Slow start nothing new for Massimiliano Allegri - but Juventus risk early title race elimination

Max Cooper
Allegri is feeling the pressure
Allegri is feeling the pressure / Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Serie A hasn't been synonymous with electrifying title races over the past decade or so, and even when competition was fierce, the name Juventus always appeared at the top of the pile.

But the 2020/21 campaign reaffirmed suspicions that had been growing for two or three years prior: the Old Lady was ageing badly. That came to a head last season, when Inter became the first club in a decade to topple the Bianconeri and claim the Italian crown.

Juve's revert to type by re-hiring Massimiliano Allegri following the failed experiments of Maurizio Sarri and Andrea Pirlo convinced onlookers that the team itself would follow suit and return to being an all-consuming winning machine.

But four games into the new campaign and the club appears to not even be treading water anymore while others rise, but they're sinking even deeper. Juve's 1-1 draw with Milan on matchday four meant Allegri's men have made the worst start to a season in 60 years, leaving them 11 points behind leaders Inter ahead of Wednesday's trip to Spezia.

That's all topped off by Allegri storming off the pitch in the tie with the Rossoneri, swearing with rage at his players for failing to follow his instructions, with reports suggesting he is struggling to get his ideas across to his team. Not quite what we expected from his return, then.

Although it has been record-breakingly bad, Juve have suffered a false start of a similar ilk in the recent past. In fact, it came under Allegri in the 2015/16 campaign, when they picked up only five points from their opening six matches, leaving them in 15th place in the table.

Fast-forward to matchday 38 and despite their terrible start, they already had the title wrapped up. They finished the campaign on 91 points, nine clear of second-place Napoli.

Juve fans can take some heart from this reoccurrence, safe in the knowledge that you don't have to kick off the season in lightning fashion in order to end it on top, right?

Well, not exactly. As proven by Allegri's transformation from a full head of hair to a semi-enforced shaven head, a lot can change in the space of five or six years. And more worryingly, the things that should have changed in that period of time may sometimes stay the same.

Despite their advancing years, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci are still integral to the Old Lady, while the likes of Juan Cuadrado and Alvaro Morata also remain at the centre of their plans. The whole squad reeks of dereliction, and mediocrity has become the new norm in too many positions across the pitch.

Adrien Rabiot
A familiar expression for Juve supporters / Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images

2021 Adrien Rabiot would have got nowhere near 2016 Juventus' starting midfield, yet he finds himself plodding around in nearly every Serie A fixture, and often alongside Danilo, who's a natural defender.

The imperious fear factor that surrounded the Juve of old has vanished, and neutrals now find themselves excited to watch the Bianconeri take to the field, anticipating an upset nearly every week.

This poor start to the season is a shock, but it's not nearly as much of a shock as their disastrous start to the title-defending 2015/16 campaign was. While Juventus' turning of the corner in 2015 felt inevitable, there's just no telling when the current edition will find their feet, and when they do, we're not sure where they'll land.

Naturally assuming that the end of this slump will mean them climbing back to the Serie A summit would be misguided. Champions Inter have made a better start to the new season than they did the last, Milan and Napoli both seem to have improved from last year, and AS Roma boast serial winner Jose Mourinho in the dugout.

Competition at the top end of Serie A is fierce, more so than it has been for many, many years. Juve can't point back to history and rely on muscle memory to dig them out of trouble anymore. Instead, they need to look forward and create new history - starting with victory over Spezia.