The November international break provides us with an opportunity to look back at Juventus’ start to the season, and how rookie coach Andrea Pirlo is doing in his role. The BWRAO editorial team got together and answered two questions -
1. Rate Juventus’ start to the season out of 5 (1-horrendous, 5-perfect)
Champions League: 4/5. Serie A: 2.5/5. Average: 3.25/5. I’m splitting my rating between the Champions League and the Serie A because I think we’ve had very contrasting fortunes in the two competitions. Results have been good in the CL: tidy victories without too many problems against Dynamo Kyiv and Ferencvaros as one would expect (though we gave the Ukrainians a bit too much hope when we were only 1-0 up), while the discouraging loss against Barcelona in which we were thoroughly second-best made us realize that this team is far from a finished product.
Meanwhile, in the league it’s abundantly clear that we’re still a work in progress. Results have been, frankly, unacceptable while performances have been encouraging from time to time but still erratic. I’ll elaborate on this in my next answer.
Juve’s start: 3/5. I hate to sit on the fence here, but there has been a very mixed bag for the Old Lady thus far. Dropping points against Verona and Crotone is never something you want to see from a side aiming for a Scudetto, but the mitigating circumstances — a rash of injuries to key players, a new manager, significant roster turnover — are too numerous and consequential to ignore.
3.5. A few good displays and a few bad ones, they look like what they are. A team that is still rounding into shape that has had a number of significant absences in pretty much every sector of the field. I give them extra points because despite everything, they are very much on pace to qualify to the next round of the Champions League and are pretty close to the top of the table.
The easier schedule Juventus have on deck as well as the return of key players will help and it wouldn’t surprise me if by the end of the year they are top of the table and have a shot at the first place of the group in the UCL.
3 — This squad is a flawed one. Even with some additions to the midfield, it’s still flawed and that’s not really any kind of breaking news. But I am not of the camp where doom-and-gloom has become the norm. When you’ve got a first-year manager who wasn’t a manager a few months ago and is still very much learning as we go, it’s going to take time and the road to where we want this team to get to isn’t going to be anything close to smooth.
There have been bright spots. There have been legitimate reasons to worry. But, if the early makings of the Serie A table means anything, it’s not like anybody is going to be running away with this and unpredicted results are going to be a common theme of the 2020-21 season. So, as long as Pirlo can get this team playing anywhere close to what he wants it to be going forward, then we’re going to be in good shape.
3 for me. I feel we’ve left a few points out on the pitch already this season, and to me this is a sign that the team doesn’t quite have an identity yet. Loaded with veterans like we are you wouldn’t think that mental strength is an area Juve lack at, but yet there have been silly mistakes, lapses of judgement and other unnecessary errors that have already cost the team points.
It’s easy to say that some of these are issues stem from having a rookie manager in charge, but at some level every single player needs to look in the mirror and accept that they are at fault and can do better and make Pirlo’s transition easier.
2. How is Pirlo doing according to you out of 5 (1-horrendous, 5-perfect)
Given the circumstances – no preseason, first ever managerial job, injuries, the pandemic – I’ll give him a 3.5/5. A manager’s job is to maximize the resources that he has at his disposal and so far the big success stories in that respect have been Adrien Rabiot, Dejan Kulusevski, Álvaro Morata, and, – mama mia what a star he has been – Danilo. I’m actually quite optimistic about the attacking side of the team based on what I’ve seen so far, but my grade for Pirlo is lower than it could be simply because the defense is still a problem.
Somewhat paradoxically, I don’t actually think that’s a problem of a lack of quality personnel in defense – after all, we have the prospective Ballon d’Or winner Danilo in impeccable form – but rather an issue of a lack of balance in midfield (and providing enough protection for the backline). But I think his execution of the 3-4-3/3-4-1-2/4-3-3/4-whatever-whatever has been very impressive, so I commend him for that. That’s the type of tactical flexibility/fluidity that I think made Allegri so successful, so I would love to see that aspect of the team resurrected.
3.5. One of the best things you can say about Pirlo is that he doesn’t seem like a first-time manager; he never appears frazzled or fazed — of course, we knew that’d be the case with his contemplative mien. I like that he does have some clear ideas on how he wants to play but that, at the same time, he’s shown flexibility in putting those ideas into practice. The players do not seem agitated the way they did under Maurizio Sarri, and that’s half the battle. More time is needed for a more thorough assessment.
4. Graded on a curve to be honest, has had to get creative on his lineup choices due to the aforementioned injuries and work overtime to both insert all the new signees and implement his system without a preseason and on his very first shot as a manager. Bumped up his grade due to the flexibility he has shown in recent matches to accommodate his style to the players available to him and not the other way around. Results on the pitch have not been quite all there yet for him, but its harsh to expect him or the team to hit the ground running considering all the circumstances. All in all, optimistic about the outlook of the team moving forward.
3 — It was always going to be an uphill battle for Pirlo to begin with. A short preseason, some new players to try and work in and, of course, the work that has to be done to try and find a way of playing that truly works for this Juventus team with the personnel that he has. It has been far from perfect, and growing pains from a rookie manager should have been expect from the start. He is still very much experimenting and tinkering with things as he tries to fill holes due to injuries and just sheer unknowns as to where players fit in right now.
But as I keep saying, if there is anybody who has the mind to make this work, it’s Pirlo. Now he just has to go out and show it. I want to give him time, and so should everybody else.
3.5 - Hard to think that Pirlo could have made his managerial debut under more trying circumstances but yet here we are. No preseason, lots of new faces, a new system, multiple injuries to key players in important positions, and yet Juve are near the top with other sides struggling too. The last time Juve had a worse start to the season they were languishing midtable and still came back under Massimiliano Allegri to win the Scudetto.
As I had alluded to in my previous answer, Pirlo looks to be installing a highly-intelligent system that will require flexible and cerebral players. As long as Juve’s transfer policy continues to provide him with tools that can suit his needs, we should do just fine.