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From Morata to mercato: Five random thoughts on Pirlo’s Juventus thus far

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Transfer chaos, a new season, and much more with Andrea Pirlo’s debut season at Juventus.

FBL-ITA-SERIEA-JUVENTUS-SAMPDORIA Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images

The age of chaos, the age of coronavirus, the age of 24-hour transfers.

At one moment Eden Dzeko seemed set to join the Bianconeri from Roma, and a few moments later Fabrizio Romano is tweeting that Alvaro Morata is back on the table — and then the Spaniard is on a plane, and then he’s at J-Medical. Just like the Weston McKennie transfer, the not-new new No. 9 at Juventus arrived in a flash, a turn of events that is just the latest in a series of chaotic events in the last few months for Italy’s best club.

These, then, are at least some of the plates currently spinning right now: a new manager who had never managed before facing Sampdoria on Sunday in Andrea Pirlo; a sporting director trying to balance some very tricky financial realities (Cristiano Ronaldo’s salary, the coronavirus, Champions League bonus misses) with some very glaring and obvious roster needs; a new-look roster featuring surprise additions with the likes of Morata, McKennie, Arthur Melo, Dejan Kulusevski, and who knows who else; and, finally, a new season.

Here’s a confession: I can’t get my head straight to focus on one particular topic, so I’ve distilled five things currently on my mind amidst all this fluidity. As Romano would say, here we go!

1. With the addition of Morata, Juventus suddenly have one of Europe’s most fearsome attacks

With Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala, Kulusevski, and now Morata, plus possible reserve attackers in Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi — I say “possible” only because one wonders if one or both of those guys will be on the move before Oct. 5 — Pirlo has at his disposal one of Europe’s most lethal attacks. That’s just a fact.

Which clubs boast more firepower? Bayern Munich and Liverpool certainly. Maybe Manchester City. Maybe Paris Saint-Germain. And probably nobody else.

But Pirlo, of course, has a bit of a challenge, one that his predecessor Maurizio Sarri couldn’t really solve: how to take advantage of all those weapons, how to support them with a midfield that many of us still feel like is one piece away from being up to snuff.

The primary four attackers — Ronaldo, Dybala, Kulusevski, and Morata — are surely all going to be looking for double-digit scoring campaigns across all competitions. Two of the four have already opened their accounts. There’s no super-traditional target man No. 9, but there are two guys (Dybala and Morata) who can lead a line, and all four can play in a two-striker look. Basically, Morata fits the flexibility here, and he’ll accomplish the press mandate set out by Pirlo a lot more effectively than Suarez or Dzeko would have.

2. We simply have no idea what’s going to happen on the market until it happens

Maybe Juventus are going to add another midfielder; maybe they aren’t.

Maybe Juventus are going to address the fullback situation; maybe they aren’t.

The Morata, McKennie, and (to an extent) Kulusevski transfers all happened so suddenly that it ought to give us all pause as long as Fabio Paratici is running the show. We probably aren’t going to know something until it happens, to one degree or another.

While I highly doubt that Juve are going to move for Houssem Aouar or another substantial midfielder, I almost feel the obligation to suspend any hunch, especially with the flexible-looking deals Paratici has negotiated so far. With Morata, Juve have gotten him on loan for a year, then have a buy option; then there’s another loan option followed by another buy option. Atletico Madrid, wanting to add Suarez quickly, were in a position to sell, and Paratici drew up what appears to be a Juve-friendly deal here, even if it’s not the cheapest on the ledger.

If selling clubs are willing to get creative, maybe there is, after all, a route to another midfielder or a fullback addition.

3. Juventus want players who want Juventus

Adding players who want to be at this club is extraordinarily important. Probably my two central complaints about advanced statistics in any sport are, one, the inability to comprehensively account for context (thinking here in terms of tactics, teammates, and coaches) and, two, the total lack of addressing the general fulfillment of a player. I know it’s just one game, but we saw how much McKennie wants to prove himself at Juve; the kid is hungry, and it showed in his debut.

A player at one club is not the same player he was at the club before. I recall the Heraclitus axiom: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Take Christian Eriksen, for example: He was an absolutely dynamite and dynamic midfielder at Tottenham Hotspur whose stint at Inter Milan has seen the Dane relegated to an outcast whose numbers on the pitch decreased sharply.

Morata’s desire to be at Juventus has been clear for a long time now. He’s not going to be the same Morata he was in Spain. New coach, new teammates, new style, new surroundings.

(The jury’s out on whether Arthur wants to be in Turin; I expect he’ll find it hard to come by minutes if he doesn’t truly combine skill with passion, but we’ll see.)

4. Pirlo appears to be extremely flexible

As I mentioned in a comment on one of the recent posts, it would be asinine to expect Pirlo to approach the construction of a coherent attack with Morata the same way he would have with Suarez, Dzeko, Milik, or whoever else. In 90 minutes against Sampdoria we saw a lot of asymmetry, a back line that morphed between two and three players, and a freaking Under-23 player starting at left back.

In other words, I don’t think Pirlo is looking for set players to play set roles — which, let’s be honest, Sarri was. The hope is that rather than installing a very particular approach and then adding players to that approach, Pirlo is taking the players at his disposal and then finding the best form for that set of players, again something Sarri was never quite able to achieve.

Morata as an individual player fits these principles, which is another reason why I think he’s going to succeed.

5. Patience is a virtue

I don’t imagine the rest of the season is going to be all daisies, unicorns, and white wine like it was against Sampdoria in the opener. Juventus are going to drop points; the Bianconeri have two pretty tough games back to back against Roma and Napoli in the next two weeks, the latter of which was absolutely humming in their first game back with the addition of their own new No. 9.

When, inevitably, Juventus do drop points, it behooves us as fans to acknowledge all the current chaos, all the moving parts, and, especially, the fact that one of the club’s best players (Matthijs de Ligt) is out recovering from his injury for some time. The Dutchman, in fact, will be a huge part of this flexible three-man backline, given how much ground he covers and how damn good he is defensively.

Everything is happening right now for Juventus. This is a palpably different project with Pirlo than it was under Sarri, in almost every way imaginable. Although the lofty goals remain, the tenor is not the same. Sarri allegedly called this side “untrainable,” but Pirlo demonstrated in one single game that that is not the case. Whatever happens, I hope we as fans pause to truly enjoy this season no matter what happens. It’s going to be one hell of a ride.