Arturo Vidal a shadow of his former self as Juve only manage a draw
Another wasted opportunity. With Roma managing only a scoreless draw against last-place Parma, it was believed Juventus would thrash Serie A's second-worst team, Cesena, to open a nine-point gap at the top of the league table. No such luck. Arrogance and nonchalance robbed Massimiliano Allegri and his men of taking another step forward towards another league title and the chance to build momentum prior to their important clash against Borussia Dortmund next week.
One thing that was said before this match was that Cesena possessed athletic ability that could be sustained for short bursts throughout, which made them dangerous. The only problem was whether or not they had the ability to make the most of the opportunities they created. Playing in front of their own fans, Gregoire Defrel not only provided the quality his side required but the confidence to put Juventus on the back foot.
Running rapidly and making the most of the synthetic turf on which they play, Domenico Di Carlo's side played a courageous game full of heart. Working tirelessly to win back possession, they forced their opponent into countless errors and immediately placed Juventus under pressure.
As the match settled, the Bianconeri began to understand how to react to the opponent and how to control the match. However, rather than make the most of their advantage to score several after conceding an early shock, they instead chose to sit back, allowing the Seahorses to profit from another energy expending burst in the second half to equalise.
This arrogance and lack of interest in closing off the match quickly and cynically is what continues to harm Juve and what could well punish them severely in the future. Roma may not be a side too desperate to provide a title challenge but unless the Old Lady shows ambition and determination for the entirety of their matches, surprises will continue to occur and states of panic will continue to ensue.
Sadly for Allegri's team, the midfield leaders proved disappointing for the second consecutive match with only Claudio Marchisio playing to expectation. Juventus may survive without a warrior in Serie A matches, but they can't be without the real Arturo Vidal in Europe. Perhaps one of the top-three midfielders in the world last season, the Chilean is a shadow of his former self and disappointed against Cesena. Mentally, he has gone missing, at times almost playing in a state of fear.
A few months ago it seemed he was gradually recovering his former brilliance, but recent performances have suggested otherwise. Vidal may still be tracking back in hopes of winning a tackle but his runs are not the same, the effort and energy expended are wholly different to what we have seen in previous years while his mental strength has clearly taken a hit. The Chilean plays with less courage, less drive and less intelligence. Allegri continues to insist that Vidal is slowly coming back into his own, even naming him as the best man on the pitch in the first half.
It's worth pointing out that Andrea Pirlo, who looked shamefully off pace and incapable of controlling the game, recovered the ball on 12 occasions. Vidal? Only eight times. Both Marchisio and Paul Pogba made more tackles throughout the game. In fact, Vidal performed worse than many of his midfield teammates in several categories: tackling, recovery, interceptions, duels, chances created and attacking third passes.
Many point out that the role of trequartista simply doesn't suit the midfielder, who is still on the mend. However, one can understand Allegri's logic. Vidal is usually the first to press the opponent when the Bianconeri lose possession, playing high up the field to win back the ball and launch his side forward. A man who was once the side's top scorer, his understanding of the movement in the final third not to mention his defensive ability to recover possession made him a suitable candidate for the role. However, in his current state, Vidal simply cannot provide the team with what they need to pierce through defences. At least not until he believes he can.
While the Bianconeri hope Vidal will slowly show the consistency required, Allegri learned that without Giorgio Chiellini, Juventus are not as secure at the back. The Leonardo Bonucci-Angelo Ogbonna partnership proved abysmal on the night. While the former was outmuscled on most occasions, the latter looked like the frightened player he was under Antonio Conte. Critics were quick to point out that these two do not belong together. However, they started the match against Sampdoria and while they suffered certain hiccups, they were quick to provide their team with the necessary security, safeguarding the central areas to impede the opponent.
The difference in this match was that they faced two bigger players of immense strength who were not only capable of winning the duels but of dominating the area to provoke fear and panic. In this particular match, Juve's centre-backs were exposed to devastating effect making them the wrong choice on the night.
There is an important lesson to be taken from this particular match against the Seahorses. Not even the most inferior of opponents can be underestimated. In order to win, every single match requires heart, intensity and intelligence. This was a wasted opportunity but the gap at the top of the table remains impressive. It's in Europe where fans really hope Juventus will live up to expectations.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.