Juventus were unable to keep hold of their four point lead with a 0-0 draw away to SPAL, a setback for the Bianconeri as it would’ve made the result of their game against Napoli in a few weeks time, that less important. Now, Napoli control their fate. If they win every game and get three points away to Juventus, they’d be able to finally land that elusive Scudetto.
This has set the already boiling Scudetto race truly alight. Napoli don’t have the same European distraction that Juventus has. The Partenopei can fully focus on Serie A without rotating their best starting XI, while an injury riddled Juventus is starting to show a few cracks in the league.
2.Juventus struggle against a rejuvenated SPAL:
Against SPAL, Juventus didn’t seem to have a plan B to get past a very defensive 3-5-2 formation, which negated the threat of Gonzalo Higuain. The wingers Paolo Dybala and Douglas Costa, didn’t have any space to run at defenders or go for quick passing combinations as SPAL did a brilliant job limiting the space in-between the lines. Tactically, they were brilliant. SPAL’s manager Leonardo Semplici has been loyal to his 3-5-2, and it was easy to see why the middle of the pitch felt so clogged.
On the back foot, one of the three centre-backs would push higher up to prevent Higuain or Dybala from getting on the ball, while striker Mirko Antenucci would drop back to put pressure on Juve’s main playmaker Miralem Pjanic. This essentially created a middle seven for SPAL and prevented Allegri’s men from playing a fluid possession style.
The reason for explaining SPAL’s tactics is to also note that Juventus didn’t have an answer. Many teams who face the Bianconeri in the final weeks of the campaign, especially ones near the relegation zone, will look at what Semplici did and try to copy it. There haven’t been too many provincial sides that have been as effective in quelling Juve’s attack.
Maybe most important is the fact that the type of tactics employed by SPAL against Juve are similar to ones we saw from La Liga teams against Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona. The big difference is that Juventus aren’t a side that is at their best playing so high up the pitch and trying to get by a low defensive block with “tiki-taka”, or quick, incisive first time passing.
3. Andre Silva - from “bidone” to hero in a few weeks
It seemed like Milan were prematurely ready to give up on Andre Silva during the January transfer window. After all, reports surfaced that he was linked with moves to both Sevilla and (surprisingly) Wolverhampton Wanderers - a team with a huge Portuguese influence that’s currently top of the Championship standings.
Silva had only scored in the Europa League against weak opponents and never really seemed comfortable or in his element against the much more organised Serie A defences. That was until two weeks ago. Gattuso has been finally giving Silva a chance and he’s repaid the manager with two game winning goals against Genoa and Chievo. A thundering header and a poacher type goal inside the six yard box, have been worth six points for Milan in the last two rounds, all courtesy of the Portuguese international.
It was foolish to start writing off such a talented player who, after all, had only previously played one season of top flight football in his career with Porto. Silva has all the tools to become a top talent. He’s quick, has a powerful physique and soft feet.
His ball control and first touch are evident that the talent is there - the only thing he needs to learn is how to actually play the no.9 position. Silva grew up as an attacking midfielder and it’s no surprise that he often looks more comfortable outside the box in a free role, where he can run at defenders rather than posting one up with his back to goal.
Matteo Bonetti is a sports journalist for beIN Sports USA