With the international break in full swing Juventus supporters are bombarded with rumors of Antonio Conte leaving next summer, or Paul Pogba being sold next January (last offer I read was €30 million). Instead of reading that garbage, why not take a look at how the season has gone so far? (However, if you like rumors, then may I direct you to tribal football).
With six wins and one tie, Juventus have just as many points as last year. They have done all of this against stronger opposition. On paper things look good, but on the field Juventus have been found lacking.
- Juventus and Napoli are in joint-second place, a mere two points away from first place, surprise of the season, AS Roma. In the last seven matches they have played, Lazio, Inter, Milan, and the always difficult derby against Torino. In other words, more than 50 percent of their matches have been against "difficult sides." While the Old Lady was facing these teams, Roma's and Napoli's schedule looked like this:
Roma: Livorno, Verona, Parma, Lazio, Sampdoria, Bologna, Inter.
Napoli: Bologna, Chievo, Atalanta, Milan, Sassuolo, Genoa, Livorno.
On paper, Roma had two difficult games against Lazio and Inter (which they made look easy), while Napoli's only "hard" game was against Milan. This is not to downplay what Roma has done so far, as they have been truly spectacular. However, at the end of the season, everyone would have played everyone twice and we can do the math then. Next matchday will be a good test, as Napoli and Roma will face each other, while Juventus will have a tricky visit to Florence.
- Another positive is Conte's new desire to rotate the team more than in previous seasons. For the first time under Conte, all five strikers have played a role (each one of them scoring at least one goal). The days of having players like Nicolas Anelka, Nicklas Bendtner, and Eljero Elia warming the bench for season are gone. Also, Angelo Ogbonna and even Mauricio Isla have seen some playing time. Such rotation of the squad was obviously going to come at a cost. It would be hard to imagine that the fluidity of the team would not suffer.
- Another highlight of the season that is somewhat related to Juve is the performance of our half-owned players. Simone Zaza and Manolo Gabbiadini have two goals each, and Domenico Berardi has one to his name. Their teams are unfortunately not doing too well. Let's just hope this doesn't push their coaches to bench these youngsters in favor of more experienced players.
- Lastly, Paul Pogba's growth started where it left off last season. He has now been deployed as a right winger in two games showcasing the versatility of the young Frenchman.
- Defense, defense, defense. Juventus have allowed six goals in seven matches. This record does not win you trophies. After beating Milan 3-2 a week ago, I felt more preoccupied than happy. Juventus have started four matches in Serie A from behind, and in Europe we are 2 for 2. It may be lack of concentration or complacency, but no matter the reason, Conte needs to figure out a way to stop leaking silly goals. A deflection that beats Buffon once in a while is ok, but four out seven is a trend, and a bad one.
- Isla also made this list. I really want him to get back to the player he was at Udinese, but it seems like the shirt is too heavy for him. I will continue to root for him every time he is on the pitch, but I can say that I would prefer to see Pogba as a wingback when Lichtsteiner is injured or tired.
- Speaking of wingbacks, with the exception of the Swiss train, our play on the wings has been poor. It was nice to see Asa changing things up against Milan, however more is needed. Paolo De Ceglie appears to have been dropped from Conte's mind, Federico Peluso is mediocre going forward and defending. Beppe Marotta needs to invest on the wings in January or next summer at the very latest.
- The Champions League. I was very close to put this under the bad, but if last season is any indication, things in the Champions League are not bad, just ugly.
- All of this talk about Conte leaving. I know it is not true, it is just annoying.
- The referees. Juventus have been favoured by some calls and have suffered for others. Once in a while it wouldn't be a big issue, but if the referees screw up in every single game there is something that must be done.
Looking to the future
Juventus have been far from spectacular this season. For a team that has built a reputation for having a watertight defense, this year's defensive errors are a cause for concern. However, so far, the Old Lady has been able to keep-up with Roma and Napoli and has already carved a sizable gap with wannabe Scudetto contenders Inter, Fiorentina, and Milan (five, seven, and 11 points difference, respectively).
Conte has accomplished all of this while allowing all of the new players — and Isla — to contribute to the team. Ogbonna has played over 270 minutes in all competitions. For comparison, Leo Bonucci played only 25 more minutes in his first seven matches under Conte. Given the fact that Ogbonna is coming to challenge one of the best defenses in all of Europe, I would say Conte has been more generous than I expected. Fernando Llorente has played just shy of 200 minutes, while Carlitos Tevez has been on the field for over 800 minutes. With time, Ogbonna and Llorente will contribute more to the team.
Also, for the first time since Conte took over, the club has undergone an injury crisis. Missing Andrea Barzagli and Claudio Marchisio was obviously going to hurt the team to some extent. Moreover, the absence of Martin Caceres brings our issues on the wings to the forefront. With Andrea staying at home for this international break, and Marchisio gaining in strength things can only get better. Caceres should be able to start training again in a few weeks and should be ready to contribute by mid November. Hopefully by then, our defensive issues would have been sorted out.