The pressure around Juventus had been building throughout the international break, and Bologna’s visit to Turin on Sunday was the first time the Bianconeri had a chance to truly respond to the criticism and vitriol that had been pouring onto them over the past two weeks.
Before domestic football paused for the most recent interval, Max Allegri’s men had lost to Serie A new boys Monza, a result that saw them slammed by the media and their own supporters, as this previous column explained.
That meant that they had won just twice in the opening seven rounds of league action, while the side had also lost both of their UEFA
To make matters worse, Juve’s ultra groups were incensed by Leonardo Bonucci’s actions in Monza, the club Captain forcing his team-mates to go over to the away section and “apologise” for their performance.
“Bonucci has never been a leader and never will be: not at Treviso, nor Pisa, nor Bari, nor Milan and certainly not at Juventus,” read a statement from the Ultra groups (h/t Football Italia).
“Taking professional players like sacrificial lambs to stare at the Curva while receiving jeers and insults, giving legitimacy to protests just a month into the season, is SIMPLY ABSURD. The only result can be to create a weak team that is weighed down by negativity and a victim complex.
“That is exactly the opposite of what is needed in this sport. You are damaging your team-mates and squad more than any incompetent coach or director.”
With all those factors in mind, it was no surprise to see vast numbers of empty seats at Juventus Stadium on Sunday, with the official attendance standing at just 34,662 spectators at a venue that has a capacity of 41,507.
However, right from the kickoff against Bologna, it was clear that the team was determined to improve matters on the field, playing with a positivity and determination that had been noticeably missing in previous outings.
A vibrant first half was punctuated by a swift counter attack in the 24th minute that saw Dušan Vlahović set up compatriot Filip Kostić’s first Juventus goal and fire the Bianconeri into a 1-0 lead.
It took just 15 minutes of the second half for Juve to double that advantage, this time some great work from Kostić, Manuel Locatelli and Weston McKennie giving Vlahović the opportunity to head home.
Arkadiusz Milik made it 3-0 just a few minutes later, but still the Bianconeri poured forward, unwilling to settle for a result at any point. That was a major shift in the mentality they have shown since Allegri returned just over 18 months ago, and showed just what this team is capable of when they play with intent and intensity.
Those attributes have been so glaringly absent in this team for so long, and seeing them so firmly in control – even with key players like Paul Pogba, Federico Chiesa and Ángel Di María all missing through injury – bodes well for the future.
Of course, it must be remembered that this was only Bologna, a team sitting one point above the relegation zone and who have been woefully poor for quite some time before this latest defeat.
Yet after Juve were held to draws by Salernitana and Sampdoria before losing to Monza, they desperately needed a positive result and boss Max Allegri was certainly not getting carried away.
“We hadn’t won in a month, so it was good to have a clear and commanding victory,” the Coach told DAZN shortly after the final whistle. “Now we need to keep a low profile, remember we’re still a way back and above all have to get our Champions League back on track.”
A game against Maccabi Haifa in midweek will allow them to do just that and, after losing to PSG and Benfica, it must be seen as a must-win fixture. Then comes next Saturday’s much more difficult test, Juve travelling to San Siro where they take on Serie A champions AC Milan.
That is a game that will show whether the Juventus we saw on Sunday was a real and tangible improvement, or whether it was simply a team with excellent players dispatching a seriously underpar opponent.
A big week awaits the Old Lady, it’s time to find out if she is ready for her close up.