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 By Mina Rzouki

Cracks appear at Juventus with Allegri urging side to maintain focus

Massimiliano Allegri's have been below-par recently although they still have a commanding lead at the top of Serie A.

Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri continues to warn that his team's nine-point gap at the top of Serie A is not enough.

If his men drop their concentration for a moment, another defeat is a real possibility and it will invite more pressure from their title challengers.

Allegri needs his men to stay alert. Too many mistakes have been happening and while you can understand fatigue is a problem at this stage of the season, Juventus' defensive stats show how much their problems on the pitch are affecting results.

Juve are no longer a pillar of strength at the back. Before the winter break, they conceded 13 goals in 23 games. In the New Year, they have already conceded 11 in just 13 matches. Woeful defending from set pieces and the struggle to prevent counter-attacks have worried those who see the team committing the same mistakes over and over again.

The question is, why? Some suggest that exhaustion has resulted in a drop in concentration and mistakes are likely to happen. The squad may boast more depth than most in Serie A but it's still not enough to rotate with ease. At this stage of the season, Juventus want their main men to be playing all their games because their back-ups, aren't always going to guarantee the same level of brilliance, as Simone Padoin demonstrated in the 2-1 defeat against Fiorentina.

Others blame Allegri for the drop in intensity that has provoked this fragility. He hasn't done enough psychologically to encourage relentless energy for the full 90 minutes in every game like Antonio Conte once preached. A coach always has his critics even if Juve have evolved under Allegri.

However, you must look at the full picture. The tactics have changed to allow for a greater emphasis on scoring goals. Evolving the tactics to show more courage up top has also meant that Juve have lost aggressive power in midfield. The 4-3-1-2 formation requires optimum concentration at the back and disciplined players who understand when to push forward and when to track back.

Fiorentina ended Juventus' 47-match unbeaten record at home with a stunning 2-1 victory in the Coppa Italia.

Last year, only three teams performed more tackles but this season it's 12. At least in terms of statistics, the Bianconeri have performed better in the number of shots they take and in possession. This has placed a lot of pressure on the back line and while the players handled the extra work well at the beginning of the campaign concentration levels can drop as limbs become weary in the final stages of the season. Mentally and physically, this side do not have enough time to fully recover after games.

Another point is Arturo Vidal. He's no longer the warrior the fans cheer on and is not even in the top 10 best tacklers in the league this season. His fall from grace is in part due to his knee problems and also down to a change in position where he is struggling further forward.

You also cannot overlook the loss of Kwadwo Asamoah, the man who holds his position well and offers wonderful defensive contributions especially when it comes to counter-attacks. His tendency to prioritise defence over attack can frustrate when the side pushes forward but his strength and tackling ability comes in handy when opponents run at pace.

Fiorentina knew how to punish the Bianconeri and unless Juventus maintain concentration for the entirety of matches, their errors will be exploited. No team likes to spring a surprise more than Sassuolo -- Juve's next opponent.

Boasting Domenico Berardi and Simone Zaza, Eusebio Di Francesco's men may have suffered in recent games, conceding eight goals in their last three but they are talented and can hurt even the grandest of clubs.

As Allegri continues to warn his players, each game requires a fight to ensure another trophy. His advice must be heeded.

Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.


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