What advanced stats can tell us about Juventus’ attack this season
With just under one-third of the season complete, Juventus sit in eighth place in the Serie A table with 18 points from five wins, three draws and four losses, having scored 16 goals and conceded 15 times. These numbers are quite unremarkable by Juventus standards, with those four defeats the highest for this stage of the season since pretty much any reader of this blog was born. The defence has been especially leaky, too, with the number of goals given up also a record for more than a generation.
A couple of days ago we reviewed the defence. Today, in the second of two pieces during this November international break, we’re going to dig into some stats from Opta data, StatsBomb (via FBRef) and WhoScored to see if we can notice some underlying trends in Juve’s performances, and if there can be some pointers there on what to expect for the rest of the season.
Looking at the attack, there’s not been much to celebrate on that front, either. When you’re shipping goals by the boatload, if your attack can keep scoring then you can probably ride the tide until the backline issues are sorted. Unfortunately, with injuries and constant lineup changes, Juventus manager Max Allegri has not only been unable to find his best XI, at this point it doesn’t appear we even know what our best formation is that can provide defensive solidity while creating enough on the opposite end of the pitch.
A quick reminder: Juventus are sitting eighth in the Serie A table currently, having scored only 16 times this season. Twelve of those goals have come from open play (10th best), two from set pieces (15th) and the other two from penalties (10th).
Juve have taken 118 open play shots, good enough for seventh, with Roma leading with 156 and Napoli a distant second at 137. Those shots have come at an overall xG (expected goals) of 12.4 which is eighth best in the league. The Bianconeri cannot claim to have been particularly lucky or unlucky as they have basically gotten what they have created. In contrast, Atalanta and Inter have 15.6 and 15.4, respectively, but have converted those into 18 and 21 goals, respectively, usually the mark of very good finishing by an attacking side and/or abject goalkeeping and defending on the part of their opponents.
Those numbers are no anomaly for all three sides, as Atalanta led the league last season with an xG of 58.8, but actually got 77 goals, while Inter had 65 goals on 54.6 xG. Juve were third in xG last season with 54.4, but only gleaned 56 actual goals.
Setpieces tend to be a strength for Juve and usually a good source of goals as well. However this season they have created an xG of 4 from set pieces (8th), scoring just twice. Last season they had 14.4 xG (2nd), and scored 12 times (7th). Even by last season’s standards Juve are off the pace in terms of getting goals from corners, freekicks and the like.
A lot of the offensive issues with this season’s Bianconeri comes from their inability to sustain possession in the middle and attacking phases of the game. Just last season under Andrea Pirlo, Juve’s average sequence time with the ball was 12.75 seconds with 4.57 passes per sequence, both highest in the league. This year, Juve are turning the ball over more quickly and succumbing to pressure from their opponents a lot more easily. The average sequence time this season is only 9.71 seconds and 3.56 passes, both only ninth.
This is manifesting itself in Juve’s possession numbers as well, with only 51.1% of the ball (11th), when that number was 57.1% (2nd). 58.3% (2nd), and 56.2% (4th) over the last three seasons.
If you thought Allegri would have his side pressing more ferociously since they have less of the ball and therefore are playing more of a quick counterattacking game, then you are sadly mistaken on both counts. Juve are allowing their opponents an average of 11.8 passes outside their own defensive third (PPDA), only good enough for 11th, while that number was 10.4 and third last season.
As a result, they have only generated 84 turnovers (7 per game, 12th) while last season that was 8.2 per game, 3rd best. Last season, they converted that into 57 shots (3rd) and it’s at the same pace this season with 18 (3rd). However, it’s at the measure of direct speed (in metres/sec) with which a team advances the ball that we see an anomaly – 1.46 (14th) last season, and 1.36 last season (16th).
As the eye test corroborates, Juve have less possession of the ball, and when they don’t have it they’re not necessarily doing enough to generate turnovers. When they have been able to steal the ball though, they are doing a very good job of creating shots from those turnovers.
The team looked slow and plodding for long periods last season, and are actually worse this season. There is a bit of a stylistic loggerheads that Allegri finds himself at here. His side is not capable of generating long passing sequences when they do have the ball, and his players seem torn between wanting to counter attack quickly when they get the ball in the midfield versus trying to sustain possession and create chances by holding the ball in the opponent’s defensive third.
For me, the key takeaway from the stats analysis of the defence and the attack is that Juventus are yet to find their identity under Allegri this season. This is not to blame either the coach or the players. Allegri hasn’t had a full and fit squad at his disposal at any point this season, and financial restrictions mean he doesn’t have the quality depth in key positions that most of the teams ahead of Juve do.
The metrics show a lot of underlying weaknesses that are being papered over by individual skill, not different from the last two seasons in all honesty. It’s just that the rest of the league has wised up now and are attacking Juve, much like younger upstarts in a pride of lions will challenge an older male whose best days are behind him.
It would be unduly optimistic to imagine that Allegri will suddenly be able to convert this motley crew of veterans, youngsters, wannabes and has-beens into a side capable of competing for the Scudetto this season, but what as fans we need to be looking for is signs of cohesion that will bode well for the future. Until then, we must persevere much like we did a decade ago when we had to suffer through two consecutive seventh-placed finishes.