In just a few short days, Juventus Women will officially begin their latest Scudetto run. That Scudetto run will be just like the last two season openers in the fact that it will also be a Scudetto defense, something that is rather common for Juve teams to do over the last decade.
The twist on all of this is the very real fact that Juve’s incredibly accomplished women’s side hasn’t played a competitive game on the club level since early February. FEBRUARY, PEOPLE, FEBRUARY! That’s ... a long time no matter how you try and spin it.
They’ve had a few friends over the last couple of weeks, including one this past Saturday against one of the best women’s sides in all of Europe, Lyon, during the Trophèe Veolia finale. But, other than that, there’s been training session after training session to try and shake off the rust that you have to imagine is still there just in the slightest since, I remind you, it’s been over six months since Juventus Women’s last Serie A Femminile fixture.
This Saturday, Juventus Women finally get to step onto the field for a game that means something again when they face Hellas Verona in Verona.
No more waiting. The three-time champions are back this weekend.
What should we pay attention to heading into the 2020-21 Serie A Femminile campaign? Here are a few things amongst the many. So, to quote one of my co-workers around here, let’s cook.
1) The continued domestic dominance
There is no questioning who the top team in Serie A Femminile is.
And while the rest of the top teams in the league have been wheeling and dealing to either try and upgrade their roster or fill holes because talented players have left, the same can’t be said for the team that they’re all chasing. It has been a very uneventful summer for the Juve women, with all of two players added to the fold. (The most recent, I might add, coming on Wednesday when 18-year-old Argentine midfielder Dalila Ippolito officially joined the club after plenty of rumors about Juve’s interest this summer.)
That means, this group isn’t adjusting to new teammates or in the midst of transition.
We know where they stand. We have a general idea of who the best starting XI is. And, most important of all, there hasn’t been any kind of major changes when it comes to potentially slowing down this black and white train storming through Italy again.
Juventus Women outscored opponents 48-10 in 16 games last season.
They outscored the opposition 63-8 in 22 games the season before.
They outscored the opposition 64-9 in22 games the season before that one.
Basically, ever since Juventus created a women’s squad in the summer of 2017, they’ve been the best team in Serie A Femminile — and this season doesn’t look like it will change. At least on paper.
The odds are heavily in Juve’s favor to make it four Scudetti out of a possible four come the springtime. They’re the most talented team. They’re the deepest team. They’re the team that the likes of AC Milan, Fiorentina and Roma are chasing yet again this season.
Some might feel like it’s inevitable that Juve will win the title again this coming season. Others will enjoy it no matter just how ahead of the rest of the pack Juve are right now. Either way, there’s 22 games to play and hopefully a lot of wins to celebrate before getting a nice trophy to show for it all.
2) A full season of Barbara Bonansea being healthy
I hope I haven’t jinxed her now.
I don’t want to be the thing that jinxes her. And if I have jinxed her, then feel free to gather the pitchforks and storm the castle. (I won’t be giving out my address, though. Sorry.)
Regardless, as Juventus Women were preparing for their season opener 12 months ago, there was a noticeable name who wasn’t on the training field. It was Bonansea.
A broken bone in her left foot cost Bonansea the first three months of the 2019-20 season. When Juve take the field against Hellas Verona this weekend, it will be just over a year to the day as to when her injury was first announced by the club. Her absence didn’t totally mean that Juve’s attack was thrown into chaos before she returned in November, but there is no denying the quality that Bonansea brings to the table.
Agree with it or not, Bonansea was the only Italian player named to The Guardian’s list of the Top 100 women’s players in the world back in December. Italy’s got a lot of talented players — including one that we’re going to be talking about in a couple of paragraphs — and Bonansea is viewed by many as the best of the bunch.
When healthy, few players in Serie A Femminile offer the same kind of characteristics that Bonansea does. She showed it this past weekend in a friendly win against Montpellier to set up a goal for Andrea Staskova, bursting forward and running half the field before dishing it off to Juve’s new No. 9 right before getting tackled outside of the penalty area. It was a classic kind of run, and one that reminds you what she’s capable of when she’s 100 percent.
That’s the hope this season.
And if she’s healthy for the whole run, there’s no reason to think she won’t match the kind of production that she’s had in previous injury-free seasons with Juventus.
3) Cristiana Girelli’s goal scoring prowess
Before the shutdown, there was no better strike in Serie A Femminile than Cristiana Girelli.
She was the league’s leading scorer — and it wasn’t really all that close when the league decided to call things off and not start back up again after Italy was locked down.
