The World Cup field has been whittled in half, and the bracket has miraculously sorted itself out into a ridiculously imbalanced shape. On top are Brazil, France, and Belgium, who could be counted among the favorites — but also Portugal (with a guy named Cristiano Ronaldo), Argentina (with a guy named Lionel Messi) and Uruguay. Heck, there are certainly alternate universes in which even Mexico or Japan advances.
The bottom half is a different story, completely absent of a heavyweight besides, arguably, Spain, though they’ve not convinced at all, really. The Spaniards, Croatians, Colombians, and (goodness help me for writing this) English all have to be pretty happy with where they sit.
The World Cup has been everything we could’ve hoped for: controversial, cruel, thrilling. But alas, today is the first day since the beginning of the tournament without a game, and I’m feeling the absence palpably — an acute pain of lack of football which has led me to pleasantly consider the current situation of my heart’s true football love, Juventus.
Beppe Marotta has made some relatively huge moves: paying €40 million for Joao Cancelo, €15 million for Mattia Perin, and €5-6 million per year for Emre Can, in addition to agent fees of exactly €1 billion for the former Liverpool man.
More moves are probably coming, in both the purchase and selling departments: Will Alex Sandro be sold? Miralem Pjanic? What about a surprise exit like Paulo Dybala or Gonzalo Higuain? Is Beppe going to make another significant addition to the midfield — Has the Sergej Milinkovic-Savic ship sailed? Matteo Kovacic? Aleksandr Golovin?
Here’s what we can be relatively certain of with the officially official acquisitions:
1. With Cancelo, Perin, and Can, Juventus are clearly prioritizing injecting the squad with youth.
Cancelo turned 24 in late May, Can turned 24 in January, and Perin turns 26 in November — which in goalkeeping years is like learning to ride a bike without training wheels age. These are some young dudes! Your favorite man to hate Max Allegri will most definitely do the thing where these guys don’t start for a while to “ease” them into the squad or whatever, but that’s probably going to be OK since these guys are really just pups. Of all of them, Can brings the most immediate top-flight experience, including a (by most accounts) successful tenure
2. With Can, Cancelo, and Douglas Costa — technically a purchase this year — Juventus are clearly prioritizing athleticism.
This is where I start to get really, really excited, because I’m imagining a right flank on which Cancelo is the fullback and either Douglas Costa, Juan Cuadrado, or Federico Bernardeschi is on the right wing. I’m imagining a left flank of Alex Sandro paired once more with Mario Mandzukic, or if not Mr. No Good then DC.
Can isn’t the fastest dude in the world, but he’s tall and strong and a physical player, and I think we’re going to use that to free up Pjanic more and more. Cancelo is the fastest dude in the world (could be wrong about that) and whatever happens that right flank is going to be absurd. I think the Cuadrado-Cancelo pairing in particular could be lethal, as the players are practically interchangeable positionally.
3. What do the new acquisitions mean for formation?
I do wonder if the acquired players signal a doubling down on the double pivot.
Basically I’m thinking of a starting XI that goes something like this — Woj; Sandro, Giorgio Chiellini, Medhi Benatia, Cancelo; Can, Pjanic; Costa, Dybala, Cuadrado; Higuain
There are a few iterations, obviously. That’s leaving Mattia De Sciglio, Mario, and Bernardeschi on the bench — as well as Daniele Rugani, Blaise Matuidi, Sami Khedira, Claudio Marchisio, Rodrigo Bentancur ... and on and on and on.
I also think a 4-3-3 of this nature would be tasty with a Bentancur-Can-Pjanic makeup, but in that situation we’re left with the age-old Paulo Dybala problem, because against top competition I’m not convinced of a Dybala-Cancelo right flank defensively speaking.
Lineups aside, each unit is, in my opinion, stronger than last year already (sorry Gigi! Hope Paris is fun). Juve boast two very good goalkeepers, a luxuriously deep center back rotation, a newly enforced fullback squad that may need some fleshing out still, a quality (if not world-class) midfield, and a world-class forward group. If the season started today, I wouldn’t feel bad about this team at all.
But moves may still be made. With the potential sales of players like Rugani, Rolando Mandragora, Andrea Favilli, and others, there could be enough funds to stave off a major sale until next summer (don’t at me, Fefu).
One last thing: context.
I think we should really, really suspend pre-judgement on both Cancelo and Can, because both players, especially the latter, are going to be in extremely different contextual situations. Statistics are great, and helpful, and important, because any single statistic and players also exists within an extremely fluid variable of other (fluid) statistical clumps, and moving player X from Y to Z situations — a different league with different tactical bents, a different roster with different strengths and weaknesses, a different coach with different demands, et al. — is a real thing. Statistical fluidity is a real thing.
By way of example, Mohamed Salah has twice in his career doubled his goal tally after a transition from one club to another — first from Fiorentina to Roma, then from Roma to Liverpool. There were other variables involved: appearances, league switches, style and roster switches. But that’s the point.
Maybe one of these players won’t work out. Maybe both won’t. But maybe they both will, and maybe Beppe and the suits saw something in each of these guys that makes them think that, for years, they’ll fit within this Juventus system. After all, the club boasts a pretty good rate at identifying players to play in the black and white.