At long last, we only need a couple of fingers to count how many days there are until Juventus begins the 2019-20 season, one that will be the main course to a summer that has been filled with transfer rumors aplenty, logical moves, questionable moves and just about everything in between.
To say this has been an interesting summer would be an understatement. Maybe a different kind of interesting than what we saw take place 12 months ago in Turin. But it’s most definitely been interesting nonetheless no matter if it’s who Juventus hired to succeed Max Allegri, who has been acquired and then who has been sold ... or even tried to be sold.
No matter where you seem to look around Juventus these days there’s something interesting — both good and bad — that catches your eye. There’s the still-aging roster that obviously wasn’t cut down as much as it should have been this summer. (Oh, but there’s one more day left in the summer transfer window, so there’s still time!) There’s the fact that Juve has hired a coach whose system has historically taken time to fully take effect and has a not-so-great history when it comes to squad rotation. (Exactly what you want with an older squad, right?) Then the over-arcing question about the squad’s quality and just how good are they to truly challenge in Europe — one of the biggest reasons why they went out and signed Cristiano Ronaldo a little over a year ago.
So, simple question two days before the 2019-20 Serie A season kicks off on Saturday: What are your expectations for this Juventus squad?
Gee, it’s almost like having a question like that about expectations/predictions is ... predictable.
OK, enough of that. Onto the answers ...
I don’t know who this team is anymore. Who is it built around? What is the identity? Is the new manager really in control, or is it all from the boardroom? There has not been a season like this I feel since the dark days before Antonio Conte’s first spell in charge.
There is going to be a bedding-in period for Sarri’s tactics and formation, as well as all the new players that have come in and accounting for all the squad changes. It does feel like the domestic title is more open than it has been any time this decade, and whoever settles in quickest and has the best start could get ahead and build a lead in the Scudetto race. Will that be Juve? I think we have enough quality if the side stays as it is to be competitive in Italy, and I’d put a small wager on us winning the Serie A title for the ninth season in a row.
There’s always been question marks around Sarri’s squad rotation, so I am concerned what’s going to happen in the Coppa. I think the cup is one tournament too far for a squad still trying to develop chemistry, and we go out in the semi finals.
Europe is a bigger question mark for me. Are we really a better side overall this season than any of the last three or four years? While Sarri was able to lead Chelsea to Europa League glory last season, I still have questions about his continental pedigree. A favorable draw in the group stages will certainly be helpful to get the side settled. I think we make the quarterfinals in the Champions League.
BIG POPPA CHUKS
To paraphrase the great Tim Vickery, I prefer to make my predictions after the event, but I’ll make an exception and be a good sport. Let’s start with the Serie A. I expect us to huff and puff and labor through the first 10 games or so in the league as we adjust to life with Sarri. Nevertheless, I expect us to win the league again, though with more difficulty than last year as we continue to shift more mental resources towards this never-ending chase for the Champions League. I consider Napoli to be the most stable team out of our rivals, though Inter will probably give us a run for our money as well. It is odd, though, how the likes of Milan and Inter (and, to some degree, Roma) seem to be in a permanent state of transition.
Oh, but did somebody say Champions League?
We all know that last year’s woes in the Champions League were largely due to the painfully obvious shortcomings in midfield. We’ve talked about this ad nauseam, so I won’t bore you with the details. Management responded with two solid acquisitions in this department: the relatively attack-minded midfielder Aaron Ramsey and the slightly more defensively-oriented, more controlling midfielder Adrien Rabiot.
The question, however, is the following: are these reinforcements enough?
We obviously cannot discount the reinforcements made in other areas of the pitch. The defense has been reshuffled (because who needs fullbacks, right?), Gonzalo Higuaín has returned to strengthen the attack (and with that return, essentially rendering the emotional letter I wrote to him a year ago void), and Paulo Dybala, despite management’s best efforts, remains at Juve at the time of writing. Nevertheless, I still do not think that this team is good enough to win the trophy with the big ears. There’s just too much uncertainty regarding the identity of the team — from Allegri to Sarri — to give me enough confidence about us winning it. Then again, after last year’s tragedy, I’m probably infinitely cynical about this godforsaken competition.
As for the Coppa Italia, that’s a competition I find impossible to predict because domestic cup competitions are so erratic. A team could be completely not bothered on the day of a game because of a big Champions League game coming up (or just passed), play away from home at a vibrant stadium, and, just like that, find itself crashing out of the Coppa.
Hence, my final verdict is the following: Serie A victory, Champions League quarterfinals, Coppa Italia who-the-hell-knows.
Predictions always make me nervous. I tend to avoid tempting the Wrath of the Whatever from high atop the Thing.
Duty calls, though.
