New year, new month, but nothing changed as an utterly dominant Juventus romped through the month with an astonishing 100 percent record and just one goal conceded. What a far cry from the disastrous start to the season when it seemed Juve had reached rock-bottom (not to try and force a pun, but we did almost reach the literal bottom of the league).
The emotional rollercoaster of supporting La Vecchia Signora keeps getting more fascinating by the day, but I certainly feel blessed to have the honor of experiencing it, especially with this community on BWRAO. It’s extraordinary to see how despite all the years that have passed supporting Juve, I continue to become more and more emotionally connected to Juventus and the beautiful game itself, albeit occasionally to the detriment of my blood pressure.
All that noise, and all that sound,
All those places I got found.
And birds go flying at the speed of sound,
to show you how it all began.
Birds came flying from the underground,
if you could see it then you'd understand?
Same Juventus: who needs the winter transfer window?
Juventus remained the same in another way as well. As the much-maligned winter transfer window opened, I thought it would be the usual affair: a few dodgy rumors, some more concrete discussions about possible deals, and maybe one or two transfers. Other than the signing of the promising midfielder Rolando Mondragora, Beppe Marotta and his crew have quietly conducted their work in the shadows.
As JuvAlex fantastically described a few weeks ago, it seems that Roberto "Tucumano" Pereyra will be the biggest ‘signing’ of our winter transfer window, and for good reason too. As we know, Juventus has, quite rightly, not been so famous for conducting major transfer work in the winter period and at the moment it is even more logical to maintain this trend. After such a tumultuous summer window, it would seem quite counterintuitive to do anything dramatic this month. The ship has been steadied, so let’s keep it moving smoothly. Speaking of the transfer window…
From China with love
Mary continued: "Someone gave me a piece of marzipan and it all came back. And I thought: Am I really going to spend the rest of my life without ever feeling that again? I thought: yes, I want to go to China, I have to go to China! It's full of treasures and strangeness and mystery and joy.
From The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
Although it’s not particularly Juventus-related, I thought it was certainly worthy of a mention. During the January window, I was fascinated to see how various players from European and South-American leagues were being bought for big money from Chinese clubs. From a whopping £25 million deal for Chelsea FC midfielder Ramires to move to Jiangsu Suning, to Gervinho bidding farewell to AS Roma to sign for Hebei China Fortune for a reported £10.5 million, to Fredy Guarín leaving our dear friends Inter to make a new home at Shanghai Shenhua for a transfer fee of £9.10 million, and the list goes on.
Let’s not forget that they join a few other notable players that are already in China such as Tottenham-misfit Paulinho, samba-man Robinho, the once-great Luis Fabiano, journeyman Asamoah Gyan, and the recently-transferred ex-Leverkusen man Renato Augusto. I recently listened to an episode of the BBC World Football Phone-In podcast (if you aren’t already listening to it, you’re missing out on the best English-speaking football podcast available right now) and the brilliant Tim Vickery mentioned how Chinese clubs were flashing some serious cash to especially Brazilian clubs for their players.
Who knows if this trend is just a flash in the pan, will stay in South-America, or will put serious pressure on European clubs to increase their players’ wages in the face of Chinese clubs offering their players more lucrative alternatives. Who knows, perhaps the treasures and strangeness and mystery and joy of China will prove too tempting for players to resist.
Diamonds are forever, but jewels are so much better
Our precious little jewel has had an absolutely stellar month. Argentine wunderkind — and Player of the Month? — Paolo Dybala continues to grow from strength to strength in what has so far been a great start to life with Juventus. I’ll save you from all the superlatives and praise because it’s quite obvious that we all think and know that he’s absolutely fantastic; I think it’s better to take a step back to see how we arrived at this point.
