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Juventus’ early-season inconsistency traces back to poor squad construction

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Juventus Turin v Olympique Lyonnais - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 second leg Photo by Anthony Dibon/Icon Sport via Getty Images

Over the last few seasons, we’ve seen a Juve side that has slowly been on the decline. While they have managed to continue their dominance in Serie A, the margins have become significantly tighter, and this could very well be the year that their domestic control ends.

Despite their win against Barcelona and a favorable draw in the Champions League Round of 16, I’m still very skeptical of this team’s chances of bringing that elusive Champions League trophy back to Turin. Many will point to the decision to move on from Max Allegri, and the subsequent appointments of Maurizio Sarri and Andrea Pirlo. However, this post isn’t going to go into the team’s style of play, or lack of a clear identity. Instead, let’s simply look at the squad that Pirlo currently has at his disposal, and how management has failed to build a team that matches the club’s lofty aspirations.

GOALKEEPERS

Now, this is one area of the pitch that management has absolutely handled correctly.

The club’s decision to have Wojciech Szczesny take over from Gigi Buffon looks better with every passing match. Woj has arguably been the team’s most consistent player the last few seasons, and his performances have become increasingly important with a leakier defense sitting in front of him. Having Buffon back in the dressing room after his brief spell at Paris Saint-Germain is also a plus, and he showed against Barcelona he can still be relied on if need be.

Finally, there’s God himself Carlo Pinsoglio. If this team lined up with eleven Carlo Pinsoglios each week, we wouldn’t have any problems, and this post would be significantly shorter.

DEFENSE

For the most part, I’m fine with the group of center backs on this team.

Matthijs de Ligt has picked up right where he left off at the end of last season, looking like a rock at the back and a captain in waiting. Managing to pry him away from Barcelona and PSG was undoubtedly a coup (give me all those Barca tears), so credit to management for making that happen. Leonardo Bonucci certainly isn’t the defender he was a few years ago, but he’s still damn good, and his passing range is vital given the midfield in front of him. (We’ll get to that issue later.) Merih Demiral has a ton of potential, and while he can be a bit reckless at times, his signing was a steal at €18 million. King Kong capitano Giorgio Chiellini is on the mend again, and while his persistent injury problems are frustrating, it’s somewhat expected given his history/age.

The depth here is fine, and certainly won’t hold this Juve side back. Would I have liked one more body, especially considering Pirlo’s desire to use three at the back? Sure, but it’s not that high on my list of complaints.

FC Barcelona v Juventus: Group G - UEFA Champions League

Onto the fullbacks, where the issues in quality and depth are significantly more apparent. Let’s start with the lone positive: Juan Cuadrado. Cuadrado has exceeded expectations in his transition from winger to wingback/fullback, and his consistency has been a very welcome surprise. He’ll still have the occasional defensive lapse, but I can’t imagine where Juve would be without his numerous contributions going forward. He’s becoming an assist machine, and with little creativity coming from the midfield, Cuadrado’s crossing and ability to dribble past defenders becomes even more valuable.

The rest of Juve’s fullbacks are a mess. There’s Danilo, who did get off to an impressive start this season operating in that fluid three-/four-man defense. However, he’s taken a few steps back over recent matches. While I was hopeful he had turned the corner, we’ve seen enough from his time at Real Madrid and Manchester City to know he can’t really be relied on to start consistently. His ability to play either fullback position is nice, but he’s nothing more than a squad player. Alex Sandro has struggled with injuries, and has become increasingly inconsistent over the last few seasons. He turns 30 in January, has a ton of miles on him, and his best days are most likely behind him. Then there’s Gianluca Frabotta, who was called up out of the blue from the Under-23 squad into the first-team this season. I don’t know about you guys, but I haven’t seen anything over the handful of matches he’s played to think he’s a long-term solution. One of my friends asked me to describe his best trait, and all I could come up with was “He is actually a left back.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Having strong fullbacks is vitally important in today’s game. While the Dani Alves signing led to an awkward divorce, you can’t argue how incredible he was on the field in his lone season at Juve. Having him and Alex Sandro bomb down the flanks made that 2016-17 team a nightmare to play against. I can’t believe management looked at the current depth chart, and thought this group could sustain them for a full season. Not bringing in any competition for Alex Sandro was incredibly risky, and having to rely on Cuadrado THIS much is asking a lot.

