simone Inzaghi set up his team in a 3-5-1-1, with Luis Alberto playing off Ciro Immobile.
The opening stages were rather dull, with neither team able to mount real attacks. Lazio sat back in their half, asking Juventus to play through them, which they weren’t really able to do – the midfield three not possessing enough creativity to break down a congested midfield, and the forwards not up to much either. Lazio defended each flank differently: if the ball was sent out to Kwadwo Asamoah, centre midfielder Marco Parolo would move out to the right to go against him while Adam Marusic dealt with Mario Mandzukic, whereas on the left Sergej Milinkovic-Savic stayed in the centre, Senad Lulic pushed up against Stephan Lichtsteiner and left-sided centre-back Stefan Radu would pick up Douglas Costa.
This defensive structure also made sense from an attacking point of view, as it allowed Lulic to already be pushed on further up the field if they recovered the ball on his side. When attacking Milinkovic-Savic would generally move out to the left flank, with Lulic pushing on ahead of him and Radu pulling out to the left to overload the left flank. It’s dubious as to whether this really worked though, as while they looked to progress the ball down the wing they didn’t actually look to attack in the wide area, rarely offering much depth. Instead they would try to play it back into the centre, either into Alberto or recycling it back to Lucas Leiva, who could hopefully find Immobile’s feet with a low, hard ball, with the three left-sided players hopefully dragging some of Juve’s central players out to the flanks to clear the path for the pass.
Juve badly missed the creativity of Dybala and Miralem Pjanic, but got their opener from Asamoah overlapping on the left. With the Ghanaian pushing on beyond Mandzukic, Parolo either needed to keep following or pass him on to Marusic – instead, both stayed with the Croatian and Asamoah was free to pick out a cut-back.
The goal also highlighted a problem with the midfield defensively: with Parolo pushing out to the right flank, Lucas has to come across to cover but that requires Milinkovic-Savic to drop in alongside him to shield the backline. He struggled to do this consistently, often looking a bit lost positioning himself defensively, and it left both Gonzalo Higuain and Sami Khedira as free options on the edge of the area for the goal when Lucas shifted across.
The game pretty much continued as it had done for the rest of the half – neither team able to create much. This changed minutes into the second half though, with Lucas given a frankly ridiculous amount of time to pick out a pass into the feet of Immobile, who exchanged quick passes with Milinkovic-Savic and Alberto to put him through on goal for his tenth of the season. The Juve midfield had stayed narrow enough so that ordinarily this wouldn’t be an issue, however Higuain’s failure to even attempt to impede Lucas meant he had ten full seconds to turn, stride forward and ready a pinpoint pass. Andrea Barzagli didn’t cover himself in glory in failing to get back goalside of Immobile but this should have been cut out much higher up the pitch.
Immobile got his eleventh when it happened again minutes later. Stefan de Vrij stepping out of defence to play straight through to Milinkovic-Savic between the lines, who slipped a through ball down the middle of Giorgio Chiellini and Barzagli for Immobile to run onto, scoring the resulting penalty when Gianluigi Buffon felled him. There was the same lack of pressure on the ball but even bigger gaps in midfield for the ball to be played through, and the centre-backs never looked like recovering.
In response, Allegri moved Mandzukic into the middle when Juve had the ball. The idea was presumably to draw more players inside to make more space for Asamoah on the left, and adding an extra body in the box for him to aim at as Juve’s gameplan now revolved around getting the ball out to him to send in crosses. This didn’t work because his crossing simply wasn’t very good, not helped by his refusal to take on Marusic. The change made them more predictable, which in turn allowed Lazio to be far more comfortable defensively: in the first half, the uncertainty of the Lazio players in where they were meant to be and who they were picking up resulted in a goal, but now they could sit back unafraid in a flat back five.
Dybala was finally introduced 65 minutes in, yet Juve’s insistence in attacking through Asamoah meant he rarely had an influence on the game. The Argentinian missed another penalty with the last kick of the game, capping off a poor evening for the Bianconeri. Juve may have a tendency to start slow and Allegri was clearly thinking about their mid-week fixture against Sporting, but there were too many individual mistakes from players here and a lack of creativity in the absence of Claudio Marchisio, Pjanic and Dybala that needs to be addressed if they are going to make it a seventh scudetto in a row, especially with such strong competition this season.