The past few days have been full of contemplation for me, as I mentioned, my birthday was this Sunday, and despite going out and having a good time with close friends, such as Señor Cuervo, I found myself thinking about Juve a lot. The curse of the sports fan, regardless of what happens, we are tied to our team for better or worse. After the jump, my analysis of the teams problems.
Remember the "crisis" in October? It was when things came unglued a bit, though I think you'd all agree that it was not a crisis. The problem back then was our inability to score, our forwards were complete shit, though our defense was solid. The current crisis, and I'm not using apostropheses because it legitimately is one, is one where the defense is as leaky as a New Orleans levee. Though the focus of our disastrous performance has changed, both largely have roots in the one area of the team that we haven't been able to figure out since Serie B: the midfield.
I'd like to think of myself as a fairly analytical fan, one that enjoys tactics and discussing the different individual qualities between players. This summer, I pleaded via with Alessio Secco to sign Gaetano D'Agostino. If you recall Lippi's Juve sides, it is not necessary for a 4-3-1-2 to have a regista in the squad, though he had some world class fullbacks, a tighter defense, and perhaps critically, at least four brilliant box-to-box central midfielders. Without these elements, a regista becomes so much more fundamental to the squad, and believe me when I say this, I take no pleasure in saying "I told you so" about the following segments I posted in the summer.
Why We Need D’Agostino: Gaetano would add a dimension to our team that has been missing since our promotion back from Serie A, and that, quite simply, is a talented passer in midfield. Sissoko is certainly not, and Marchisio and Zanetti are decent passers but we have not had a maestro in midfield. Pre-Serie B oftentimes we didn’t need one, with our wingers still young and brilliant forwards (we still have them), the central-midfield could be largely ballwinners. With a likely switch to a 4-3-1-2 on the cards, we need someone in midfield who can get the ball up to the forwards and create spaces with his vision. We can’t rely on a trequartista always, ignoring Diego’s possibility of flopping or the inevitable spell of poor form, if he is marked heavily in a game that would destroy our offense and we’d have to resort to long balls or (gasp), our fullbacks. You could easily see it with Milan, if a team marked Kaka well, (with Pirlo in mediocre form or injured) the entire team was bogged down. He would fit in very well in a 3-man midfield, one with a center-mid, a ball winner, and a regista. Sissoko-D’Agostino-Marchisio, is how I imagine it. That sounds disgustingly good.
The Importance of Cristiano Zanetti: We didn't sign D'Agostino, and much as I'd like to have seen him in Turin, this post is not about rueing passing him up as much as failing to have a passer in the team. A few weeks later, shortly before being sold to Fiorentina for peanuts, I stated Cristiano Zanetti would be fundamental to our squad this season.
Zanetti was that defensive-midfielder that Ranieri liked, but more importantly he had excellent passing skills and really turned out to be an excellent, if improvised regista. He controlled the midfield excellently, if you look at the Del Piero capocannoniere video, there’s at least 4-5 assists directly from Zanetti where he excellently played a through ball or a longball perfectly to Del Piero. [...] We missed his controlling influence and his passing badly last season, a lost season for him due to repeated thigh strains. The midfielders who took his place, Marchisio and Sissoko had good seasons respectively but neither provided the passing that was so desperately needed [...] One year later, he’s a little bit older and while he may not be a starter or in the form he was in the return to Serie A, Cristiano Zanetti will be an important part of our midfield if we plan to win any silverware.
Selling Zanetti; a Colossal Own Goal: When we decided to sell Cristiano Zanetti, fuming, I savaged Secco in a brief post. I stated that with Melo and Zanetti, our slim Scudetto hopes were nonexistent.
I don’t think [my gloom about the Scudetto being an overreaction] so. Last season our midfield was terrible, because no one can pass the goddamn ball. So instead of going for a regista, we go for an overrated midfielder and sell off the only player who can actually complete a pass. This season is going to be 40% possession and plenty of turnover [...] Diego is not one [a regista], and Melo is not the solution, I was unimpressed with him last year at Fiorentina and I continue to be so. He’s a decent center-mid but he is not a passer. As I have said time and time again, our midfield has been crying out for one since Serie B. Zanetti plugged the whole for a while.
And then followed up with this- #3- Who is going to be passing the ball in midfield? It's no secret Ferrara preferred D'Agostino over Melo, and now it's obvious. I was opposed to Felipe Melo's signing, very much so, and it had less to do with his character (which I didn't/don't like) and more the fact that as we can see, we needed a different kind of midfielder. Regarding the above question, Diego began drifting deeper before Ferrara reprimanded him, and since, Felipe Melo has attempted to be the regista, to disasterous effect. As Prandelli stated, he's simply not that kind of player. In the last three years, Secco needed to sign a regista; Tiago turned out to be a bust, thanks to Ranieri, we opted for Poulsen over Xabi Alonso, and then thanks to Secco/Pozzo we signed Melo over D'Agostino. It's still gone wanting, and Cristiano Zanetti is having a very solid season back home in Florence.