MIDFIELD

OK, I might write a short novel here. You’ve been warned.

Season after season, Juve’s management have completely ignored what’s been their biggest weakness since Pirlo and Arturo Vidal left in the summer of 2015. So much has been written about that fantastic four midfield of Pirlo, Vidal, Paul Pogba, and Claudio Marchisio — and with good reason. They were a joy to watch, made the team click, complemented each other perfectly, and were built through talent development and smart business.

Somehow, as soon as the group was broken up, Juve lost the blueprint on how to build a competent midfield.

Juventus v Dynamo Kyiv: Group G - UEFA Champions League

It’s unbelievable how poorly put together this current group is when it comes to complimenting each other’s skillsets. Was Arthur worth taking a flier on, especially considering the financial benefits his swap deal for Miralem Pjanic offered? Absolutely. Plus, he’s still only 24, and is a Brazilian international. However, he’s much more suited for a Jorginho-type role in a Maurizio Sarri side, one where the main focus is consistently recycling the ball quickly. He’s incredibly difficult to dispossess, and is also great to have if a team is trying to press you high up the field. But is calling him a deep-lying playmaker a bit of a stretch? Yeah, probably. Would you call him a CREATIVE midfielder? Can he split defenses open with his passing? No.

Adrien Rabiot. Was Rabiot worth a flier on a free? Sure, why not. Yes, he’s had issues, but the talent is undeniably there. What specifically are his talents, you ask? He’s imposing physically, very good technically, and he’s dangerous running with the ball at his feet (ex. goal against Milan last season). Would you call him a CREATIVE midfielder? Can he split defenses open with his passing? No.

Rodrigo Bentancur. Was he a nice addition to the Carlos Tevez-Boca Juniors transfer? Absolutely. Is he still young and have room to grow? Sure. What are his best attributes? Physically imposing, makes good runs with the ball at his feet, good recycler of the ball, decent tackler. Would you call him a CREATIVE midfielder? Can he split defenses open with his passing? No.

Aaron Ramsey. Was he worth a flier on a free? Um no, probably not (especially when Rabiot was signed in the same summer). What are his best attributes? Makes good runs into the box, really good at getting injured. Would you call him a CREATIVE midfielder? Can he split defenses open with his passing? Are those questions even relevant considering he’s so good at getting hurt? No.

Weston McKennie. Was his transfer technically a robbery? Yes, USA all the freaking way. Jokes aside, early signs would suggest this was VERY smart business. What are his best attributes? Endless energy, great at winning the ball back, makes good runs into the box, smart tactically. However, would you call him a CREATIVE midfielder? Can he split defenses open with his passing? No.

Sami Khedira. Still technically in the squad. No further analysis necessary.

In summation, Juve have ZERO creative midfielders in this squad. You want further confirmation this is an obvious problem? Pirlo literally said “we don’t have a classic midfield playmaker” following the match against Genoa. Also, I wouldn’t really label anyone in this group as a classic defensive midfielder, either. So, should you play a side that sits back and lets you possess the ball (like Genoa), you’re going to have trouble breaking them down. Maybe this leads to one of your strikers feeling the need to drop deeper and deeper, desperately trying to create SOMETHING in the final third. Also, imagine that team that is sitting back is also effective on the counter, who is tracking back and trying to break things up?

There were several reports a few weeks ago that Juve were close to a deal with Lyon for Houssem Aouar over the summer, but the deal fell through because Federico Bernardeschi refused to go the other way. Here’s a bright idea … don’t let it get to that point. If you really want him, find a way to get it done. I know finances are tight, but Juve have committed themselves to this Cristiano Ronaldo window. You want to genuinely make this team better? Get a midfielder who can consistently link up and support your attack. Do I need to show you the video of Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala in the tunnel in Lyon complaining about the midfield again?

Now, with the #Pogback rumors fully on again following Mina Raiola’s recent comments, we might finally see this need addressed. But again, management is now going to have to jump through A TON of financial hoops to get this one done. The common link to making this happen has been to sell Dybala, and I’ll touch on this in a second. But there’s a world where Juve could’ve addressed this need in a much more shrewd way, as opposed to putting all their eggs in the #Pogback sweepstakes.

