Gonzalo Higuain, Juve return to Napoli eyeing a spot in the Coppa Italia final
A victim of their own success, Juventus will forever be criticised unless they win every match comprehensively. Never allowed an off day, the very fact the Bianconeri opted to play a defensive style of football against Napoli on Sunday evening has resulted in doubt about the brilliance of this team.
A country obsessed by negative perspectives, it seems Juventus can never struggle and no achievement is ever applauded. They should be winning every trophy, every match and every tournament they participate in. Nothing is considered an achievement but a mandatory procedure.
It is this very attitude that has sparked Massimiliano Allegri's anger. His accomplishments are not being properly judged and wins are expected and rarely praised. Juventus may not have been at their best on Sunday evening but many sides suffered a similar hangover after an International break. It is difficult to overcome the technical skills of Maurizio Sarri's side, especially when Juventus were missing their best players on the ball. Paulo Dybala was not in the greatest of conditions, Juan Cuadrado had only returned from Colombia on Friday and the rest of the squad were players who proved better off the ball than on it forcing a defensive style of play.
The very fact that the Old Lady can adapt to situations is a great quality. Replacing technical brilliance with tactical discipline earned Juventus the point and while they couldn't grasp complete control of the match, they managed to muzzle a side that gave Real Madrid a hard time. Juve were not playing Pescara, they were playing a side that won their Champions League group and currently reside in third place.
Juventus are still six points ahead of second-placed Roma in the league and against the Partenopei on Wednesday evening, Allegri is expected to play a more offensive game in the semifinal of the Coppa Italia. After all, this will be a knockout game and Juventus want to reach the final in hopes of winning another trophy.
Despite managing a 3-1 score line in Turin, they did concede an away goal and will want to score at least once to ensure a good result. With several technical players available for selection including Dybala and Cuadrado, the Bianconeri should provide Gonzalo Higuain with better service than he received on Sunday evening.
The Argentine's return to the Stadio San Paolo dominated headlines and many expected or rather hoped he would prove his doubters wrong and score. However, he was left isolated for much of the match and unable to provide the level of impact we have grown accustomed to watching.
While Dybala's absence proved frustrating for Higuain, the lack of service from the wide areas restricted the forward from unleashing his lethality in front of goal. Kwadwo Asamoah has struggled the last two times he has played against Napoli and simply cannot command the left lane as well as Alex Sandro. His performance proved so poor that Mario Mandzukic was tasked with contributing more to the defensive side of the game than the attack. Stephan Lichtsteiner provided even less attacking verve on the right and in a match that will require Juve to score, it seems Allegri may rely on Dani Alves to provide the goods.
The Brazilian is somewhat of a liability at the back but going forward he has proved spectacular at picking out his teammates and delivering the right pass to pierce opposing defences. His ability on the ball should help Juventus play a more attacking game even if he may expose the back line a bit. While Allegri will seemingly prefer to play Cuadrado on the right of the trident and Stefano Sturaro on the left in the upcoming match, one wonders whether it would be better to keep Lichtsteiner in the back four, but allow Alves to play further ahead, free of defensive responsibilities. With both present on the right, Juventus can command the wide area.
Cuadrado is an important player and his pace makes the difference but Alves is better at providing the width and his decision making in the final third has made the difference in the past. The Colombian is yet to put thought into his moves to ensure the runs he makes are decisive and not an experiment in expending energy.
Anything short of a win will result in even more criticism aimed at the Old Lady. Considering the squad need to be at their best and most confident for the match against Barcelona next week, Allegri will hope his players will respond on the pitch and prove why they should never be doubted.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.