Exhaustion is starting to set in at Juventus as the season continues, with cracks starting to appear in the five-time reigning champion.
Like most of the top teams in Europe, Juventus is battling on two fronts – its domestic league and the Champions League – while most of its players are also involved with their national teams.
The Bianconeri appeared on the verge of qualifying for the Champions League knockout stages with two matches to spare on Wednesday before conceding a late goal to draw 1-1 at home to Lyon.
“There was a clear difference in our performance in both halves,” Juventus midfielder Stefano Sturaro said. “It’s down to different factors, not least the fact that we’re coming off a very intense period, with many direct battles.
“It’s OK for there to be a drop, it happens. We have had six matches in the past two weeks – and very important ones at that.”
Juventus won most of those matches, but it surprisingly lost 1-0 at AC Milan on Oct. 22 and struggled at times during a 2-1 victory over Napoli last weekend.
Its fans, spoiled by brilliant attacking football over the past few seasons, are beginning to get frustrated. Jeers could be heard toward the end of the match against Lyon.
“The fans can do what they want,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “I understand them because they always want a spectacle, but if they still want to be in the Champions League in March, they have to accept these moments in which you have to use your heads. That’s what will allow you to fight for your goals until the end.”
Allegri was more direct on Twitter, where he wrote: “You don’t win tournaments by playing 100 miles an hour in November: Let’s get through the group and then we’ll think about the rest.”
Not only has Juventus played several intense matches in a short time, but it has had to do so with many of the same players as the squad has been affected by injuries. However, veteran defender Patrice Evra said the problem was more psychological.
“We could look for excuses and blame it on the fatigue, but we don’t want to do that,” he said. “The truth is that after controlling the first half, at the end of the match, with a bit of pressure and the desire to win to go through immediately, we backed off a bit and our character dropped.”
Allegri cautioned that plenty of time remains until March, when the team will have to be at its best, but more was expected of Juventus following its significant offseason.
It signed record-breaking forward Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli, playmaker Miralem Pjanic from Roma, winger Dani Alves from Barcelona and defender Medhi Benatia from Bayern Munich.
Those additions may be part of the problem: With the new players still settling in, Juventus has failed to play as a team and has struggled to carve out goal-scoring opportunities.
And, while Higuain has stood out from the start, scoring seven goals in 11 domestic matches, more was expected from Pjanic, who appears to be struggling to fit in.
Juventus, which visits struggling Chievo Verona on Sunday, leads the Italian league by four points. Still, several of those victories have been in matches where the team would have been expected to do better.
That success has also carried over to the Champions League. If it wins its two remaining matches in Group H, against Sevilla later this month and Dinamo Zagreb in December, it will qualify for the last 16 as the winner of its group.
Juventus doesn’t need to look very far for inspiration. It started out worse last season, winning just one of its opening six matches before claiming a fifth consecutive league title.