ATTACK

OK, let’s simply list out this group:

  • Cristiano Ronaldo
  • Alvaro Morata
  • Paulo Dybala
  • Federico Chiesa
  • Federico Bernardeschi
  • Dejan Kulusevski

Am I alarmed at how dependent they’ve already become on Ronaldo AND Alvaro Morata? Absolutely. Following his goal over the weekend, maybe Dybala will finally find form and help alleviate the issue. Not to dive deep into tactics, I would like to see Pirlo toy with playing a Ronaldo-Morata-Dybala trident (we saw it briefly over the weekend), but that’s a topic for another day. I will be a Dybala defender forever, and his comments following the Genoa match were quick to squash any links surrounding a potential exit. I 1,000% don’t want to see him go, but I’ve always maintained selling him would makes sense if that money goes right back to fixing the midfield. It seems like that’d be the case here should a move actually materialize, but I doubt any team is going to be willing to stump up a big fee and pay the wages he wants in this financial landscape.

(Quick side note about Morata — isn’t it a little scary that he wasn’t even supposed to be here? If the Dzeko-Milik dominos fall another way, what the hell does this team look like right now?)

Juventus v Torino FC - Serie A

Now, does anyone else notice something a little off on that above list? Doesn’t it look a little heavy on players who prefer to be wide? I just don’t understand the need to have Chiesa, Kulusevski, AND Bernardeschi in the same squad. Admittedly, I’m not the biggest Chiesa fan, but I understand wanting to sign him. However, did they really need to sign him THIS season? By all accounts, Chiesa made it known to Fiorentina that he wouldn’t sign a contract extension with them, and he would only accept a transfer to Juve. So Juve went ahead and signed him on a weird obligatory loan deal, that all-in will probably end up costing around €50m. Call me crazy, but wouldn’t it have made a ton more sense to sign him next summer? Let him spend another year in Florence playing every week and developing, as opposed to being in and out of the lineup at Juve. Plus, with him being another year closer to leaving Fiorentina for nothing (his contract there was up in 2022), you can probably negotiate that price-tag down a bit.

At a time where money is so tight for every top club, you have to do a better job of allocating out the money you do spend. Instead, we now have a situation where Chiesa and Kulusevski are going to take playing time away from each other, and hurt both of their development. Also, with every passing match it’s becoming increasingly clear that Juve should be playing with three central midfielders instead of two. Now when the hell are these guys supposed to get a consistent run in the team?

Finally, you know who would be awesome to have in the squad right now? Moise Kean. One of the hardest positions to fill for major European teams is a backup striker. You either sign an aging player who’s kind of just hanging on at this point (doable but clearly not ideal), or you promote a young kid from your academy and hope he’s the next big thing (awesome but significantly harder to pull off). Guess which club did the hard part, then sold the player without a buyback clause to help balance their books? If recent reports are to be believed, guess which club now might be looking for a striker in January?

SUMMARY

Juve’s return to the top of Serie A, along with trips to two Champions League finals in three years, was due in large part to cohesive team building, and shrewd investments in the transfer market. The signing of Ronaldo undoubtedly altered the financial capabilities of building the team around him, but enough money has been spent the last few seasons for real questions to be asked of the current hierarchy. Hell, some of the best moves management has made have either fallen in their laps (the Morata signing), or been moves they were forced NOT to make (keeping Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain last season). I haven’t even addressed the weird loan army that Juve has spread across Europe this season. What happens when those guys come back next summer? That group isn’t exactly a bunch of young kids you’re going to make a profit on, and any club that negotiates with you is going to know you MUST sell those guys.

Questions will continue to be asked throughout the season about the decision to appoint Pirlo, and how the team is adapting (or not adapting) to his preferred style of play. However, questions regarding Pirlo aren’t the ones that should be asked. More questions need to be directed to management, and if they truly believed that this was a complete squad could compete on all fronts this season.


I’d like to thank Danny and Co. for allowing your boy to come back and contribute to BWRAO after a few years hiatus (I previously wrote under Petey Pastels, which we all can agree is a terrible pseudonym). Anyway, like all of you, I’ve had a lot more free time in 2020, and getting frustrated about Juve’s performances has become my main hobby. So as a form of therapy, I figured typing up my thoughts instead of complaining to my friends would be a more healthy way to get everything off my chest.