I will freely admit I was fooled by the positive start to the season, I thought Felipe Melo and Diego had immediately integrated themselves to the team, and the grit and power shown in the opening games against Chievo, Roma, and Lazio had me surprised. Sadly, I look at my words from the summer and realize how accurate I was. Felipe Melo is not just failing at being a regista, he is also failing at playing mediano too. Against Bayern, I was infuriated at how many shots we allowed on goal just outside of the 18', Schweinsteiger himself had 4-5 at least. I don't know how to fix this, Ferrara has personally been coaching him on staying back and protecting the defense, as you might remember from when he coached him against dribbling out of defense. His rut, with Sissoko out, is killing us.
So what do we do? Unfortunately, due to the large expenditures on Melo and Diego, combined with the early Champion's League exit, there is not a lot of money in the bank. D'Agostino is unlikely, though Udinese is having a poor season and it seems their refusal to sell him to Juve has led to a breakdown in their relationship, and he's been linked to Napoli and Palermo. It brings me to a certain Argentine that is sitting outside of Rome, waiting to be able to play, Cristian Ledesma. As I stated in my post on D'Agostino, I am not convinced of Ledesma's ability to play at the highest level, and I'm still not.. And he's coming off of an extended summer vacation, but his pluses would be he'd come extremely cheap, and well, he's a regista. I have mixed feelings on the subject, but if Sissoko is going to the African Cup of Nations, it becomes more important. Alternatives include Pirlo-izing Giovinco or Diego, both of which I'm not too keen on, or regista-ing Tiago. That one is a possibility, Tiago is a decent passer of the ball but not much else. I would like to see him experimented with playing deep.
Why are we conceding too much? The other part of our current crisis is how our defense has come undone. This is barely Ferrara's fault, yes, he should be organizing the defense but our defense has two fundamental problems; first, the midfield is general cow shit, and second, the players individually are less than spectacular. The first I have already addressed, the second I will now.
Several of us here thought Cannavaro was past it at Real Madrid, and like Diego and Melo, he has really come back to earth after a solid start. He has shown it in the last few weeks, making stupid challenges, failing to organize the defense, and showing his age by being a half-step behind the other teams strikers. Legrottaglie hasn't been much better, but it's not a big surprise to anyone as he tends to play well when he's next to a better defender. If you ask me, though, our worst defender has been Grosso, who is confirming his status as the Italian Lucas Podolski. He leaves far too many gaps in the back, his defending when back is really unimpressive, and his contributions up top, though a significant improvement on Molinaro, do not outweigh the fact that he adds NOTHING to the defense. In interest of full disclosure, while I was opposed to signing Felipe Melo and wanted Zanetti/D'Agostino at Juve, I was very much in favor of Grosso's signing, I thought we had finally signed a great left-back.
As you all know, I am not a fan of Cannavaro, and I am a fan of Legrottaglie, so all biases are out on the table before I say this; Legro has definitely been better in the last month than Cannavaro. Both have looked slow, but Cannavaro has looked extremely sloppy and worse, tactically naive. Legrottaglie has made stupid fouls, but he always has, but both in the Bayern game and recent weeks, there have been several brilliant last-second interventions he's made that have covered Cannavaro's ass. Has he been a giant? Hell no. But I don't think he's played that bad...particularly when Cannavaro, not him, is responsible for marshalling the defense. I think his positives are forgotten because of the defenses general shittiness. But can you name an incident where he was clearly at fault for the goal? I definitely can for Cannavaro...Grosso too.
Secco needs to sign a Champion Defender (other than Caceres) If anything shows the craziness of the mercato, it's our defense. Grosso and Cannavaro haven't been that great, but considering their cost, decent. Instead, a young Uruguayan who barely played last season has been our second best defender! I have been complaining about Secco's unwillingness since Andrade to spend on defense. Caceres, Cannavaro, Grosso came for about 3mil. The year before, Mellberg and he-who-shall-not-be-named came for free and De Ceglie was signed on co-ownership for peanuts. The year we returned to Serie A, we signed Molinaro for peanuts, Salihamidzic and Grygera on free transfers, and Andrade. In the last 3 years, we've signed craploads of players, but never a champion. I addressed that this summer when I played Secco, I signed Balzaretti, Cassani, and Ranocchia. (Before Grosso/Caceres arrived) Given these three players performances this season, I think they would be have been great additions to our club.
Can Ferrara do better? Yes, no doubt. I support him, but he deserves criticism where criticism is warranted. But Grosso and Cannavaro are playing average, and I think there's plenty of evidence it is less to do with him and more to do with their age. Felipe Melo is a decent player, though he's not what we needed, and thus, the midfield and defense suffer. Ranieri echoed this criticism by suggesting that if he was in Ferrara's position, he would probably be having the same kind of crisis, though it is astounding that somehow despite the last month being an utter turd, we are still in 3rd place and only 9 points behind Inter.