As the halfway point of the season and a new year approach, the time to lay out some sort of assessment for new Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri is, finally, here.
I’ve gone on record saying that pretty much no matter what happens this season, i.e. barring catastrophe, I think the former banker deserves another year at least to implement his complicated approach into this squad, as well as to have an influence on whom the club pursues in the transfer market. But time will tell if Sarri is given that opportunity, for the market is unforgiving and fans are fickle.
Here are the facts, as best as I can see: Juventus are in second place in Serie A with the fewest goals allowed, Juventus secured Champions League advancement through just four games of European play and earned the top spot in the group through five games, and Juventus have not lost a single competition on the year.
By most standards, that would be considered a resounding express, whether or not the “eye test” was a pass or fail. He literally has not lost at Juventus!
But alas, like nearly all fanbases of monstrously huge, wealthy, and successful sports franchises, Bianconeri fans are always wanting more. As we’ve pointed out over and over on this site, the Old Lady isn’t exactly steamrolling opponents right now, but rather just squeaking by with results. Sarri’s side has scored four or more goals only once this year (the thriller against Napoli on Aug. 31), and since the beginning of October they have only beaten two opponents by a multi-goal margin (Bayer Leverkusen on Oct. 1 and Atalanta on Nov. 23).
Danny noted this thin-ice approach a couple days ago after the Sassuolo draw:
Juventus has walked a fine line for a lot of this season. They haven’t played with the lead all that much this season and have had to rally to pick up points on plenty of occasions already — and it’s just barely December. This is a different kind of suffering as compared to the Max Allegri years where Juve gets up early and then maybe adds another goal in the second half while pretty much easing into another three points on cruise control. It’s not necessarily organized chaos, but plenty of times this season Juventus has proven to be its own worst enemy.
Despite the eye test, though, from my perspective, it’d be absurd to call Sarri’s brief tenure so far anything but successful.
Sarri got 99 problems but a goalkeeper ain’t one
Think about all the chaos Sarri has endured in just a few months at the helm:
Juve’s captain and best defender, Giorgio Chiellini, tore his ACL to miss the majority of the season that just started, an incident that not only robbed the club of one of its best and most experienced players, but also took away its most prized leader. The injury also forced Sarri to integrate Matthijs de Ligt at a much quicker rate than he might’ve with Chiellini still in the lineup, all while moving our best friend Johnny Cuadrado to right back.
The midfield remains the midfield: not great. Miralem Pjanic started the year brilliantly and has kind of regressed back a lackluster pacemaker. Rodrigo Bentancur hasn’t quite shown the development we would’ve hoped for. Blaise Matuidi does what you’d expect him to. Adrien Rabiot has been in and out of the lineup, sporadically effective. Aaron Ramsey, who is made of a rare Welsh fiber found only in the most delicate nooks and crannies of southwest Great Britain, spends lots of time at J-Medical. Sami Khedira is old and, now, injured. Emre Can is a fantastic soap opera but not much else.
Offensively, the Juve attackers have been far from great. Five teams have scored more goals than Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain and Co. — a list of teams that includes Cagliari and Roma. Woof.
The goalkeeper situation is probably the only thing Sarri doesn’t lose sleep over.
Sarri has dealt with all of this and marched forward with gritty wins.
Call me an optimist, but I also think the goals are going to start getting more fluid very soon. Check out, for instance, the expected goals against Sassuolo, courtesy of our old pal Cheuk Hei Ho.
Sarri (the 100th times): "We created a lot of chances but were not clinical enough" pic.twitter.com/SKCabAi7uA— Cheuk Hei Ho (@Tacticsplatform) December 1, 2019
A 4.66 xG effort is very good! If Juventus had been sharper, this game would’ve been a runaway train. But instead the players were wasteful and Sassuolo caught a supremely lucky break when Cuadrado, de Ligt, and Gianluigi Buffon all simultaneously thought it would be hilarious to commit bone-headed errors.
Forecasting 3 season outcomes with a ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ attached
Imagine the following three season outcomes and let me know whether you think the result would qualify as a success for Sarri. A second, slightly different question would be whether such a result would make you want to see Sarri coaching at Juventus again next year or not. Below are my answers.
I’m not factoring in the Coppa Italia because, at the end of the day, I don’t think it really moves the needle any one way for the club unless it happens to be a treble. And if Juve win the treble, I will migrate to northern Italy and give you first-hand accounts of every Juventus game.
One: Juventus win Serie A and crash out of UCL in the round of 16 or quarterfinals
Success? Yes. Bring Sarri back? Yes.
Two: Juventus finish second in Serie A and crash out of UCL in the round of 16 or quarterfinals
Success? No. Bring Sarri back? Yes.
Three: Juventus finish second in Serie A but reach UCL semifinals or final
Success? Yes. Bring Sarri back? Yes.
I think two things have to be considered in this campaign. The first is that Juventus have won Serie A a million times in a row, and although each trophy is immense, the focus is tacitly on the Champions League. The second and related point is that Inter Milan made a bunch of damn good moves in management, coaching, and players, and they’re having a special season over there at the San Siro even if they are pure, unadulterated merda.
This is Juventus. Things are always going to be spicy, people are always going to complain, and the pressure is always going to be on. But between Ronaldo, a new coach, a legitimate battle with Inter, and an aging core, things are indeed as interesting as they could possibly be for the Old Lady.