We’ve essentially reached the midway point of the season’s first international break. Italy have played their first competitive game under Roberto Mancini, didn’t do much to impress any of us, and now the final weekend without Juventus until the middle of October is basically right around the corner.
The sample size of Juve games we have to base initial opinions on what this season has been like so far is commonly referred to as “small.” And judging things based on small, three-game sample sizes sometimes gets you into trouble — especially when those games have been played in August and September when things are far, far, far away from what they’re going to be like five or six months from now.
The thing is, though, this Juventus season was accompanied with a wild summer of nine-figure spending and one of the biggest names in the history of the sport signing with the club.
Of course, Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t the only name that was brought in this summer, but he’s obviously the big ticket that has seen expectations go through the damn roof quicker than anybody could have imagined. Whether it’s fair or not, Ronaldo’s arrival has caused some folks to expect things to be amazing right off the bat. We’ve seen Juventus win three out of their first three, but it’s not like they’ve blown their opponents out of the water along the way.
So we had a simple question for our first in-season roundtable: What are your initial thoughts on Juventus’ season thus far?
Ah, fun with small sample sizes! Let’s see what the crew had to say...
The first three games have gone pretty much exactly as expected, at least on my end. New players are integrating, Allegri is searching for the right system to maximize all his best players, and the team is grinding out wins.
It’s not a shock to me that Ronaldo hasn’t scored. The lower-level teams in Serie A are far better organized defensively than teams of the same level in La Liga. It has been difficult for him to find space, and he’s often confronted with two or three players in his face the minute he receives the ball.
This will continue. This is how Serie A do. Ronaldo will almost certainly adapt, and figure out ways to pierce those defenses and score goals. This is how Ronaldo do. By Christmas, Allegri will likely have come up with a system that helps negate the way opposing defenses will blanket Ronaldo. This is how Allegri do.
Have the first three games provided much in the way of style points? No, they have not. But this team has never be been the belle of the ball from a stylistic standpoint, and it’s frankly foolish to expect them to change on a dime just because Ronaldo is on the team. And at the end of the day, style points don’t equate to real points. Napoli looked lovely under Maurício Sarri. Napoli finished second. Over the first three weeks, Juve are the only team with a perfect record and nine points. That’s all that matters.
Max Allegri is never going to get the credit he deserves, but I think the fact is worth visiting and revisiting: The manager has an absurd number of moving parts to deal with in this side from between the posts to the No. 9 spot. Allegri must replace Gigi Buffon — legend and captain and director of the backline. He’s also been tasked with integrating a new right back in Juan Cuadrado or Joao Cancelo, reintroducing Leonardo Bonucci to a pretty stacked set of center backs, adding an experienced midfielder in Emre Can, finding time for a budding star in Rodrigo Bentancur, dealing with a positional problem in Paulo Dybala, compensating for the departure of Gonzalo Higuain, and — oh yeah! — completely reconfiguring the attack around one of the world’s best players (and biggest egos) in Cristiano Ronaldo.
No wonder, then, that he’s sticking with a midfield trio of Matuidi, Pjanic, and Khedira, or a duo of Pjanic and Khedira in the 4-2-3-1. There’s chaos in every unit — may as well find some consistency in one, unspectacular as it is.
Sure, every major club has some turnover, but a quick scan of the top five to seven clubs shows that, for me, Juventus is arguably dealing with the most. As I mentioned in my Parma recap, and as is obvious from a glance at the schedule, these questions of players, formations, and positions are going to be answered sooner rather than later, because the two-games-per-week deal is about to begin very shortly.
The headline should be: “9 points out of a possible 9.”
However, the headline will be: “Cristiano Ronaldo hasn’t scored.”
I don’t know if that’s fair, maybe when you bring one of the best players in the world there is a certain expectation from a player like that. And considering how Ronaldo centric the whole summer became, I don’t think we can be surprised that this tidbit is the only thing people want to focus on. I think he’s played OK, shown some flashes, had a couple of decent chances saved. He’ll be fine.
The most pleasant surprise has been the electric play of Federico Bernardeschi. Both coming from the bench and as a starter, he has been an absolute whirlwind down the right flank, you can tell his defensive chops have improved and if this is a taste of what’s to come for him, I don’t know how Allegri will manage his attacking options.
The only two things that concern me a bit, first is the Paulo Dybala situation, he wasn’t great in the first game as a trequartista and … we haven’t seen a lot of him since. I know it’s three games and all, but I really want him to start showing something more than what we have seen so far. His best season, in my opinion, came when he played as the second striker upfront, considering the personnel for this season, I don’t think he’ll play there a lot. Juve’s No. 10 has got to figure it out somehow.
Also, Bonucci looks … not great? You could make a solid argument that two of the three goals allowed by Juve were on him. He’s played some great long balls as usual, but he’s looking more like AC Milan Bonucci than Juventus Bonucci. That was an iffy deal to start with, if Leo doesn’t get better, it’s going to become indefensible.”
I’ll start by echoing the thoughts that I shared on my recent monthly thoughts post: it ain’t pretty so far, but I sure didn’t expect it to be that way. Allegri is taking his tried-and-trusted approach with personnel changes: start with established players from the past season and SLOWLY (huge emphasis on slowly) integrate one or two new pieces at a time into the team. It’s the old frog-in-boiling-water metaphor, and I’m completely fine with that. We have 9 points out of 9 and still a good 40-ish games in all competitions to go till the end of the season.