Sixteen goals in 16 Serie A Femminile games played. Essentially, there were very few games last season where Girelli wasn’t on the scoresheet — which, for opposing defenses, was the kind of pace that was proving to be quite the task to try and slow down. It was one of the best seasons she’s ever had in her already very good career with Brescia and now Juventus.
And then ... bam. The season’s suspended just like that and then eventually over.
Girelli was better in her second season with Juventus than in her first, which is saying something since she was one of the best strikers in the league during her debut season with the Italian champions. So, it will be pretty damn impressive if Girenlli can replicate the kind of goal-every-game kind of pace that she set forth last season.
But with a healthy Bonansea back in the fold and doing her usual thing on the wing, there’s going to be plenty of scoring chances available for Juve’s No. 10 to try and match what she did a season ago.
Girelli has the combination of size and skill that not a whole lot of strikers in Serie A Femminile possess. She can bend one into the side netting at the far post as much as she can beat her defender in the air on a corner.
4) The battle for playing time in the crowded midfield
Juve’s midfield is very good, very Italian and a group that has been together from the beginning of the club’s current Scudetto run. That’s something the men’s team can’t say.
This is even with Valentina Cernoia playing in a more advanced role last season.
Juventus Women had four different midfielders start at least nine league games last season, a sign of just how much depth they have. Sofie Junge Pedersen started all 16 games, Martina Rosucci started 11, Aurora Galli 10 and the youngster of the group, Arianna Caruso started nine. Annahita Zamanian, who joined the club in January, will obviously be looking for more playing time than the 206 minutes she played before the shutdown happened.
That’s five players for three spots in Rita Guarino’s tried and true 4-3-3. (And it’s a lot more exciting than what we saw from Maurizio Sarri!)
As you can probably figure out, Guarino isn’t afraid to rotate a little bit. Last season showed that there’s not much of a drop off between the first option and the fourth option, with Caruso really starting to show the qualities that so many people thought she had when she first burst onto the scene as a teenager a few years ago. And with Zamanian — who might be the most offensive-minded player of the group — in the fold for the entire season now, there’s no denying that this position group has a whole lot of chemistry on their side.
Long story short: Guarino can’t really go wrong with who she plays.
(If only another Juventus manager could say that about his midfield ...)
5) Can this team make something happen in the Champions League?
It might have happened last season except for, you know, Juve being drawn against one of the best women’s clubs in the world in Barcelona.
And even though they were bounced in the round of 32, there were some positive signs.
As much as the Juventus Women front office members say that the focus is on the building of a still very young project and that the Champions League isn’t a focus, the more they dominate and win titles domestically will only naturally cause expectations for something to happen in Europe.
Now, obviously, a lot is dependent on how next month’s Champions League draw goes. If they get a round of 32 matchup like they did a year ago, then it will be a tough task to try and advance to the debut of the group stage for the round of 16. If they get a favorable draw, then advancing in the tournament will be much more of a possibility.
Now, we just wait for that draw.
6) The Italian core heading into Women’s EURO 2021
We sat here last summer knowing that Serie A Femminile was riding a wave of enthusiasm and optimism about women’s football in Italy following a very good showing at the Women’s World Cup in France. The run the Azzurre went on was predicted by virtually nobody, and the fact that Juventus Women’s representatives on the Italy roster played such a large part in it made it even that much more enjoyable.
Now, we stand a little less than a year from another major tournament starting up at the national team level. And, unlike last time, there will be at least some kind of expectations for the Italian women to do some kind of damage just like they did at the World Cup last year.
Obviously there needs to be the qualifying process first, a lengthy process that will begin later this month when the first international break arrives. But considering there has been very little game action the last six months, having them get right back into it now isn’t the worst thing in the world.
As much as the Italian national team will get contributions from other clubs like Milan, like Roma and Fiorentina, so much of the team’s success boils down to the heavy Juventus core that is well established at the international level. Like we saw during the course of the World Cup group stage and knockout round, having six or seven Juventus Women players in the Italy starting lineup isn’t really an earth shattering development. And with the likes of Bonansea healthy again and Rosucci now two years out from major knee surgery, there’s going to be even more reason to think that Italy’s starting lineup is going to look a lot like the one Juve rolls out more often than not.
That’s not a bad thing. And if the Juve contingent continues to lead the way like they have been, then Italy’s ability to qualify for Euro 2021 in England and then do some things at the tournament will be that much more of a possibility.