One of the many great things about being a fan of soccer (or football, or calcio, I don’t get what you call it) is that there’s always some team or fan base to mercilessly mock because they’re in chaos, whether that’s a “total mayhem” situation (Arsenal!) or a “something’s a bit off here” scenario (Bayern Munich).
One of the great things about almost the past decade as a Juventus fan is a healthy dose of stability, natural ebbs and flows notwithstanding. Each year the Bianconeri go and win a Serie A title, maybe the Coppa Italia, and throw some good punches in the Champions League. If all this success suddenly comes crashing down — and I’m not saying it will — many of us will probably look back and rue the fact that we didn’t appreciate it more.
But now there are worrying signs; the writing, to some extent, has been on the wall. Finally, Maurizio Sarri’s Juventus have lost their first game of the year after Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to Lazio in Rome, a maelstrom of unfortunate events including a Rodrigo Bentancur injury, a Juan Cuadrado red card, and much more.
So how much, exactly, should Juventus be panicking? On a scale of 1-10, where “10” is something like Arsenal if they had lost to West Ham on Monday and “1” is Liverpool (i.e. not a care in the world, all things considered) I think Juventus should be at a solid 6.5 (despite the fact that I tweeted the other day that we shouldn’t hit the panic button; c’mon, can’t a guy change his mind?).
Here are three reasons why.
1. The current form is not great, and it doesn’t seem to be getting better
After the Sassuolo game the other day, I tried to point to Juve’s xG of 4.66 in a somewhat-reaching attempt to say that the team was fine and everything was going to be OK even if we weren’t pouring in the goals. But the same xG argument can’t be made for the Lazio game (2.82 xG for Lazio, 1.42 xG for Juventus), and all the same troubling statistics that we’ve pointed to are still hanging over our heads.
Here’s an example: the number of one-goal Serie A victories on the season. The exact number is nine. Nine! Among those one-goal wins were opponents like Parma, Verona, Brescia, Bologna, and Genoa. If the eye test is bad, looking at the actual wins may be even worse.
Finally, I think that we probably all would’ve hoped that there would be more progress to something at least vaguely similar to Sarri-ball as it has looked at Chelsea or Napoli, but really we’ve only seen that in bits and pieces — like the goal against Lazio. We’re going to need a lot more than bits and pieces in the second half of the season.
2. Even with the good news about Bentancur, the injuries are piling up in the worst places
Praise all the heavenly deities for the fact that Bentancur isn’t too seriously injured, because if his knee issue had been a long-term thing I probably would’ve ratcheted up the panic number for the Old Lady quite a bit.
Even with the good news, though, here’s a list of players currently dealing with some sort of injury: Bentancur, Adrien Rabiot, Giorgio Chiellini, Sami Khedira, Douglas Costa, and Aaron Ramsey.
The midfield is getting hit hardest here, especially considering how damn good Bentancur looked before he went off against Lazio. I don’t think many of us are clamoring for Sami Khedira right now, but he does provide depth. The other place where you can feel the pain most acutely is, of course, at trequartista, where Federico Bernardeschi has, um, not been great. Aaron Ramsey and Douglas Costa are as breakable as blown-glass Christmas ornaments, and it extremely sucks.
3. The miscellaneous threats are lurking and building pressure
This morning I opened my laptop to the dregs of internet rumors to discover that some online outlet ostensibly employing real humans as writers was reporting that Cristiano Ronaldo has told some former Real Madrid teammates — told how? WhatsApp? — that he regrets moving to Juventus because he could’ve won more trophies had he stayed in Spain. I’m not going to grace the site with a link to their platform, but here’s also a thing: That could very well be true!
Ronaldo is tied for seventh in scoring in Serie A, he hasn’t looked particularly happy on the pitch, and he hasn’t really done anything truly Ronaldo-like that I can honestly think of this campaign. (His trademark series of stepovers doesn’t count.)
We don’t exactly know the reason why, or who to blame. Maybe it’s because Ronaldo is getting older and he’s not the player he used to be; his minions don’t want to hear it, but there’s at least a possibility that’s true. Maybe Sarri is using him totally incorrectly. Maybe Juventus really does have too poor of a midfield to give Ronnie the service he needs to score at a high level. Maybe Ronaldo is allergic to something in Turin. I don’t know! But something is up, and the longer something is up the more smoldering there’s going to be.
Two other worrying miscellaneous subplots are the Emre Can situation and Merih Demiral really not playing at all, but the Ronaldo one is really club-threatening if it gets significantly bad at any point.
I don’t know how this season is going to end, but I’m starting to feel the specter of worry floating over the proceedings, and I don’t like it.