Time flies when you’re having fun.
Except that, for most of November, Juventus weren’t a whole lot of fun to watch. Some games were terrible, others were pretty good, and others were in between. Life is never quite that simple with the Bianconeri, so let’s talk about November’s tipsy-turvy month of footballing action.
The more things change, the more they stay the same
The team’s performances at the start of the month were extremely uninspiring. The first game of November saw the team drag out an unconvincing 3-1 victory against Cagliari at home — the third goal being scored very late in the game. Despite the bright start, it was an unnecessarily labored game that gave our visitors from Sardinia far too many chances to sneak in a shock result. Where Juve ha1d lucky against Cagliari, however, they were embarrassingly punished by Manchester United just four days later in the Champions League.
Again playing at home, things seemed to be heading for a perfectly comfortable victory as Cristiano Ronaldo scored an absolute belter against his former team (only to then ruin the occasion by reminding us of how self-indulgent he is, but I digress), until Max Allegri’s men inexplicably capitulated at the end of the game and gift all three points to Jose “A Message To My Lovers” Mourinho’s side. It was an infuriating loss, especially because United displayed little to no threat all game.
It was, honestly, the clearest example of a team beating itself.
Thankfully, the team rallied back from its wayward path in the last three games of the month. A fantastic performance at the San Siro against AC Milan saw Juventus come away with a tidy 2-0 victory, then the team coasted to an easy victory of the same scoreline at home to SPAL. (Sidenote: I never know whether to capitalize that team’s name or not,) To round off the month, Allegri’s men registered a 1-0 victory against Valencia in the Champions League in a performance that, while below-par and relatively insipid, was enough to get the job done.
But then again, that really has been the running theme of Juventus over the last season or two (perhaps even longer): relatively uninspiring and unconvincing football that is just about enough to get the necessary results. In some odd way — and I may be committing treason here — we’re probably not too dissimilar from Manchester United, except that they rarely actually get the results they need.
The League of Nations League
Whisper it quietly, but I think UEFA absolutely hit the ball out of the park with this one. When it was first rolled out, the UEFA Nations League was met with widespread mockery, confusion over its format, and overall cynicism about the concept. Not only that, but European football fans were up in arms about the whole thing.
How on earth does it work? Here we go again, another gimmick by the footballing authorities that’s just gonna overcomplicate football once again. Whatever happened to the good ol’ days?
And on and on it went with the complaints.
But once the new initiative got warmed up, it was absolute dynamite. The Nations League has led to a tangible (and significant) boost in the overall feeling around international friendlies. Quite simply, they just feel so much more serious now. Coaches are lining up very competitive sides instead of just throwing on a bunch of youngsters and seeing what happens. The conversation about these games is akin to that of regular competitive games, to the point where I sometimes forget that, at the end of the day, the Nations League still technically is just a repacking/rebranding of international friendlies.
Gone are the days when these friendlies felt like arbitrary exhibition matches that were devoid of emotion and any emotional skin-in-the-game. No, teams are now desperate to avoid the embarrassment of relegation and are shooting for the glory of promotion and/or a play-off spot.
What is the effect of this on the players? Well, it means that the little opportunity they may have previously had to take the foot off the gas during international breaks and use them as an opportunity to “relax” a little is now well and truly gone.
UEFA deserve all the credit for the success of the Nations League. Well done lads.
The Mario Mandzukic-Cristiano Ronaldo partnership seems to be working like a charm. A while ago it seemed like there was a love affair brewing between the latter and Paulo “I-probably-wouldn’t-use-my-right-foot-even-if-my-life-depended-on-it” Dybala. But now it looks like the grumpy Croatian and the mildly-narcissistic Portuguese are forming quite a special relationship on the pitch.
The no-nonsense bullying by Mandzukic dovetails quite nicely with the directness of Ronaldo and has led to some very pleasing results so far: 7 goals and 2 assists for Mr. No Good and 11 goals and 6 assists for Mr. Don’t-My-Chiseled-Abs-Turn-You-On? in all competitions. If they keep up the good work, this wonderfully effective duopoly in attack could lead to many more positive results for the team.
There’s a good chance that this news snippet snuck past your regular news feed because not too much noise was made about it. But believe me, this is news that warrants very strong attention from fans of every club in the world.
FIFA’s proposals to overhaul the loan system could come into effect as early as 2020, Sky Sports News understands.
World football’s governing body say they want to end the “commercial exploitation” of the loan system and instead want to see it used for “youth development”.
It is understood the proposals would limit clubs to only loaning between six and eight players to other clubs per season. — (Courtesy of Sky Sports)
Well, well, well. A cap of six to eight players to loan out to other clubs every season? That would certainly lead to significant changes in the way clubs treat and deal with players from their youth squads. I do need to point out that, at the time of writing, this new initiative has not yet been ratified by FIFA, which means that I can’t say many definitive things on the matter right now. Nevertheless, a range of questions sprung to my head:
- Will clubs be more willing (or simply forced) to integrate academy players into the first teams?
- Will clubs simply choose to sell youth players at earlier stages in their career since they can’t loan them out to “test” them?
- Loopholes: How will the role of buy-back and first-option clauses change? Will clubs sell youth players en masse and simply insist on 1- or 2-year buy-back clauses during the sales?*
- Will they push for widespread and serious adoption of playing youth teams in the lower leagues of domestic football (like Juve only recently did)?
- But then again, can the lower leagues (logistically) accommodate a sudden glut of B-teams?
What is the meaning of life?
Like I said, it’s early days so there’s not much I can say at the moment. Still though, this is a piece of legislation that we should play very close attention to because, if ratified, it will absolutely have an effect on player development at Juventus.
*Specifically, what I’m thinking about here is that Club A could sell Player A for a really small fee — say €50k — and insert a clause for a mandatory buy-back after x-years for the same fee.
It was a relatively quiet month of action for the Bianconere in November. That said, they couldn’t have started the month in worse fashion. The team suffered a jarring 3-0 loss in the top-of-the-table clash away against AC Milan and, as a result, relinquished their position as league leaders to their opponents. They bounced back in style though, with a cracking 5-0 home victory against Bari and then avenged their Italian Super Cup final loss with a hard-fought 2-0 away victory against Fiorentina.
With a solitary point separating league leaders AC Milan from Juventus, there’s a very good chance that this Scudetto season will be decided on the final matchday. Stay tuned!
A thin midfield
One theme that has been on the minds of many Juventini and dominated conversation recently has been the talk about the state of the Juventus midfield. While Nathan did an excellent job of assessing the midfield in his article, another point needs to be emphasized: Juve really do have a very, very thin roster in the center of the pitch. (As I write this, Juan Cuadrado is being fielded as what seems to be a central midfield-right winger hybrid against Fiorentina.)
With Emre Can still out of action due to injury and Sami Khedira briefly returning and then quickly triggering another injury early in the month, the midfield burden has fallen disproportionately on other members of the team. Miralem Pjanic played all but 36 minutes in November, Rodrigo Bentancur played every single minute of the month, and Blaise Matuidi voiced his concerns about his own fatigue after a very long calendar year of football.
Unfortunately, Allegri has little choice but to push the midfielders that are fit to the absolute physical limit. There’s very limited luxury available for resting the midfielders and as we enter an absolutely brutal month of football fixtures in December, I fear that this paucity of resources in midfield is a ticking time bomb that could explode any minute now...
Tick tock, the arena is a clock.