The space between the last two international breaks has been frustrating for Juventus fans, no two ways about it.
The Bianconeri went into the October break looking like the threads of Sarrismo were finally starting to weave together after a rather dominant 2-1 win over Inter. But, in the time between that match and the beginning of the November internationals last week, things seem to have cratered. The cohesion and rhythm that looked to be developing at the San Siro suddenly vanished. Matches became a grind. It seemed like the team could never keep a lead for more than a few minutes at a time. They needed some late magic to scrape their way past the likes of Lokomotiv Moscow both home and away, and left it late against Torino and AC Milan. Even Cristiano Ronaldo’s form suddenly withered.
When Serie A play resumes against Atalanta on Saturday, it will have been nearly two months since the last time Juve won a league game by more than one goal, and only slightly less time in all competitions.
That’s seen a lot of people get squeamish. In comments both on this forum and elsewhere in social media, phrases like “we’ll be hard pressed to even win the scudetto again if this keeps up!” have popped up with frequency. Also seen in certain places were missives with this general idea: “(Maurizio) Sarri hasn’t brought anything new to the team. It’s the same old slogs as we saw with (Max) Allegri.”
It’s this last thesis that I wanted to tackle today, mainly because I think it’s the kind of take that’s hot enough to season cast iron. While it’s understandable that the fan base can be rather impatient given the bigger prizes that have come so tantalizingly close in recent years, to decide based on three months’ worth of games that Sarri has failed in bringing anything new to the table is ignorant of history.
Sarri’s system is somewhat notorious for the amount of time it takes to fully implement. It requires intense work in practice and the full buy-in of the players, but most importantly it takes time. Sarri’s Napoli wasn’t Sarri’s Napoli until late in his first year there, after — coincidentally — he made a formation change and his players finally got comfortable. Likewise, at Chelsea last year, things weren’t all rainbows and butterflies. In fact, Chelsea’s season last year has so far carried an intriguing parallel to what we’ve seen so far in Turin. Last year’s Blues started very brightly before their form took a mid-season tumble. There were serious questions about whether or not Sarri’s style of play would work, but the team pulled out of its dive around mid-winter, and finished the season on a run of very strong form.
I had had the feeling that that was the case, but as inescapable as the Premier League is in the U.S. these days, I wasn’t following Chelsea all that closely last year, so I got some help from a friend. Mike Golman is the boyfriend of one of my fellow board members of the supporters group I helped found here in New York, and a Chelsea supporter. He confirmed my sense of the pattern of Chelsea’s season, adding that he believed that their downturn in form was produced by a lack of buy-in by the team. He specifically cited Eden Hazard and Willian as players that didn’t listen to the coach during that period, resulting in their positioning being off. By the end of the season, though, he told me “they had a better sense of where people were ... passes were working.” He also told me that be believes Chelsea’s main tactical problem to be a 180-degree shift from what Juve’s is now — that Juve’s individual players hold the ball too much and don’t move it quickly enough, whereas Chelsea were passing the ball horizontally as opposed to the quick, incisive diagonal and triangle passes that are the lifeblood of the system.
To me, that difference suggests that Juve’s players are either gun-shy or a little too selfish — a better problem to have than a complete misinterpretation of how their coach wants the ball to move.
I can understand the frustration on the part of Juventini. The arrival of Sarri was touted as bringing a more attractive brand of football to Turin. So far, though, we’ve only seen that in fits and starts, and hardly at all in the last month. For every instance like the winning goal against Inter, which was the product of a 24-pass move, there have been ugly slogs like the team’s most recent performance against AC Milan. But Sarrismo has never brought instant gratification. It needs time to macerate. To give up on the entire project, as some fans seem to have done, without a full season to develop the system is seriously jumping the gun.
While it’s still possible that Sarri’s system will eventually prove not to take, given his track record a few months isn’t enough time to properly evaluate whether his system has been properly assimilated. Mike agreed, and was of the opinion that Juve will eventually replicate Chelsea’s strong close last year. “It will be resolved well if they listen to the coach and believe,” he told me. “Juve is adapting well...it will take time till it gets exciting but [they are] in a good spot.”
Sarri deserves more time to let things settle. If his track record is any indication, with time will come progress. So far this season has mirrored his last job almost to a T, and starting in February — the exact time you want things to be clicking — that season turned around and ended with a good league finish (relative to the situation Chelsea was in when it came to their competition, at least) and a convincing win in the Europa League final. What’s more, Chelsea’s midseason downturn was accompanied by a glut of losses—something that Juventus have proven to have enough quality to avoid even as their level of performance has dropped.
We all need to take a breath and let Sarri complete his process before we start panicking.