After a pretty miserable start to the season, Juventus seem to have gotten things back on track reeling off three not-entirely-convincing victories in Serie A action, as well as two clean sheets and wins in the Champions League group stages.
Coach Massimiliano Allegri has continued to emphasize that the recovery would be dependent on the side’s defensive performances getting better, and though there have been some hiccups there allowing opponents a glimmer of hope late on in games, the Bianconeri are now unbeaten in over a month.
That run of form is going to be severely tested with the upcoming domestic schedule - Juve play AS Roma, Inter Milan and Sassuolo and have a tricky trip to Zenit St. Petersburg all in a matter of eleven days starting this Sunday.
For this BWRAO roundtable, we got the gang together to answer a couple of key questions regarding Juve’s season so far.
1) Have Juventus recovered from their poor start to the season and is a top four finish still on?
Caleb - I think that might depend on how you’d define recovered. Obviously results are starting to come and that is the most important part. But to me, that’s just step one of the recovery process that needs to happen. Outside of the performance against Chelsea, there hasn’t been a complete showing from the team to make me think things have completely turned around. And while a top four finish should still be expected, there are plenty of things to improve on to make that happen.
I still think there needs to be more consistency from the midfield, especially when it comes to linking together with the attack. Locatelli is thriving right now but he is also being asked to do entirely too much on his own in what is supposed to be a three-man (four-man?) midfield. I love a good free roaming midfield but this one is not working great together and a little bit more disciplined positioning could go a long way in making this midfield better. Plus some more consistent performances from McKennie and Rabiot.
There are also some things I’d like to see fixed defensively, still way too many boneheaded mistakes happening in the back and the good teams will also punish you for it. Szczesny looks better but still not the most confident keeper in the world.
All in all, yes I think Juventus is playing better as a team and I believe they have what it takes to finish in the top four. But we should be expecting more from a lot of these individual performances.
Chuks - In terms of results, yes. But are the performances good enough? I don’t know. The strange thing is that our performances at the start of the season weren’t catastrophically bad (barring the Empoli game) but the results were terrible and I just couldn’t figure out what Allegri’s idea was on how he wanted the team to play. I stand by my prediction from early in the season that we’ll probably end up top 4 but not win the Scudetto. Not only do we have a lot of catching up to do, but the other teams in the league have improved massively in the last few years.
Roma, Milan, Napoli, and even Fiorentina and Lazio have had strong starts to the season, so where in previous seasons we could afford to mess things up a little, now we just can’t do that anymore. That said, the Chelsea game showed that we are still capable of being the Juventus of old, though I still have little confidence in our defense. The good thing is that Allegri seems to have made up his mind on his best system: this curious lopsided 4-4-2 with Rabiot on the left and Morata-Dybala or the Valkyries of Fedde as center forwards.
Danny - It’s still very much too small of a sample size to say that Juve has completely recovered from the terrible start. There are still so many big games to go in just the first half of the season to find out about this team. They’re very much a work in progress, and if the next couple weeks will tell us a lot about just how much progress they have made.
Am I feeling better about things as compared to where things were coming out of the last international break? Yeah, sure. But it’s hard not to take a to-be-determined kind of approach regarding this team right now. Maybe that’s a cop-out and, hey, I’ll take that. The last couple of Juventus seasons has taught me to maybe not read into two weeks worth of results like I used to, but there’s still some crafting by Allegri left to do before I look at this team and get fully convinced that they are one of the favorites to finish ahead of some of the teams they are currently behind in the standings.
Sergio - Its hard to say that top four was out of reach when we are under 10 games into the season, so yeah, I think it’s very much on and honestly still feels like its very likely that it will happen. The team started as poorly as they have ever started, no doubt, but this is still an extremely talented squad that should not only finish top 4 but still compete for the title despite spotting their rivals a not insignificant early lead.
Calvin - After a horrendous start, the results have certainly improved. Performances though still seem to be swinging wildly from one extreme to another. Juve’s aura in the league has certainly been dispelled, and even small regional sides are ready and willing to take the fight to the Bianconeri no matter the scoreline - that’s the thing with respect, it has to be earned and living off past accomplishments will only get you so far.
