As we sit here a few days after Christmas and in the middle of Serie A’s holiday break, we are very much awaiting Juventus’ next move with the full-on knowledge that the January list of fixtures is looking anything close to a sure thing. The first few weeks of January will be crucial on more than one front — and that’s a massively important proposition even before Juve jump back into the Champions League in late February.
Because we are devoid of anything truly of note at the moment, we figured it would be a good time to get the BWRAO roundtable back together — properly socially distanced, of course! — to talk about the first half of the 2021-22 season to date and look ahead to what’s to come.
That’s only natural when you have, as what hasn’t happened in previous seasons at this point in the schedule, 19 games down and 19 games to go.
The question to ponder for the roundtable: There are a lot of things wrong with this Juventus squad. We’ve talked about a lot of them over the last three or four months. But, in your opinion, is anything actually able to be fixed this season? Like, can this team make even a noticeable improvement in order to better its chances of making the top four?
Ah, the possibilities.
And no, there aren’t any one-word answers as tempting as it may be.
So, speaking of answers, here they are ...
If we’re talking about in the January transfer window, the answer is probably no. It’s really rare for the January window to see any impact moves in the first place — the last one I remember is Fernando Torres going from Liverpool to Chelsea in 2011. The last winter transfer that really made an impact on Juventus perhaps came the same year, when Alessandro Matri came over from Cagliari and scored 10 times in the second half of the season.
Perhaps the departure of someone like Aaron Ramsey would be addition by subtraction, but I don’t see much in the way of things that can be brought in from the outside to make things better. If the recent reports that Nicolo Rovella will be staying in Genoa no matter what are true, I don’t see much in the way of moves that can be done to make midfield any better. There will probably have to be some sort of low-key move if either Ramsey or someone like Arthur do get moved, but there won’t be too much of a budget to make anything significant happen.
That goes for the team’s current white whale up front, as well. Even if Juve were to make a relatively large sale on someone like Dejan Kulusevski, the money to sign Dusan Vlahovic simply isn’t there, at least not in January. If Juve miss out on the Champions League it may not be there period, but that’s a discussion for the future. If Vlahovic moves in the upcoming window, it’s going to be to the Premier League. The other major rumor for a forward coming to Juve would frankly, at least in my opinion, probably not actually be an improvement. Look up the word “distraction” in a dictionary and you’ll find a picture of Mauro Icardi, and regardless of all of the off-the-field stupidity — the latest came last week when it came to light that he and wife Wanda Nara were implicated in a money-laundering scheme in his native Argentina — there really aren’t any indications that he’s actually good anymore. He hasn’t scored more than 12 goals in a league season since 2017-18, his penultimate year at Inter. Between the off-field noise and the simple fact that he looks washed, it’s better to stay away from that move than make it for the sake of making it.
If there’s going to be any improvement this season it’s going to have to come from within. Whether that means guys like Federico Chiesa and Paulo Dybala getting and — especially for Dybala — staying healthy, Allegri sticking with the more dynamic tactical setups he’s come up with in December and the team settling into them, or Allegri giving guys like Matias Soule a chance that they run with, if this team is going to improve they’re going to have to do it themselves, because unless Federico Cherubini pulls out a significant surprise, I just don’t see much in the way of outside help coming in the next month.
Big Poppa Chuks
I’ll start with the attack. There’s little that can be fixed in that respect, unfortunately. Alvaro Morata is who he is, which, at this point, is a striker capable of no more than 15 goals per season at highly erratic intervals. I hope Kaio Jorge will get his chance soon as he has looked bright in the little time he has had to play. I have the feeling that if we continue playing Moise Kean out wide he’ll start banging in goals, but otherwise I don’t think he’ll do much more than Morata. Hence, Paulo Dybala is the only standout performer that is capable of significantly improving our attack, but injury issues continue to plague La Joya.
So, all in all, I don’t expect much improvement in the attack this season.
