You can play the spin game all you want with Andrea Pirlo’s Juventus, blabbering about mitigating circumstances and injuries, but here is the fact of the matter: the Bianconeri have won just twice in six games.
Were it not for three points awarded from the league for a Napoli no-show, the Old Lady could be sitting as far down the Serie A table as 13th alongside Benevento. A draw would’ve put the club in the 10-13 position. And even as it stands, with three free points conjured out of controversy and thin air, Juve are in fifth place. Europa League, here we come!
So yes, while the season is yet young, and while a pandemic rages on regardless of what human beings do, and while the club has a brand-new coach who’s still figuring out how to tie his proverbial shoe-laces, the form of the team is abysmal. Juventus have drawn both Hellas Verona and Crotone 1-1; there’s not a world in which that’s OK.
All this means there’s a mixed bag for everyone and everything right now. With that in mind, I’m bringing you the good news and bad news for Pirlo and four of his players. Here we go.
Good news: The good news is two-part for Pirlo. First, he should be getting Matthijs de Ligt and Cristiano Ronaldo back sometime soon. The Dutchman and CR7 are arguably the team’s best two players, so one would imagine this will provide some lift in the sails. The second piece of good news is the schedule for the foreseeable future. Until Juve travel to Spain for a second date with Barcelona, there’s exactly one traditionally “tough” opponent out of eight (!) games; that tough opponent would be Lazio, who are all over the place right now. The other seven opponents are, in order: Spezia, Ferencvaros, Cagliari, Ferencvaros, Benevento, Dynamo Kyiv, and Torino. If Pirlo’s squad doesn’t start earning three points week in and week out, the conversations are going to be a lot different.
Bad news: Pirlo’s Juve have shown little to no improvement through six games. Yes, the sample size is small, but this team has not gotten better; it’s arguably gotten worse. Yes, the sample size is small, but a draw to a vastly inferior opponent — 1-1 to Crotone on Oct. 17 — is worrisome, while a second draw to a vastly inferior opponent — 1-1 to Verona on Oct. 25 — is simply a red flag. The honeymoon is reaching the point where the couple arrived late to the airport, missed a flight, has no cash in the local currency, and the husband accidentally packed his wallet in his checked bag. Maybe miniature disasters, but sometimes even miniature disasters destroy a romance.
Good news: He’s obviously 10 times better than Federico Bernardeschi. The young Swede struggled against Barcelona quite badly, but Pirlo recognizes his ability and Kulusevski will continue to see a lot of playing time.
Bad news: Kulusevski might not get to play exactly where he’d like on the pitch. With Dybala, Ronaldo, an in-form Alvaro Morata, and Aaron Ramsey — who inexplicably didn’t play against Barca — there’s a bit of a logjam for the three attacking spots, which means that Kulusevski might not get minutes where he’d like to. As a new player and youngster, he needs to adapt and learn to contribute wherever he plays.
Good news: Goals. Lots of goals. Morata has looked sharp and lively. There was a moment against Barca where he tracked back from the opposing penalty area nearly to Juve’s own penalty area to single-handedly stop a counter-attack. His hold-up play and attack facilitation have been incredible. He’s repeatedly in the right spot at almost the right time.
Bad news: VAR. Lots of VAR. The offsides calls have all or mostly all been correct, which means the Spaniard just needs a couple tweaks to his timing — or teammates who spot his runs a fraction earlier.
Good news: Juve’s last-minute signing has quickly shown both the good and the bad that he brings to the table; from a fan’s perspective, the hope is that the youngster acquires some moderation and some better decision-making abilities. The good news for Chiesa, though — and it’s quite good news — is that he’s getting minutes. It’s as simple as that. In Alex Sandro’s absence, Pirlo preferred Gianluca Fabrotta in a couple of contests, but it seems that Chiesa is now option No. 1 for the strange left wingback (in attack)/midfielder (in defense) role. Minutes means he has a chance to improve and integrate.
Bad news: Through a few games with his new club, Chiesa’s faults are still very much his faults. When multiple defenders — I’m talking two to three — converge on Chiesa, what you and I see is an opportunity to find a teammate; what Chiesa sees is a wide-open green field. Maybe he needs new contacts.
Good news: Let’s be real, there’s not a ton of great news for Juve’s No. 10. Since returning from injury, Dybala has looked confused at best and a shade at worst, floundering all over the field just for a touch of the ball, not threatening the goal, haphazardly connecting with his teammates. Maybe the best I could say is that even though the performance was poor against Barcelona, to me La Joya looked hungry; he was pressing aggressively for large portions of the game and really was trying to get involved.
Bad news: When Ronaldo returns, where does Dybala fit in? We’ll see what Pirlo decides, but I’m really struggling to see a lineup in which Ronaldo, Dybala, and Morata all play simultaneously, unless it’s against an obviously inferior opponent who’s going to cede possession to the Bianconeri. But the hallmark of Pirlo’s early amorphous lineup structure to this point has been a pretty consistent 4-4-2 out of possession. If this stays true, out of those three attackers, which one joins the midfield four in defense? Surely it won’t be Ronaldo. If it’s Dybala, I’ve got questions. Which leaves Morata as either a left midfielder or right midfielder whose duties defensively stretch all the way back to the Juve goal.
All things considered, I still feel like I’m in the same spot I was a few weeks ago when evaluating this team. There are so many variables in the equation right now, I’m just trying to parse out simple comprehensible bits, knowing the whole thing is going to take longer to play out. The difference, though, is the dwindling number of excuses and rationalities I can offer myself (or Pirlo) for defending the results.