By the time we get to the next international break we will have a much better idea of who this Juventus team really is, and whether they have Scudetto-winning credentials or not.
2) What are your thoughts on how Allegri is managing this team the second time around.
Caleb - I think the biggest struggle when it comes to judging this Allegri is knowing what he did with Juventus the first time around. There’s a weird sense of trust there that you just expect him to have things figured out or whatever weird thing he is trying is going to work. And we have seen vintage Allegri tactics that have worked perfectly in recent matches. But what I can’t get over is his stubbornness. It has always been the Allegri way because when he thinks something will work, he’s going to make it work and to be fair, it usually does.
But this 4-4-2 nonsense is getting on my nerves. There’s nothing wrong with playing a 4-4-2 but this personnel is not it. Rabiot is not a left midfielder. Bernardeschi is not a right midfielder. There are so many players that play better when they are located centrally and you have actual true wingers who are best out wide that belong out there to begin with. Build your formation off of what plays to your players’ strengths. Allegri really isn’t doing that well so far with this team and it’s frustrating because it is what he did so well last time he was in Turin. But time will tell.
Chuks - In terms of man-management, everybody seems to be happy, so that’s all I care about. It’s probably a little easier for Allegri this time around given that there are no massive egos in the dressing room. In terms of managing the team tactically, I echo parts of my first answer in the sense that in the beginning it seemed there wasn’t much of a plan/idea for how the team should function. But now, there’s a pretty clear idea about what everyone’s role is, how we’ll be playing, and who’s playing where.
It seems like Allegri is managing the team essentially the same time as during his first stint: focus on defense and try to get a goal or two here and there (though that first part still needs some work. Allegri gets huge credit for figuring out a way to play Rabiot and Bentancur together effectively and for integrating Locatelli into the team so well (though you could also say that credit should simply go to Locatelli for being brilliant).
Danny - It’s still very much a work in progress with Allegri and where he’s taking this team. Do we know where that is exactly? Well, not in a complete sense yet, but we’ve gotten a good idea. And while some may not like the kind of direction Allegri wants to take this team, it’s probably what’s best for the team right now considering they are seemingly seeing two players get injured whenever they welcome another one back.
The good news to come out of the last couple of weeks worth of games before the international break is that they have both finally strung together some wins but also done so in a way that is certainly Allegri’s pragmatic approach. And they’ve gotten those wins with virtually nobody available up front and a midfield that is starting to settle in a bit now that Manuel Locatelli is a fixture in the starting lineup.
Obviously, the hope from here is that the international break is the thing that didn’t take away the momentum they were starting to build. And if it, then there’s more work to be done than even the more optimistic of people might have thought. But the last couple of weeks were better than the first couple of weeks, and hopefully these next few weeks are better than the last couple of weeks. And if that’s the case, then Allegri’s job performance rating will continue to go up. The man was brought back to get Juventus back on track, and while the first few steps were pretty damn bumpy, hopefully the ones to come are looking like what we saw before the break.
Sergio - In hindsight it feels like we should have seen a slow start for Juve coming. Even in the best of times Max Allegri sides have tended to start slow and given the massive upheaval the team was on, the lack of time to get Manuel Locatelli acclimated and the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo after the season had already started it is not insane to suggest that a slow start was maybe coming.
The last few games have been very encouraging and the streak of big games coming after the international break will be a great barometer for how good Allegri is doing, but this team is slowly but surely starting to look like an Allegri led team and that has always been a good ting for Juventus.
Calvin - Our impatience to return to winning ways after last season’s disappointment might have clouded our sight to begin the season, and it really should not have come as a surprise when we looked like a disorganized, discordant bunch early on.
It’s easy to forget that almost the majority of the fanbase wanted Allegri gone towards the end of his last term, so it will be interesting to see how much the coach himself has adapted in the two years he’s been away from the club. However, the key thing he’s been working on and is already bearing fruit is organization, something that had fallen by the wayside under Sarri and Pirlo.