With respect to the midfield, I think the main improvement that can come this season is simply consistently playing everyone in their natural positions (what a big demand, I know…). We’ve talked about the Adrien Rabiot-on-the-left conundrum ad nauseum by now, so I won’t go into that. Thankfully, Allegri seems to understand that the Rabiot-Rodrigo Bentancur central midfield tandem doesn’t work, so that’s already a big improvement there. But really, the main improvement in midfield with the current personnel would simply be to play everyone in their natural positions. Another improvement would be transitioning to either a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 as that takes advantage of the many central midfielders we have, but I think we need more data to definitively judge if that’s the solution to improving the midfield.
Last but not least, the defense, which is where my main answer to your question comes. Specifically, the one area where we can truly make an improvement this season with the current personnel is the full back position. We’ve been playing with fire here for the last few years, seemingly not giving two cents about having either enough full backs or adequate ones. If Juan Cuadrado and Luca Pellegrini can maintain their good form for the remainder of the season — no surprise to me that Pellegrini is good, by the way — and Danilo and Alex Sandro can play as well as we know they’re capable of, I think that will be a noticeable area of improvement we’ll see from Juve this season.
Don’t get me wrong, we still need to buy at least one world-class fullback due to the age of our South American trio of fullbacks (and sorry, I don’t consider Mattia De Sciglio part of the team’s present or future), but the problem will be significantly better than last year if Cuadrado and, in particular, Pellegrini can keep up their good form.
There’s a few things that will hopefully improve like their horrific finishing that will help, but at its core this is a flawed team with very few — if any — players that will improve as the season goes along. The defense is not getting any younger, the midfield won’t magically become better and the attack will most likely remain their inconsistent self. Maybe there’s a chance that Max Allegri can continue to improve their defensive chops but that’s more wishful thinking than anything.
Juventus will remain a team that can beat anyone when they get hot, but that can also lose to anybody when they are not. Teams like that can surprise you here and there I would not be shocked if they had a couple of impressive runs, but they are not a safe bet to be successful in the long run.
To me, there are two categories of problems that exist with this Juventus squad, and neither can be fixed quickly for two different reasons.
There are a number of players on this squad who are past their prime (or never really hit their prime), and they will need to be moved on for this squad to get better. Juve’s financial situation though means that they will not be able to just bury those bloated wages and replace those players with new players. No one really wants Juve’s scrap and so the club leadership have a real challenge on their hands with bringing the wage bill down to a manageable and sustainable position.
The second issue appears to be mostly mental. A number of football teams have been investing in sports psychiatry to get their players’ priorities right and focus their minds when playing. There appears to be a mentality with Juve that they deserve success just for showing up for games. Max Allegri — given time — could possibly sort them out and get them all on the same page, but he is not the fiery kind of emotional leader like Antonio Conte who appears to have the ability to change things on very short notice no matter where he goes.
Given time, it is possible to fix both sets of issues that are plaguing the Bianconeri, but it will not be quick and will require committed management. Until then, though, it will take patience and trust from the fanbase, but both are in short supply because leadership has not necessarily shown themselves to prioritize long term success and growth until now.
I don’t believe it’s unreasonable to expect more from this team even with no changes to the current roster. You would like to see some more depth in certain areas and definitely some more consistency, but this team still easily has one of the top four best XIs in Italy right now. And I think we see that when that XI is healthy enough to play together and is put in the right formation.
Sure, a permanent switch to the 4-2-3-1 is probably not going to fix all the problems, but I do think it would do enough to get the most out of the best players available. The problem comes with the number of competitions and how long Juventus stays in Europe and cup play because that’s obviously when more squad rotation is needed and that’s been the clear drop off point this season.
Of course, that brings us to the bench play which has some big time holes, but I also think it has some players who are underperforming. Which theoretically means a lot could be fixed by them playing better as they have shown in the past. I’d say that starts with attackers like Moise Kean, who seems to be on the upswing, and Dejan Kulusevski who has sadly just disappeared. We thought the attack would be overloaded with talent this season, but without them, it’s pretty much been the starters or nothing. If they turn it up a notch, it’ll go a long way in actually having some confidence in squad rotation. Same thing for midfielders like Rodrigo Bentancur and even Adrien Rabiot if he is ever allowed to play his actual position.
All this to say: yes, I do think this team can be fixed. I mean, this is a squad that just finished top of the group in Europe. I think the makeup is there to easily have a top four side in Italy. Whether I believe it will happen is another story, but I don’t think all is lost just yet.