It’s far from the perfect situation where all you have is 90 minutes against a team from Serie C to evaluate your favorite team’s brand new manager before the season begins in a week. But as we know about 2020, there are very few things that are actually logical and are easy to figure out. And neither is it easy for Andrea Pirlo, Juventus’ new manager who had never coached a competitive game or a friendly until Sunday, all he has are those same 90 minutes of game action to see where his team needs to improve before Sampdoria show up at Allianz Stadium next weekend.
You can see where this was a little different than most friendlies Juve’s played the last handful of years.
Juventus recorded a comfortable 5-0 win over Serie C side Novara at Juventus Training Center on Sunday afternoon, the last time the Italian champions will take the field before their season opener seven days from now. It wasn’t necessarily the score of the game that really mattered all that much. (When is that really ever the case when there’s a friendly being played, right?) But it was more about what we saw from Pirlo’s squad in terms of the ideas he’s trying to implement in such a short period of time knowing Juve’s 2019-20 campaign ended all of a month ago.
We got the three-man defense that was pretty much the only somewhat expected thing to take place against Novara. (And even that was still a bit of an unknown since we’ve never seen Pirlo draw up a starting lineup before.) But the other parts of the equation — how Pirlo wanted to play both in terms of stylistically and tactically — was a complete unknown.
We saw Juventus playing a high press.
We saw Juventus with a lot of players getting forward into the box.
We saw Juventus playing a lot more direct than compared to the last time when Maurizio Sarri was manager and it was a slow, laborious build-up that usually resulted in not much at all.
We saw wingbacks getting high up the field and contributing in a much different way than they did when Sarri was hellbent on playing with a four-man backline and an inefficient midfield.
And, maybe most important of all, we saw a Juventus — at least when the main starters were in there before Pirlo started rotating players in and out — that had some distinct ideas of what they wanted to do both when they were on the ball and how they wanted to quickly win it back.
This is the big part of the journey with Pirlo — he told us how he wants his team to play weeks before we actually saw them play in a game. This is one game and against an opponent that will be playing the team Pirlo was originally set to manage back in the end of July. So, in that sense, the gulf in quality was pretty much bound to see a scoreline like this, but there was still the fact that Pirlo’s Juve had some really good moments even though they’ve only been together for a few short weeks with their new manager. (And with some of their most important players just coming back from international duty on top of that.)
It was a good first step, one that’s positive rather than something that left you scratching your head as to what they’re trying to execute out on the field.
All in all, I feel relatively good after the one and only friendly this team will play. You can see that there’s a direction where Pirlo wants to take this team. And maybe, just maybe, they can get there with the more time they have with their new manager. That’s part of the catch with this season, of course. This team will (hopefully) continue to develop its new identity as their first-year manager gets more experience under his belt.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- Those orange kits ... they sure are something.
- Marko Pjaca scored in the scrimmage against the Under-23 team and scored against Novara on Sunday. I’m not sayin’, but I’m just sayin’.
- Dejan Kulusevski wearing the No. 44 at Juventus is cool. Usually that’s reserved for the Under-23 or primavera kids that are random callups because of injuries. But this is the number that Kulusevski rocked at Parma, so he’s going to stick with it with Juventus. I like it. Kid’s got style.
- The 1-2 combination between Kulusevski and Cristiano Ronaldo for Juventus’ first game of the afternoon was pretty sweet, I gotta say. it was even the more impressive on replays when you see just how Kulusevski is able to get a pinpoint pass with his left foot back to Ronaldo even though his momentum is basically taking him away from the ball.
- Giorgio Chiellini being healthy and Pirlo playing a three-man defense means the random jaunts for 50 yards into the attacking third are very much a possibility again. We know Chiellini loves it. And knowing that he’s barely played over the last 12 months, you know he’s itching to make a run or two like that in a game that actually counts.
- Just having Chiellini back, no matter the system, will be a huge boost to Pirlo’s chances of having success. That’s not breaking news, but if Chiellini can have even a fairly healthy 2020-21 season, it’s going to be a big deal and a huge advantage.
- Even against Serie C sides the Leonardo Bonucci stick-your-leg-out-and-hope-for-the-best defensive strategy as the attacker runs by you isn’t all that effective.
- Maybe the biggest first impression that was made outside of Pirlo was the one from American midfielder Weston McKennie. He was all over the place, contributing defensively to win the ball back and pinging passes all over the field to initiate attacks. It was very much the kind of high-energy showing we heard about McKennie when he first signed with the club last month. And if he is able to do what he did Sunday against Serie A opposition more often than not, he’s going to find himself a nice little role on this team.
- Luca Pellegrini — who was wearing No. 17 and made me miss Mario Mandzukic as a result — can be a pretty good contributor this season if he sticks around. There’s space on this squad for him, and he deserves the chance.
- Daniele Rugani: Juventus captain in the second half.
- The Juventus TV feed cut to Paulo Dybala and Matthijs de Ligt sitting on the bench late in the first half and I’ve never seen two guys who looked so sad they weren’t playing. Poor guys just wanted to be out there with their friends.
- The games count next week. I liked the way Juve played in this game that didn’t count. So, basically, if Juventus play like they did this Sunday when they take the field next Sunday against Sampdoria, then it could very well be a winning start to Pirlo’s managerial career.