There are a lot of pundits this year who are labeling this as The Year the Streak Ends. The assumption goes that teething troubles over Maurizio Sarri’s new system will open the door for one of the main competitors — Napoli or Inter — to get the jump on the Bianconeri. I don’t think that narrative will fly. Sarri’s system takes a notoriously long amount of time to load, but if the later friendlies are any indication, the players are picking it up quite quickly. Will it be locked in by Saturday against Parma? No. But it looks like they’ll have it down enough that what they have learned, combined with the individual quality in the squad, will be enough to avoid an extended early-season slump.
Napoli and Inter, on the other hand, both still have some major flaws. Aurelio De Laurentiis’ miserliness continues to benefit Juventus, as they made few if any upgrades to their squad. Kostas Manolas and Hirving Lozano are fine players, but there’s no fear factor in them. Inter’s biggest upgrade is Antonio Conte, and the Conte Effect will likely give Inter a boost in the early going. But there’s not much depth to them, and there’s no knowing if Mauro Icardi’s rich vein of drama has been exhausted or whether it could raise its ugly head again and disrupt the team. I think it will be closer than last year, for certain, but a ninth straight title is Juve’s to lose.
As for Europe ... so much comes into that. As much as I’d love to say that a fully-installed Sarrismo is guaranteed to launch Juve into the late stages of the Champions League, there are just so many variables to continental success. Staying healthy is critical. Getting a good draw is a big plus, especially since the rule changes for the group stage came into effect, leading to higher-profile round of 16 matchups. Of course, at the end of the day, a team like Juve have to believe they can beat anyone.
The only think I think I can say with any certainty is that I think Juve will get through the group stage with relative ease. Everything else requires so many variables that I’m holding judgement until things get clearer midway through the season.
(Editor’s note: This will be Sam’s last contribution for a couple of days. Our usual match recap man will miss the opening weekend of the season because he is getting married. I’m sure I speak for everybody here by saying a big congrats to Sam and Rebecca on their nuptials, and we’ll see him for the home opener next weekend against Napoli.)
The gap is closing, and with Antonio Conte on board for Inter it should get closer, but position by position there’s absolutely no team that can compete with Juventus domestically. Listen, not to sound too pedantic, but pretty much every bench player we have would be an immediate starter on like every Serie A team — it ain’t close is what I’m saying. It would be a major, MAJOR catastrophe for this team not to repeat as Italian champions. Coppa Italia is always a crapshoot, but to harp back on my previous point, we have enough depth that we should be favorites for that trophy also.
And Europe? I dunno, man. Again, on paper this team is as talented as any other in Europe. If this was FIFA, Piemonte Calcio gets simmed right into the semis at least. But with the Champions League, it is never that easy — talent will only get you so far and you need a combination of timing, form and luck to go with that talent. Who would have guessed Ajax making a run last year? Or Spurs making the final? My heart obviously wants that stupid, big-eared trophy. My brain tells me we are in for another disappointing exit. But, hey, if early returns of Sarriball mean anything we are in for a very entertaining swashbuckling exit.
Juventus’ Serie A season is finally here and I’m ready for all the accompanying drama and annoyance. Sometimes the title race is on and every week is a fight, and other times it’s nothing short of a walk in the park. Regardless of the season’s journey this season, I expect Juve to win yet another Scudetto come May.
The biggest area of concern I have is Maurizio Sarri’s lack of rotation during the heavy parts of the season. The squad is shaping up to be a crowded one, and if Sarri isn’t willing to rotate his lineups Juventus will struggle to make it into the latter parts of the season with a healthy group of players. With all the changes and uncertainty it’s hard to tell what type of season this one will be but one thing that I’m certain about is Juve’s Serie A campaign will be an interesting one. Knowing Juve, the Scudetto is at the top of the list and with the strength of the squad, I’ll be shocked if Juventus is not crowned Serie A Champions for a ninth consecutive year.
Remember my concern for Sarri’s lack of rotation? Well, the Champions League is the competition where this will hurt Juve the most. There have been injury issues in the past with Max Allegri and he rotated his squad much more than Sarri ever has so if Juventus is to improve on their past showings, rotation will be the key to finding success in Europe.
Juventus is more than capable of performing at the highest level in the Champions League. Opposing teams won’t want to face Juve at any point in the tournament — but only if they show their strength early in the tournament. Given this, I expect a first-place finish in the group stage and a strong showing in the first knockout round. The rest of the tournament is really a toss up for me, Juve could stay confident and push through to the semis or they might crash and burn in the quarterfinals. Maybe I’m too pessimistic or maybe I’ve been hurt one too many times, either way, I don’t have high expectations for Juve in Europe. It’s hard to admit this but I’d rather come to terms with defeat now than in April or May. However, I still have hope that Juventus will pull off something special, not for me but for Gigi Buffon and Juventini that have waited to see the day for too long.