As the international break is upon us, the whirlwind month of September comes to an end. It was a remarkably busy month as the team battled past seven games — counting the recent 3-0 win over Empoli — in a mere three weeks. Given that there was so much action, there is certainly much to talk about!
Fear and Loathing
Without a doubt, the most contentious issue last month among fans (on the blog) was that of the form of the team. It was so contentious, it even had me confused about what and how to write about this. The most difficult thing about this is the conflicting emotions.
Should I be happy that we only dropped five out of a potential 21 points this month or should I feel disgruntled about how confusingly poor we’ve been in so many games? Are my demands as a Juventus fan too high?
If you were to ask one group of fans, they would tell you that it was a great month — we scored 16 goals, conceded three, and only failed to win two games. But ask another group of fans and they’ll recall numerous games where we were infuriatingly poor for long periods, even though we would briefly turn on the groove for 20 minutes and win by three (Empoli) or four (Cagliari) goals.
“This squad has only been together really for 40 days, what with the various breaks for international duty. Winning games is all that counts and the rest is idle chatter.”
It’s pretty clear to see that we haven’t truly kicked into highest gear yet this season. But, saying that, I do think there’s something to Allegri’s above quote. Due to Italy’s strong run in the Euros and the tough Copa América tournament in the States, the majority of the squad had little to no pre-season together. As a fan, it’s already easy to underestimate the value and effect of an adequate pre-season campaign, so maybe the intensity and controversy of the summer mercato made us further ignore/forget how important this part of the formula really is to a team.
Déjà vu all over again
It’s that damn time of the year again, ragazzi. Injuries, injuries, and more injuries. Rugani and Asamoah suffered somewhat strange impact injuries during the gritty 1-0 victory against Palermo, while Benatia went off with a muscular injury against Inter. Even though Marchisio’s recovery seems to be coming along quite smoothly, I desperately, desperately, want to avoid a situation where we have to rush the icy-blue eyed gentleman back into the available-players list is too thin. Thankfully Stefano Sturaro has recovered from his own injury, but the situation still feels awfully uncomfortable.
The other side of this quite challenging equation is that we get to see how much Allegri really wants to stick to the beloved 3-5-2. As Francesco excellently discussed a few weeks ago, the much-maligned formation seems to be have reached its expiration date both in the Serie A and, especially, the Champions League. With only three fit designated center-backs in the team — the famous trio of Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli, and Giorgio Chiellini — it is quite risky to play all three of them due to the chance of injury or suspension. We do currently have the fit personnel available to play a 4-3-you-tell-me, however, it would be hypocritical of me to complain of risky business but then advocate switching to a formation we haven’t played since April or so.
I agree that the formation switch is necessary, but given the injuries and the overall timing, perhaps we should wait for players to return to fitness until we unleash this desperately desired change.
Am I supposed to change? Are you supposed to change?
An unexpected hero
Linked to the seesaw form of the squad is the interesting form of our German stalwart, Sami Khedira. He started the month, and season in general, in cracking form by leading the team in goals and making some remarkably frequent offensive contributions. Although his (scoring) form cooled down towards the end of the month, I was still amazed by just how much he was carrying the midfield offensively, especially as Miralem Pjanic has not yet become fully integrated into the team. With this admiration, however, came concern: Why was Khedira the one to be carrying the midfield offensively, when that is not supposed to be his task? This reminds me of my discussion of Sturaro a few months ago when I argued that we should judge players relative to their respective roles. Ironically, though, Khedira’s performances bothered me during my match review ratings; I couldn’t figure out if I should downgrade him based on the chances he should have scored or upgrade him for doing something he really isn’t supposed to be doing that much.
We need a resolution, We have so much confusion
Before I go off on too much of a tangent
or insert some misguided analogy about relationships and love, I should answer the key question here: why is this potentially troubling? It’s worrying because it is verification of the precarious state of our midfield — an issue that has been discussed ad nauseam here — if players that are not supposed to be doing a certain type of heavy lifting are forced to do so because nobody else is doing it. I wonder if Allegri is as worried as I am, although this problem should be mitigated as Pjanic beds into the side more and more.
A beautiful curse
A few weeks ago, I read a very interesting comment by Kaushik who questioned whether our beloved BBC backline, once such a fantastic blessing, has now become a curse. I found it so interesting because it offers another potential reason for why Allegri insists on using the 3-5-2 formation. Does he feel forced to play it because failure to do so would upset one of the three stalwart defenders? Does their mere presence make him feel obliged to use all three of them when fit and available?
Looking at it from one side, I honestly cannot believe that any of the three defenders has such an ego that they would throw a tantrum if dropped by the coach. On the other hand though, you do have to wonder if one of them were to retire next season — say, for example, Barzagli — would Allegri really still continue to consistently use this formation? One could say that the baby-faced Rugani would be a long-term replacement, though, thus adding yet another layer of complication to an increasingly bewildering situation. Something that once made us so happy and so proud, has now made us so frustrated and angry.
Do we not appreciate the fantastic trio enough or have they really become an obstacle to our necessary tactical evolution? It seems like one of the most provocative discussion topics of the recent Juventus era, that darn 3-5-2, will continue to have many Juventini scratching their heads wondering:
Am I supposed to change? Are you supposed to change?
Of the people, for the people, by the people
The problem is that football often walks an awkward tightrope between culture and business.
On Sept. 14, the Slovenian lawyer Aleksander Ceferin was elected President of UEFA after receiving the votes of 42 of the 55 UEFA voting members. Ceferin quickly promised to review the controversial new rules for the Champions League in a (seemingly) populist attempt to appeal to the smaller clubs that are understandably disgruntled by the growing concentration of power in European football. As we all know, Juventus President Andrea Agnelli is an executive board member of the European Club Association (ECA) and a very active member on the European political landscape, so Ceferin’s comments must have peaked his interest a little.
I wonder what type of relationship Agnelli (and Juventus) will want to strike up with a President that (rightly) seems to prioritize the well-being of the have-nots in Europe over that of the affluent clubs. I personally believe that he is aware of how much Ceferin’s hands are tied with regards to trying to appease smaller clubs given how disproportionately powerful the bigger clubs are, so Agnelli shouldn’t be overly concerned with this. However, I’ve always been impressed by what a consummate businessman and politician Agnelli is, so who knows if/how he might exercise his political power on the European scene in the near future.
Everything they've built will fall! And from the ashes of their world,
We'll build a better one!
Apocalypse; X-Men Apocalypse