It is fitting that in a season in which Juventus have largely underwhelmed, they look set to limp over the finish line in the Serie A title race.
A ninth straight Scudetto was within the grasp as they lined up to take on struggling Udinese on Thursday but they did not get the victory required, falling to an embarrassing 2-1 defeat.
The loss was systematic of a wider malaise that has been bubbling under the surface all year.
Listen, it’s not been a disastrous season – far from it. But Maurizio Sarri’s arrival in Turin was supposed to usher in an era of beautiful, attacking football. This was why the former Chelsea boss had been airlifted in to one of the cushiest jobs in Europe last summer.
His predecessor Max Allegri won the league title with ease year after year but there was always a niggling feeling that Juve lacked a distinct identity; and if there’s one thing a modern footballing institution needs, it’s a tangible philosophy.
What better manager to give you an identity then the man behind Sarri-ball?
Thing is, while the tactical shape is the same, Juventus have rarely reached the heights of the chain smoking fanatic’s famous Napoli side. It was the same old story on Thursday evening.
Yes, the result was bad, but the performance was even worse.
Right from the outset lowly Udinese were able to grab a foothold in the game, thanks to the Juventus midfield’s failure to take control of proceedings. Key to Sarri’s system is keeping the ball moving in the middle of the park with short passes.
Juve’s trio of Rodrigo Bentancur, Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot did the opposite, either doing too much by carrying the ball forward or trying (and failing) to execute overly ambitious through balls. Their displays were also littered with basic errors.
This lack of control gave Udinese a springboard to launch their own attacks. The hosts nearly forced Juventus into a calamitous own goal early on while Rodrigo de Paul will have been aggrieved to have not been given a penalty when it seemed Ramsey brought him down.
Matthijs de Ligt – a rare bright spark for Sarri’s side – scored just before the break to paper over the cracks in what was a shocking opening 45 minutes. However, Juve could not hold back Udinese in the second half.
Alex Sandro’s horrendous positioning allowed Ilija Nestorovski to net a superb diving header in the 52nd minute, much to De Ligt visible annoyance, and the visitors did little to turn the tide as the game reached its conclusion.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala did not look like they were enjoying playing alongside each other, while the less said about Federico Bernardeschi’s performance the better. Honestly, when was the last time he actually played well? I’ll have to rush you teams…
Juventus’ impotent forward line would be made to pay for their lack of invention in the 92nd minute when Seko Fofana was rewarded for his gladiatorial midfield performance by being gifted a chance to win his side the game. It was a chance he gobbled up gladly.
Fofana’s goal probably only delayed the inevitable. Barring a collapse of Nottingham Forest-esque proportion, Juve should claim the title on Sunday, but Thursday’s defeat has left a sour taste.
Juve are guaranteed to register their lowest points total since the 2014/2015 campaign and they still seem no closer to having a distinct tactical identity.