Juve need to rediscover their trademark defensive solidity vs. Barca
The beauty of football is that there is no "right" way of playing it no matter what the philosophers will have you believe. There are the fiercely direct sides that make only four passes before scoring an audacious goal or those who thrill with their passing triangles and fluid play. For Juventus, balance has always been the key word.
A team often accused of developing disciplined robots that only know how to win, Juventus were always unashamedly structured at the back yet capable of thrilling goals going forward. Last season, they stunned Barcelona with beautiful attacking play and defeated sides through the flanks and through the middle but nothing impressed the critics more than how organised Juve were in defence. It was practically impossible to pierce through a side that seemed to genuinely enjoy halting and blocking the opponent.
Defence wins trophies and the fact the Old Lady has conceded 14 goals in 13 Serie A games this season goes against everything she stands for in football. It's simply unacceptable for an Italian side let alone Juventus to allow Sampdoria to score a third goal in the manner they did. Opponents were left untracked while Sami Khedira was caught complaining rather than defending. Juventus are simply not the well-drilled team we expect them to be this season.
When you consider the side face Barcelona next in the Champions League, Massimiliano Allegri has reportedly demanded more from the players. More fight, more heart and better concentration. He understands that until they can find the right tactical balance to ensure relentless wins, he may need to tweak the formation to ensure solidity in midfield and more protection for the defence. However, much like what Giorgio Chiellini insisted after the loss to Sampdoria, Allegri realises this is more of a psychological issue than a tactical one for the Bianconeri and that perhaps the side are simply struggling to find the will to fight like they once did. You might say the same about Real Madrid this season.
Against the Catalans, it's likely Allegri will opt for a 4-3-2-1 formation, allowing an extra midfielder to come in to play. With Miralem Pjanic, Khedira and Blaise Matuidi likely to be deployed, Juventus should prove to be a little more difficult to penetrate. Up front, Paulo Dybala and the growing Douglas Costa are likely to be placed behind Higuain, allowing for fluidity and movement.
At the back, it's clear Juve miss the quality Dani Alves and Leonardo Bonucci provided last season and it appears that once again, the young Daniele Rugani may miss out on playing a "big" match, with reports suggesting Allegri will rely on Andrea Barzagli and Chiellini in central defence. Can we blame the coach after the youngster's performance against Sampdoria? Hailed as the future of Italian defending, Rugani polarises opinions.
The defender is clearly talented and the inconsistencies within his game exist due to the fact he hasn't played regularly at Juventus. With Bonucci gone, many expected Rugani to simply slip in and claim that role as his own considering Medhi Benatia hasn't produced the performances he once managed at Roma but it seems Allegri has preferred to depend on the 36-year-old Barzagli instead.
A player in physical decline, Barzagli may no longer boast the athleticism but he still imposes his authority at the back, intimidating the opponent and playing with confidence and experience. Rugani lacks the character required to command a starting role at the back for Juventus. Those who believe in him will point out that the Old Lady hasn't lost a game he has played in this season except for Sampdoria but take a closer look and you'll find most of the opponents he has faced should have been relatively easy to handle and despite that, many mistakes were still committed.
Against Genoa, he gave away a penalty and struggled with the physicality of the game. Against Udinese he grabbed a goal and an assist but his mistakes at the back helped allow them to score their first goal. He was shaky and error prone against Fiorentina in the first half while he can be a little reckless with his fouls in general, earning pointless yellow cards such as the one against SPAL.
Rugani has also managed many wonderful things and at his age, Bonucci was committing as many if not more mistakes. The difference is that great defenders play with confidence and composure, even in the toughest moments. Juventus fans will recall that Andrea Ranocchia was perhaps the better defender but Bonucci was picked to join Juventus because of his swagger, his unwavering belief in himself, a quality that Rugani is struggling to demonstrate.
On a psychological level, strikers can intimidate him and not the other way around and that is why against Lazio, rivals Torino and other sides that can cause problems, the coach has preferred a wiser head. If Rugani is the player the fans who watch him know he can be then he must find a way of making the most of the opportunities he's handed.
As for the rest of the side, the Barcelona match represents a must-win game and Allegri is demanding a perfect performance having rested his best players in preparation for this match. If Juve can remain compact and play with discipline and the organisation that once defined them, then perhaps they can seal qualification in their last home match of the group stage.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.