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October’s Monthly Juventus Thoughts: Battlecry

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The calendar year is coming to an end, but there was still much Juventus-related action to talk about in October!

Juventus FC v UC Sampdoria - Serie A Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images

Once again, the international break is upon us as the qualifying stage for the 2018 World Cup in Russia almost reaches its halfway stage. This is once again great timing for me to look back on a challenging but entertaining month: the month that was October.

Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone

I picked up on a brief discussion in one of the recent threads and it really caught my attention. The discussion was sparked by these interesting comments by our very own Massimiliano Allegri in the buildup to the Napoli game:

I hear a lot of people talk about spectacular football – if you want a spectacle, go to the circus; for spectacular football, go somewhere else. You can’t just play well, you must also win. In the end, the only thing that matters are the results.

These comments, somewhat paradoxically, seemed to strike a nerve with some fans here on the blog. I say paradoxically not to insult, but only because it made me think of the much-adored Juventus mantra that we all so religiously live by:

Vincere non è importante, ma è l'unica cosa che conta.

Giampiero Boniperti

But is winning really the only thing that matters? Because I get the idea that we as fans want more than just that and, as I discussed last month, this also explains the mixed feelings we have over the team’s form so far this season. More importantly, it seems to me that some of us have lost the excitement of old of watching Juventus games; something that I very much sympathize with. We’re still winning, not necessarily all the time, but certainly for the majority of the time. Yet still, we don’t feel that same dazzling, emotional spark of old anymore even though results are good. The love of old is growing stale. We want more emotion, more feeling, more connection.

Now, is this sentiment right or is it wrong? Surely that’s not the right question to ask here.

The question, as always in life, is ‘Why?’

Why? That is the question people ask me most. Pourquoi? For what? Why do you walk on the wire? Why do you tempt fate? Why do you risk death? But, I don't think of it this way. I never even say this word, death. La mort. Instead, I use the opposite word. Life. For me, to walk on the wire, this is life.

Phillipe Petit; The Walk

Is it because the unique personalities like those of Carlos Tévez and Paul Pogba have left the club? Or perhaps it is due to how the style of play has slowly changed over the years? Maybe victories in the league just don’t feel as valuable as they used to before?

I believe that these questions are just a few of the many that really hit the issue of why we watch football in the first place; by answering them, each individual fan can figure out for him- or herself why this happiness may have faded away or, in the case it hasn’t, why it has remained unaffected ever since.

But what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness!

Don Draper

Medhi the Invincible

Out of the darkness, he rose. He’s not quite a hero yet, but he’s a pleasantly surprising challenger to the status quo. Moroccan defender Medhi Benatia has seamlessly integrated into life at Juventus with some wonderfully impressive displays at the back. A few niggling injuries aside, he has had some great performances for the Bianconeri and had little trouble getting re-accustomed to la bella vita of Serie A. So everything is looking wonderfully great then ... right?

AC Milan v Juventus FC - Serie A Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Without wanting to be Buzz Killington, I have only one worry to bring up from Benatia’s recent form, which is more of a knock-on effect than a direct worry: The influence this might have on young Daniele Rugani’s development. There were supposedly some irritated whining from his agent last season about his lack of playing time until a somewhat fortunate sequence of events — i.e. the inevitable avalanche of injuries — led to his increased playing time. He took the opportunity brilliantly by putting in some very impressive performances to silence that dissatisfaction, but now a new challenger has arrived in Benatia, one who has wasted no time in stating his intentions through his imposing performances at the back. As a result, Rugani once again faces the possibility of scarce playing time if he ends up losing this battle against his Moroccan colleague.

Only the victors are allowed to live. This world is merciless like that.

Mikasa Ackerman; Attack on Titan

So what now then? Who does Allegri place his faith in, the handsome man of the future Rugani or the rugged and experienced newcomer Benatia? Or does he turn to a method he has never before utilized — to frequently rotate his defensive trio in order to evenly distribute the workload? He certainly has the personnel to do so, but does he have the will?

A tale of two giants: Higuaín vs. Mandzukic

Juventus’ record signing Gonzalo Higuaín had a strong start to his career in black and white with three goals in his first three appearances. The goals dried up a bit in October though, with a solitary (albeit winning) strike against Napoli accompanying his brace against Empoli on the 2nd of October (although I mentally counted this as September). His partner-in-crime, Mario Mandzukic, similarly struggled to find the net mostly due to his recent injury struggles and the difficulty that he has had in adapting to the personnel changes at the club. Given the injury that Paolo Dybala suffered in the 1-0 defeat to AC Milan, I began to compare and contrast the two giants up front for the first time, as I had really never thought about it before.

FC Juventus v Espanyol: Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

The one thing that has impressed me so far about Higuaín is his superior link up skills and global awareness of the play, specifically how often and effectively he switches the play when he gets the ball in tight situations. This is especially important because, given our midfield malaise this season, he’s not getting the type of dazzling service he would like, so he has to be particularly efficient in recycling possession when he does receive the ball. Mandzukic, on the other hand, is renowned for relentlessly hassling the opponent when his team does not have the ball, something that is so endearingly synonymous to the Juventus ethos. Personally, though, I’m torn between two feelings: My one mind tells me that this work is appreciated, but just not enough to cut it, particularly offensively. But my alter-ego tells me that this contribution is unique for the team and crucial for the “pressing-from-the-front” ideology.

My favor falls towards the driven Argentine over the battle-hard Croatian, but it’s a conundrum that will continue to bother me for some time yet.

And the battle of the understudies: Lemina vs. Hernanes

Two months ago, I discussed what role Mario Lemina could potentially play during Claudio Marchisio’s absence due to the subsequent vacancy in the regista position. During that discussion, however, I completely disregarded one interesting part of the equation: Hernanes. As we all have very well realized, Hernanes divides opinion extremely sharply in this community, so please bear with me here. The two central midfielders battled it out for supremacy of the regista position as Marchisio recuperated from his horrible injury, so I began to think “who won this battle?”

I’m the hero of this story, I don’t need to be saved!

Hero; Regina Spektor

Lemina didn’t cover himself in glory during the dramatic Champions League victory against Lyon, but, beyond that, I’ve become a somewhat unconvinced with his passing range. He can exchange some tidy short passes with his teammates and is generally a pretty dynamic character, but he seems to lack the passing to influence the play from deep. He looks much more useful in a mezzala role on either the right of left hand side of central midfield; his dynamism, moreover, nicely complements Sami Khedira’s lack of mobility elsewhere in midfield. On the other hand, his counterpart Hernanes had a commendable month with some very respectable performances. Not just that, but he also showed that he’s an interesting backup option to provide some decent creativity from deep.

Therefore, there are two questions that I’m left with: Should Lemina simply play an RCM/LCM role and concede his defeat in the battle for the regista position and/or is Hernanes a trustworthy backup option to Marchisio for the rest of the season?

Bonus treat

A few weeks ago, I heard a really great question on the BBC World Football Phone-In that I thought would be a fun discussion point/thought experiment for you all. (Yeah, I know I know, I talk about this podcast way too much). It goes as follows: Choose five teams that you would love to play for from anywhere in the world and from any era you like, but for the following reasons. One team for each reason:

  1. For the money
  2. For the footballing purity and aesthetics (even if you might not necessarily win trophies)
  3. For the glory of winning silverware
  4. For the sunshine/holiday
  5. For the culture

You can also choose International sides if you want, for example the Brazil-82 side or the great Hungary side of the 1950s. Let’s see if this sparks some fun discussions!