Somewhat lost in the sheer mayhem of this summer — sparked by the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo and punctuated by the return of Leonardo Bonucci — is the fact that, irrevocably, Juventus has turned a corner. While some of the old guard certainly remains, the absence of Gianluigi Buffon and the arrival of the Portuguese icon unquestionably signifies a new era. That’s not even to mention the loss of tenured players like Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah.
Soon, though, we’ll see the product — at least the beginning stages. On Saturday, Juventus travels to Chievo Verona to open the new season.
Before the fun begins, here are 10 predictions that you can absolutely take to the bank.
1. Emre Can will be Juventus’ most important midfielder of the season
Notice I didn’t say “best,” because that spot is pretty much going to be reserved for Miralem Pjanic no matter what happens. But Can will be important in a number of ways, perhaps most importantly by offering a sort of Sami Khedira-Blaise Matuidi combination, in that, at his best, he offers a little bit both worlds. He wins balls and tackles hard like Matuidi, and he marauds forward like Khedira at his. I think Can is better technically than both players, and it’s this well-balanced toolkit that will help unlock Pjanic’s movement forward as well as adding another distributor onto the field.
2. Juve’s best starting XI will be a 4-2-3-1 with the following players:
Joao Cancelo, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Alex Sandro
Miralem Pjanic, Emre Can
Juan Cuadrado, Paulo Dybala, Cristiano Ronaldo
Consider Mr. No Good and CR7 practically interchangeable, and probably Ronaldo plays a good deal on top but also drifts over to that corner to play off the Croatian. The right flank is lethal offensively and solid defensively, as Cuadrado and Cancelo can interchange without a hitch. The left flank is aided by Can’s presence on the defensive side of things.
This formation offers two of Juve’s three best offensive players (CR7 and Dybala) while leaving the other on the bench (Douglas Costa) for Mandzukic once the big man inevitably gets tired, or when Juventus need a goal.
If there’s a weakness, I can’t spot one. This lineup is significantly better than any lineup Juventus fielded last year — and the bench is still loaded with Flash, Federico Bernardeschi, Matuidi, Claudio Marchisio, Medhi Benatia, and many others.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo will score fewer than 30 goals on the year
A combination of increased rest, Max Allegri’s playing style, and a tactically tedious Serie A relegates Ronaldo to his lowest-scoring campaign in years.
4. Juventus will lose in the Champions League semifinals
After years of over-achieving in terms of their talent, Juventus will falter in the penultimate stage of Europe’s most coveted competition at the hands of none other than Barcelona. The storylines will be rife for the picking, as Ronaldo faces his former rivals once again. Although Juve will head into the tie confidently, the Bianconeri ultimately disappoint and lose 4-1 on aggregate. Messi scores three goals.
5. Max Allegri will be fired at the end of the season ...
Despite a half-decade of unmitigated success for the club, the suits decide that Allegri’s inability to secure the Champions League trophy is finally the last straw, even though Juventus win an inconceivable eighth-straight Scudetto (although Roma lifts the Coppa Italia crown).
6. ... and replaced with Zinedine Zidane
After months and months of rumors, Zidane and CR7 finally reunite. Perhaps this is the cherry on top for Juventus’ total and utter transformation, as Zidane brings not only a historic and popular face to the club but the ability to attract even more star power. His arrival means the club snags multiple world-class players, and Ronaldo’s career gets back on track after a disappointing first 12 months in Turin.
7. Rumors will surface that Dybala, tired of playing in Ronaldo’s shadow, requests a transfer to Manchester United
The age-old storyline of one great player playing beneath another begins to boil in the locker room, and by the time winter arrives in Turin — the first snow showers sweeping off the Alps — Juve’s young No. 10 grows more and more tired playing with Ronaldo. Dybala’s on-field demeanor continues to deteriorate, until, at one point in early December versus Inter Milan, Dybala is benched by Allegri and the young Argentine throws his jersey to the turf and stomps on the Juventus logo. (Some conjecture arises on Reddit that it has to do with the rebranding, but Dybala posts on Instagram he actually does like the new logo.)
8. Juventus will sorely miss the presence of Stefano Sturaro in the midfield
Promising as Can is, no one can adequately replace the hustle and tenacity of Sturaro, who reigns the middle of the pitch like a strong king in the ages of old. When Juventus lose to Barcelona, Allegri drops a snide comment about having been against the Sturaro loan all along, and rues the lack of his playmaking, tactically poised, technically gifted, effortlessly suave Sturaro, who would’ve been the perfect answer to Messi.
9. Carlo Pinsoglio will take over Mattia Perin’s spot as the No. 2 keeper
Perin’s excellent preseason notwithstanding, the Genoa transfer is not near ready for the spotlight of Juventus. He grows more and more frustrated through the fall as Woj records clean sheet after clean sheet, relegating the Italian stopper to the bench. The telling moment comes in November, when Perin is finally selected for a Coppa Italia game only to emerge from the tunnel hardly recognizable, having gained nearly 40 pounds and indulged himself at Turin’s best tattoo parlors, where he tattooed the entire street network of Genoa onto every square inch of his body.
10. In response to the Dybala frustration rumors, Ronaldo will feature heavily as wingback in the last third of the season
This one may be obvious, but because Ronaldo is such a sacrificial and kind-hearted teammate, he decides that the best thing he can do in being a leader for the squad is to allow Dybala to have more of the spotlight to himself, so CR7 asks Allegri to feature him as a left wingback who cuts in occasionally. Ronaldo slides wonderfully into the role, but he only scores two goals in the final three months of the season.
Without a doubt, all 10 of these things will come true. But no matter what happens, fino alla fine.