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After a run of three good performances, against Palermo, Cagliari and Inter, Sunday lunchtime saw Juventus return to the kind of inept display seen before that spell. During that dismal seven game run they won just twice and were eliminated from the Coppa Italia while conceding 12 goals, a worrying period that appeared to be over as the squad slowly returned to something resembling full strength.

Many people, fans, observers, and the media have been quick to lay the responsibility for the sides struggles on bad management. Gigi Delneri has - quite rightly in some cases - taken the bulk of the blame, at times his substitutions were unfathomable and often the players he selected to the bench were not of a wide enough variety to cover all possible problems. He also failed to make alterations to the formation at key moments when the game called for it.

However, in recent games the coach has realised these errors and a drastic shift in both team selection and his tactical outlook, for which he deserves immense credit. While many continue to call him a strict disciple of 4-4-2 his system is very fluid and changes constantly depending on where the ball is and which team is in possession. He has also tried different shapes, never more so than in the win over Cagliari where he could take much of the credit for the win.

In Sardinia he used a previously unseen 4-3-1-2 and made some bold personnel changes. From there they went into last weeks Derby d’Italia and dominated from almost start to finish against a strangely muted Inter side, once again the former Roma tactician out-coached his opposite number and stood up to the pressure well.

All of which brings us back to Sunday and the visit to Lecce’s Stadio Via del Mare for which Delneri was able to name an unchanged side which has been a rarity this season. While the names on the back of the eleven shirts may have remained the same, the performance could not have been more different from last weeks victory over the Nerazzurri.

From the opening whistle this was an entirely different Juventus to the one of just seven days reviously, devoid of the impetus, drive and on-field intelligence that has so characterised the better performances this season. The coaching staff can only do so much; all the team breakfasts, training sessions and tactical work is meaningless if the players fail to execute when crossing the white line.

Lecce immediately took the game to Juve and the defence was sliced open far too easily in the opening exchanges, even before Gigi Buffon’s twelfth minute red card. Some simple passing and a few balls over the top cut apart a back-line that had been previously excellent. That dismissal came as a result of a one-on-one save from an unmarked Davide Di Michele, the Italy number one completely losing his bearings and making the stop outside the area.

Giorgio Chiellini, simply outstanding at left-back since switching back there following the arrival of Andrea Barzagli, but was very poor here, never more so than on Lecce’s opening goal when caught badly out of position and playing Daniel Mesbah onside by some distance.

Not only that but his commanding presence was sorely missed in the centre, as Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci seem to lack assurance when not played alongside a him. Chiellini may be a very competent full-back but is a world class central defender and perhaps that is where he should feature from now on as Simon Pepe and Armand Traoré return to give Delneri options.

While it is easy to write off this defeat after being forced to play with ten men for much of the encounter, the malaise is as incomprehensible as it is inexplicable and the players have to be the ones to end it. As Delneri said post game it was the manner of the defeat which hurt the most;

“We were wrong in our approach, I saw a very arrogant team here. We can lose, but not in this way, we must play like against Palermo, where despite the defeat we fought. This way of playing does not give us chance to say ‘We are here’. This was perhaps the worst match of the season. I hope this game will be a lesson”

The loss, while not ending the Champions League aspirations of the Bianconeri - that all important fourth place is only seven points away with thirty-six left attainable - the team must eradicate these mental lapses. These dips in concentration are made all the more frustrating after listening to a number of players trot out the ‘one game at a time’ and ‘the Lecce game is as important as the Inter one’ cliches all week.

With so many members of the current squad only in Turin on loan and needing to prove themselves worthy of remaining at the club you would expect them to be playing above themselves, not putting in desperately poor performances when just the opposite is needed. Surely now of all times is when they should show their true value?

All the players need to improve back to their previous level and then, most importantly, maintain that standard in the remaining twelve games - if not for the club then for themselves and their futures. It is time to stand up and be counted for the men charged with representing the Old Lady.

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Adam Digby

Adam is an Italian football journalist, contributing regularly to SI.com. He also is the co-founder of JuventiKnows.com

4 Responses so far.

  1. Ted says:

    Juve go all out and win against Inter, and then they slip up against Lecce.

    Juve still have a shot at a CL spot, but it will be difficult.

    • Walker says:

      just not sure about that now Ted. Roma has an even slimmer chance and that is because both Udinese and Lazio look pretty good right now.

      AC Milan, Napoli and Inter have the first 3 spots wrapped up and don’t forget Bundesliga with UEFA co-efficient robbing that fourth spot very soon.

  2. Ted says:

    Serie A’s top 4 will qualify for the Champions League this season and next season.

    Starting in 2012-2013..then it’s 4 spots for the Germans…

    As a Serie A fan, it would be better for BOTH Roma and Juve to be in the Champions League.

    Roma will hire Ancelotti in the summer, plus they have a new owner, who will more than likely spend on a few players.

    Same with Juve, new stadium, big budget = some quality players, instead of a bunch of average ones.

    I don’t see Delaurentis spending in the summer. Their defense is decent, but I don’t think it’s good enough for Europe. Particularly their 3 man backline. Paolo Cannavarro should never be allowed to start on a CL side, same with Campanaro. Their lack of depth will also be a problem. I see them being eliminated, in the CL qualifying rounds.

    Same with Lazio, in regards if they make a top 4 finish.

  3. Ted says:

    What a DISASTER it would be, if Juve don’t make top four…

    They’ll have to rebuild for the 3rd time, in three years.lol

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