Early in the season, Allegri had to stave off some very strong media criticism on a weekly basis about why he didn’t give Dybala ‘enough’ playing time. Quite rightly, he said that he was protecting him from the excessive hype and easing him into the side given how massive the change from Palermo to Juventus is. I think this minor episode reminds us all about the human being behind the footballer; like with any other job in life, the psychological aspect behind acclimatizing yourself to a new environment is very real and should absolutely never be discounted. New colleagues, a new home, a new working climate: we all have our insecurities during times of change and while some people adapt quicker than others do,
Allegri was completely justified to respect Dybala’s psychological state and recognize that every human being is different.
3-5-2: like an old lover, the formation is quietly seducing us again.
Continuing on with the theme of love (it’s not even Valentine’s Day yet but for some reason I’m discussing love so much already), remember the days when 3-5-2 seemed to be the most unloved, unlovable, and almost hated formation on the blog?
What happened? This formation was one of the hallmarks of the revolutionary Juventus-Conte era. I wondered, could we ever love her again?
Well, after eons of hatred and abuse, this old lover is seducing us again as our best performances of late have come using this formation. Although the formation change from 4-3-1-2 to the 3-5-2 was mostly due to injuries, Allegri has managed to breathe new life into a formation that seemed to be out of fashion and out of ideas.
Without a doubt, I believe that this success has to be largely attributed to the new balance we have with our wingbacks. With the fantastic Alex Sandro continuing to put in inspiring performances from the left wing, there is less pressure on Lichtsteiner to provide relief from wide. Cuadrado seems to settle in this formation best as a right wingback where he can combine direct runs and pace with decent defensive capacities. It’s no wonder that Allegri generally prefers to play the combinations of Sandro-Lichtsteiner or Evra-Cuadrado because it provides the best balance of attacking drive and directness on one side (Sandro and Cuadrado) and defensive solidity and awareness on the other (Evra and Lichtsteiner).
I suppose Evra and Lichtsteiner is and/or will be the preferred options for the biggest games, as they provide a nice mixture of both worlds, but I am delighted to see how Allegri is utilizing the strengths of his players so effectively.
Romeo, romeo: where art thou? Making sense of Cuadrado’s sudden disappearing act
Speaking of Johnny Square — and, ehm, love again — I’m sure that I’m not the only one that is scratching his head a little at the curious case of Juan Guillermo Cuadrado.
When he started at Juve, he put in some incredibly lively performances and added a new dimension to Juventus’ attacking play. However, he began to fade away as Allegri switched from the 4-3-3 to 4-3-1-2 and eventually 3-5-2. Cuadrado’s performances began to wane, his one-dimensional play became predictable and directionless, and he quickly lost his place in the side. It became more difficult to fit him into the side as well; Allegri seemed reluctant to play him as wingback (though he’s now changed his mind on that) and given how many strikers we have, playing him as a central winger behind one of the strikers would not really make much sense despite the experience he has of playing in that position during Fiorentina days. Playing him in the trequartista role was obviously totally out of the question. Most interestingly though, it seemed to me that Cuadrado lost his place in the squad as Dybala’s rise to prominence made the 4-3-3 not the most optimal formation for the team.
It’s not all doom and gloom for Johnny Square though: he put in arguably his best performance in Juve colors in the 3-0 thrashing of our deeply despised rivals Inter in the Coppa Italia 1st leg semi-final. More importantly, he played as RWB for 89minutes and was wonderful to watch all game long. It’s difficult to pass a definite judgment on Cuadrado’s current status within the team, but it will be interesting to see if he will continue to fade away from the scene or redefine himself to reclaim his spot in the team.
It has been a wonderful first month to begin the new year, but much remains to be done as an ominous month awaits us. Unity, strength, and focus as a team will be crucial. I remember reading an article a few months ago that said that during a crisis, there are two types of teams: teams that turn to one another and pull together to fight through it as one and teams that look outwards and blame their comrades for their demise. After all that has happened this season, we know what type of team Juventus is; I am confident that this strength will enable us to battle through not only the next month, but also the remainder of the season.
Happy Hunger Games!