Nevertheless, the game that particularly bothered me was the Lazio one, especially the calamity that was the +/- 20 minutes after halftime. It was sloppy, uncontrolled, and bewilderingly poor play. For once, I’ll single out the midfield here and recognize that they were largely to blame for a period of the game where we really should have conceded a goal.
Other than that, I’m very satisfied with Mandzukic’s form so far and I really think that him and Ronaldo could hit it off (and yes, for you Archer fans out there, “phrasing”).
As with last season, though, I continue to worry incessantly about Dybala. I thought he was very bright against Chievo. but, as Hunter has mentioned multiple times now, he remains a tactical idiosyncrasy for the side because he can really only play one position, a position that demands one particular tactical setup (4-4-2/4-2-3-1). The Dybala-dilemma is perfect evidence of how much (attacking) football has evolved from a game of specialization to a game of versatility, as Michael Cox from the Zonal Marking blog once wrote.
Merely juxtapose Dybala’s situation with that of Mandzukic a few years ago to see this in our very own team: when the Croatian realized that he was in danger of losing his spot in the starting XI, his solution was to change/adapt to a new role in the side. Necessity breeds invention as they say, and Mandzukic did this successfully in order to maintain his relevance to the team. What about Dybala? Well, adapt to survive, kiddo.
Now then, on to an international break that should be wonderfully entertaining, especially if you’re Danish!
It’s still too early in the season to say who this current incarnation of Juventus are. There’s been plenty of attacking intent shown which is good to see as there were some serious concerns around not replacing Gonzalo Higuain with an established number nine. However, I am still worried that an unfortunate spate of injuries could suddenly upset the whole apple cart.
Additionally, I think Max Allegri is still feeling out his squad to see who can do what and where they all fit in. Good personnel management and a solid season-long strategy are the two key elements for Juve to complete the sacred treble. The cohesion that comes from having weathered several seasons together is an important part of teamwork and the sooner the new faces embed themselves in the club’s culture, the better off we will all be.
Finally, the Champions League draw Juve have been handed is not a cakewalk, especially with playing two of the toughest away games in the first three fixtures. There will be no time for the early season dilly-dallying Juve do every year in the Champions League, Group H needs to be locked up early and efficiently, and none of that group runners-up business, either.
Amidst panic from some circles, Juventus still has nine points from three matches and sit alone at the top of the table going into the first International break. Some of this worry is justifiable, however. First off, I’m not one that is too worried about Ronaldo not having scored yet. He probably would have scored that goal against Lazio had Thomas Strakosha not barely have gotten a finger on the ball last minute. He had a few near-misses in the opener against Chievo Verona. He’ll get his goals in time.
What is worrisome is the lack of creativity that has been evident so far. Coming into the season, fans had expected to see a new-look attack and heightened fluidity on the pitch, but the same scarcity of imagination and frequent stagnation have plagued the squad. Sami Khedira continues to start over the likes of Emre Can and Rodrigo Bentancur, but he still tends to just be, as in not having all that much of an impact. Couple this with the fact Miralem Pjanic hasn’t been the Mire we all come to expect so far, and the midfield faces the most questions. We still deal with everyone’s favorite question of “What the heck are we going to do with Paulo Dybala?” Mandzukic offers too much value and significance to take out of the XI, and when Paulo has played, he hasn’t looked particularly good. Leonardo Bonucci has gotten lost marking his man a few times as well these past few weeks. Hopefully it’s just a need to re-acclimatize, but he was making these same mistakes last season for Milan, part of the reason so many were upset over the loss of Mattia Caldara for him.
Other than that, I’m more excited than The Man in Black is when he visits Westworld that Federico Bernardeschi is getting consistent minutes, and he’s showing out too. Fede has consistently been a force, and one of the bright spots in terms of creativity. Just as Hunter has mentioned in his last two match reviews, Fede has earned his place, and I’m here for it. After spending so much time wishing he’d get more opportunities last season, we’ve finally been able to see Berna shine match to match.
This has been the strangest start to a season for me in a while. Juve signed Cristiano Ronaldo. Cristiano Ronaldo. The end of July and all of August could have been a dream I was having last April and I would’ve thought I was losing my mind. Bonucci back? Marchisio gone and forgotten like last week’s dinner? Juve sacrificing young talent to win now? This is uncharacteristic to say the least. As dreamlike as it seems I’m now about sixty percent sure this is real life.
So here we are, nine points in our first three. Ronaldo goalless. Dybala starting on the bench two weeks in a row. Mandzukic proving his value. Khedira getting playing time like he’s Luka Modric. These are more negatives than positives but statistically this has been a good start to the campaign.
It would be nice if we conceded a few less goals than we have but it’s only September. Allegri has been tinkering and finding the sweet spot all while earning every point possible. I honestly believe that if Ronaldo didn’t have the name Cristiano Ronaldo he wouldn’t have started or played every minute of the first three matches. Allegri didn’t start Douglas Costa or Mandzukic right away and he’s done this with most of our talented signings since he’s been the manager of Juventus. I can’t imagine what would happen if Ronaldo was benched or taken off in the 60th minute so I don’t blame Allegri for forcing CR7 to find his role and learn the system in competitive games.
If you actually think Ronaldo will remain goalless or struggle for most of the season then you must not have watched much Juventus football over the past few years. When new signings struggle, Allegri finds a way for them to thrive. All the while not sacrificing our style of play or taking play time away from our key players.
I’m optimistic for the next few months and thankful that the boy get some time to regroup over the next week or so. So get ready for that first Ronaldo goal and more nail biting games against mid table teams, because CR7 or not, this is Juventus after all.