In a season where Juventus scored 108 times in 52 games in all competitions, more than in Massimiliano Allegri’s last season (87 in 51) and in Maurizio Sarri’s sole season (99 in 52), you would say the attackers as a group have had a pretty good year.
However, it wasn’t all rosy for Andrea Pirlo’s side as first they saw their Champions League hopes quelled by another defensive rearguard effort this time by Porto, and then relinquished their hold on the Scudetto allowing Inter Milan to end their incredible streak at nine, and in both cases the attack misfiring might have had something to do with it.
There will be more in the coaching analysis as we recap the 2020-21 season, but Juventus struggled mightily to break down the low block. Granted, they are not the only European giants who struggle with this problem, but the relative lack of options and somewhat tactical inflexibility means that taking away the wing route to get the ball to the goal eliminates a lot of the Bianconeri’s attacking threat.
Pirlo relishes playing against more adventurous sides because it gives his attacking options spaces to play the ball into, and it’s against those sides that Juve prospered. There could yet be all sorts of change in this forwards group this summer with the futures of Paulo Dybala and Cristiano Ronaldo in doubt. But more of that later, let’s get into the player grades.
Paulo Dybala - 5.5
Season stats: 26 appearances, 5 goals, 3 assists, 0 yellow cards, 0 red cards
In by far his worst season since joining the Bianconeri, Dybala struggled mightily with his health, fitness and form. Between his recurring thigh issues and a medial collateral ligament injury as well as suffering from a virus right at the beginning of the season (on top of having COVID last spring), the Argentine striker was in and out of Pirlo’s squad and his plans for most of the season.
Yet, in the few games he did play where was able to make a difference, Dybala showed why he was once considered to be a candidate for a big nine-figure transfer and interest from multiple European giants. Pirlo’s double-pivot 4-4-2 tended to put Dybala in an awkward position, and the forward might be relieved to see a familiar face in the dugout next season.
With his contract expiring at the end of the next season, the player’s camp and Juve have been at loggerheads over a new deal, but it should tell you how highly he is regarded by incoming former manager Allegri that the Mister insisted on a new deal for Dybala be a part of his return.
Dejan Kulusevski - 6
Season stats: 47 appearances, 7 goals, 7 assists, 8 yellow cards, 0 red cards
While it is somewhat surprising that Adrien Rabiot and Kulusevski led the 2020-21 team in appearances, it should give you a good perspective on not only the injury issues that plagued Pirlo’s squad but also on the durability and tenacity of the youngster.
Widely slated by many fans over the duration of the campaign, the Sweden international showed off his versatility in becoming Pirlo’s ‘Swiss Army knife’ of sorts, playing as a centre forward, secondary striker or wide midfielder. In short, wherever the coach was short healthy players.
Often Pirlo questioned his mentality in the media, saying that he still needed time to adjust to playing for a bigger club like Juve versus the Parma side where he spent last season on loan, but still Kulusevski persisted in putting in maximum effort even though it didn’t show up on the scoresheet.
He will be encouraged by how strongly he ended the season, putting in some excellent performances with key goals and assists when Juve needed it the most with the Coppa Italia trophy and a Champions League berth at stake. We await to see how Allegri will use the 21-year-old next season.
Alvaro Morata - 7
Season stats: 44 appearances, 20 goals, 12 assists, 4 yellow cards, 1 red card
In the glare of his striking partner’s limelight, Morata’s contributions can often be overlooked. The journeyman striker shone brightest in the Champions League, but got a number of key goals in all competitions as he was the one consistent focal point in the Juve attack.
The one thing the Spaniard does well is play the striker role, and Pirlo needed that desperately this season. No matter whether it’s Serie A, La Liga or the Premier League, Morata has found a way to get the goals wherever he’s played. He might not have the burst of pace from his early 20s, but still remains elusive enough to evade defenders when the ball arrives in the box.
Strong in the air and equally capable with the ball at his feet, he excelled at holding up the ball and finding his teammates with space to run into. Morata was a particularly effective weapon for Allegri during his last spell at Juve, and the new manager might push for him to stay in Turin.
Cristiano Ronaldo - 8.5
Season stats: 44 appearances, 36 goals, 4 assists, 5 yellow cards, 0 red card
The striker was brought to Juventus at immense cost to score goals. He’s checked that box off in every season he’s been here. Having cantered to the capocannoniere title by a distance, Ronaldo has raced to the 100 goals for Juventus mark in an outrageously short time. He’s scored all sorts of goals for the Bianconeri, with his head and either foot, from inside and outside the box, yet the feeling persists that there should be more from him.
Juve have had plenty of strikers bang in domestic goals, that’s nothing new. It’s in the Champions League when things have gotten tough for the Bianconeri. CR7’s pedigree in the premier continental competition was why he was signed and to a large extent he’s met that need. While he was widely panned for his lack of contribution in this season’s exit to Porto over two legs, it’s easy to forget that in previous exits against Ajax and Lyon, he was the one who got the goals.
It is often said that you should not blame a player for his transfer fee, as it is the value agreed upon between two clubs. For Juve, it’s a bit more complicated. Andrea Agnelli chose to sacrifice building depth in multiple positions in the vain hope that paying Ronaldo the big bucks would find the goals to get the club their third ‘Big Ears’ trophy.
CR7 might not have decided yet where he wants to ply his trade next season, and was reportedly unhappy when Allegri was in charge for his first season in Turin. With Carlo Ancelotti back in charge at Real Madrid, he might be interested in getting the band back together for a last hurrah.
Back to this just-ended season, though: Ronaldo scored the goals that he should have, missed a few that he was not expected to miss, and continued to take free kicks in a vain attempt to get a few on target. His fans will continue to stan him and his detractors will continue to decry him, so what else is there to say?