I swooned when Paulo Dybala, moments after scoring what would become the game-winning goal against Napoli, slapped his hand on the Juventus crest before sliding to the grass and being smothered by teammates. If the Bianconeri do indeed finish in the Champions League, even with the loss of the Scudetto that moment might be the apex of a difficult season.
As entertaining and emotional as the crucial win was, make no mistake: this is not a vintage Juventus side, at least as we know it. This is still a team that is limping — in some cases, literally — to the finish, still a team in need of floor-to-ceiling reconstruction. But Wednesday night’s win showed why even in the midst of reloading, the Old Lady can be dangerous and maybe even great every once and a while.
Before Juventus can reach new heights, though, there is the matter of that reconstruction. With the offseason now so near at hand, I thought I’d take a look at the roster and, from my perspective, divide the first-team players into tiers based on who the club ought to keep and who the club ought to bid adieu.
Here we go!
Keep at all costs
Matthijs de Ligt — The Dutchman is 21 years old and still, despite a so-so season, one of the best in the world at his position. Perhaps more than that, he’s a born leader and seems like he could be the emotional heir to Giorgio Chiellini; there’s a magnificent charisma and inspiration about him that I absolutely love to watch. If he can be convinced to buy into this project long-term, he could become a club legend.
Federico Chiesa — The little Tasmanian Devil dives like a submarine and gives anguished facial expressions like he’s starring in a silent movie, but damn he owns the pitch for long stretches at a time. Like de Ligt, he’s an insane mixture of talent and indefinable moxie. He has proved so many of us wrong, and I shudder to think what he’s capable of in a more balanced and thoughtfully constructed side.
Carlo Pinsoglio — Four more years! Four more years!
Keep barring disaster
Paulo Dybala — This saga is going to be a wild one, but there’s one thing you can never doubt about La Joya: he loves this club. Even with the high salary asks, I’m of the opinion that Juventus should pay him what he wants and keep him on board.
Cristiano Ronaldo — This one will probably be up to Ronaldo himself, but the Portuguese star has financial incentive to stay in Italy and would probably rather end his stay in Turin on a higher note than losing the first Italian title in a decade. If Juve are playing in the Champions League he would remain as motivated as ever.
Gianluigi Buffon — If Buffon wants to stay another year, let him stay another year.
Juan Cuadrado and Danilo — Assuming Juventus attain a Champions League spot, this is still a club that’ll be hoping to advance from group stage and make some sort of run next year. Experienced and positionally flexible players like Cuadrado and Danilo are assets in so many ways, something we’ve seen demonstrated time and time again through this campaign.
Arthur, Weston McKennie, and Dejan Kulusevski — Three first-year players who have, at one time or another, showed how talented they are. I doubt I’ll run into too much opposition on the first two, but the Swede’s inclusion might ruffle some feathers. I, for one, think he deserves at least another campaign in black and white before he’s sold or loaned out.
I could go either way
Alex Sandro — A few years ago, we thought the Brazilian might become the best left back in the world in his prime; that hope has not panned out. For much of his Juventus career, Sandro has been a very good player while not doing a lot spectacular, but for the last 18 or so months he’s been a little uneven with his performances. It’s also a difficult call to make not so much because of Sandro himself but because of the market for fullbacks these days.
Wojciech Szczęsny — I’ve been a long-time Woj defender, because I do think he’s one of the most underrated keepers in the world and has been good for most of the season, but seeing how tight the defense seemed with Buffon in between the pipes against Napoli did give me a bit of pause. Despite Woj’s bad game against Torino, I think given the number of glaring needs elsewhere on the roster, the club should bring him back.
Leonardo Bonucci and Merih Demiral — Two curious cases. Bonucci’s actual defending continues to decline, but the Old Lady is perilously thin at this position right now with Chiellini’s maybe-impending retirement. The Turk has moments when you’re sure he’s the long-term partner for de Ligt, but then he does something silly and gives away a penalty.
Alvaro Morata — Right now, I’m thinking the Spaniard, as much as I love him, is probably not worth the agreed-upon purchase cost.
Rodrigo Bentancur and Adrien Rabiot — At least one of these guys is probably going to be leaving, and my guess is that it’ll be the Frenchman. They offer a lot of the same characteristics (which cannot be said for Arthur and McKennie) so it does feel somewhat redundant to have both on the team.
Try to sell
Aaron Ramsey — The Welshman arrived with mixed reactions and for good reason given his health record. Although Rambo has had a couple bright spots in his Juventus tenure, he’s failed to offer anything good regularly and really should go back to England for everybody’s sake.
Gianluca Frabotta — The youngster has been a fun footnote to the season since Day 1, but selling or loaning him out is the way to go.
Sell even if it’s for a used pair of shoelaces
Federico Bernardeschi — RIP Wings of Fede.
Hope you enjoy retirement
Giorgio Chiellini — O Captain! My Captain! My first Juventus jersey, the first Juventus player I truly loved. (I’m a newbie, sue me!) He’s still a great player, but it can’t be a lot of fun to struggle with injuries so consistently. I think it’s time to hang up the boots on what has been a legendary career with the club.
When the time to rebuild comes this summer, Juventus won’t be able to jettison and replace a dozen players at once; that’s not really a safe recipe anyway. So I imagine that many of the players in my “I could go either way” section are probably going to stay for another year. It seems completely plausible that just one of those players leaves (probably either Bentancur or Rabiot).
Even so, and even with the lingering effects of the pandemic, it seems like we’re in for possibly two midfielders and maybe an attacker at the very minimum. If things go haywire, though — missing the Champions League, Ronaldo demanding a transfer, de Ligt demanding a transfer, the Dybala saga boiling over — the reconstruction could be even more chaotic.