Random thoughts about Juventus and European competition

Claudio Villa

There is a reason why there was no post on this site on Friday. Your boy needed to think about a few things. And not just think about how to live a long, somewhat stress-free life when I root for a team like Juventus, but also what exactly happened Thursday night against Benfica and resulted in Juventus players sporting sad faces in many of pictures available to us.

The simple way to put it: Juve didn't get to the final of the Europa League when EVERYBODY thought they were the favorites to win the whole damn thing.

Another simple way to put it: Juventus need to improve in Europe.

Now that all of you are thinking something like "Thanks, genius." I'll try and elaborate a little bit more than just sounding like a complete dope.

Juventus are one of the select few teams this season that can say they've been eliminated from two European competitions within the span of a couple months. I'm pretty sure that's something they didn't want to be saying at the beginning of the season when Antonio Conte sat down for one of his first press conferences back in August and September.

There's reasons why Juventus are here. You don't enter the season as a sleeper to do damage in the Champions League and then not even make it to the knockout stage. You don't fall into the Europa League, get picked the thing and then fall short of making the final.

Juventus are dynamite in Italy — which is good, and also bad. But when it comes to Europe, something just isn't right.

(And, just for the record, I'm still pissed off about Thursday's game. Yeah, so much for not caring about a second-fiddle European competition. So close, yet so far, I guess.)

Juventus' manager is still learning how to coach in Europe

Antonio Conte isn't perfect — but we pretty much knew that already. And if you didn't think he's not perfect, then I don't know what to tell you.

Conte can be stubborn about things we want him to possibly reevaluate. Conte can be somewhat frustrating when it comes to squad selection some of the time. And yet, there's also this: Conte, the player and the manager, is one of the best things to happen to Juventus in recent memory.

While it's tough to ignore what some of Juventus' managers have done in Europe over course of the past couple of decades, is it fair to compare Conte to them? In some ways yes, in some ways no. Conte is damn good at what he does, but it's apparent that his ability to show the same kind of results he gets in Italy on the European stage.

And if that means adapting, then so be it. Until then, we might be seeing this more than we want to.


Nobody wants to see a sad face like that in the near future again.

There should be some tactical flexibility

I'm not saying ditch the 3-5-2 completely. Let's not forget that even when Juve went 4-3-3 in the second half against Benfica on Thursday night, it's not like things magically changed and it went from sluggishness to absolute jubilation offensively.

But for every game like that, there's a 4-3-3 sample of when Juve played Real Madrid toe-to-toe in two Champions League group stage game. You know, the same Real Madrid team that just advanced to the Champions League final. It seems like those two games were years ago, not all of five months ago, doesn't it?

Simply going 4-3-3 won't solve all of Juve's apparent problems. Neither will sticking with the 3-5-2. Either way, a mix of the two won't be the worst thing in the world. It would just be nice to see the same kind of willingness to go from one formation to another we saw in Conte's first year. That's what we call tactical flexibility, ladies and gents.

Juventus need to change their European mindset in a hurry

Restoring the classic Juventus grinta became a staple of Conte's first year as Juventus manager. And in that sense, he has proven he can do exactly that. But when it comes to the early goings of the group stages in the Champions League, Juve have been 2 for 2 in starting out like total crap.

They got away with it the first time around, but obviously not this year. The sluggish start bit Juve right in the backside and is one of a handful of reasons why Juve didn't even get into the knockout stages of the Champions League. It's one thing to draw against a team of Real Madrid's caliber, it's another to struggle to a draw against FC Copenhagen.

Nobody expected European dominance right off the bat. Well, maybe a few people, but that's just silly. But nobody expected struggling against Danish sides for two straight years, either. While it's true you can't take any team lightly in Europe's biggest competition, there's also a reason why they're games considered Juventus should win. And until they actually do beat the worst team in the group twice, there's still going to be plenty of motivation to pull our hair out.

Juventus need better squad depth from top to bottom

Yes, the struggles in Europe aren't solely on Conte (as much as some people don't want you to believe that). Juventus have been playing a whole lot of games this season. And up until a few weeks ago, it was pretty much the same group of players starting every single game.

It doesn't really matter what formation Conte deems as his default one next season. To have the tactical flexibility, Juve need players that are able to adapt. And that means no Simone Padoins around next season as much as it might be depressing to lose the official human victory cigar.

I'm not saying Juventus need to go out and spend €100 million this summer just to say they did. Beppe Marotta is good at what he does because he finds himself some good deals. And for every deal he makes — Carlos Tévez, Andrea Pirlo, Fernando Llorente — the base is there. You improve the bench, you bring in a really good winger, and now we're talking some serious aspirations.

Juventus acutally learn from both European exits this season

To be honest, I was thinking the same thing last year when Juve were throttled by Bayern Munich over two legs. But there's a pretty big difference between this season and 12 months ago: That Bayern team were an absolute machine who took no prisoners and demolished just about every squad in sight, Juve have pretty much themselves to blame in this year's European woes.

It's understandable and reasonable to say Juventus need to say learn from their mistakes in Europe the past two years. And while I'm always going to be Mr. Optimism, until those mistakes are, ya know, corrected, there will always be at least a little bit of skepticism.

I guess it just all comes full circle. Conte learn from mistakes. Management learn what they need to improve the squad. The players learn to not lose to annoying Danish teams they have no business losing to. Full circle, folks. Hooray, hooray.

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