As Massimiliano Allegri began his second tenure in charge of Juventus, one of the immediate questions was what his tactical setup would be.
Determining this is always a bit of a challenge when it comes to Allegri. He’s notorious for tinkering, and over his previous five years at Juve he only ever finished a season in the same formation as he started it once. Those efforts were further frustrated when Allegri claimed on Saturday ahead of the Joan Gamper Trophy friendly with Barcelona that “There’s no specific formation, it depends on the players I pick, however their positions are pretty much clear.”
This is certainly consistent with the guy who once described his formations as “four, three, and then we’ll see.” It also bears out what we’ve seen from Allegri so far in preseason, using a 4-3-3 in his first two friendlies before trotting out a 4-4-2 setup Sunday night in Barcelona. I’ve never been a particular fan of formations and tactics fluctuating game to game — I prefer a team with a core identity that can then flex from that when necessary. But even accepting the fact that Allegri might end up jumping around, something has started to stick out as a worry when working through the different permutations in how the lineups might work.
That something has to do with the forwards. I know that’s probably not what you’d be expecting to hear, considering the accumulated talent in that position group and the relative mess that other groups (coughMIDFIELDcough) have been for years. Between Dejan Kulusevski, Federico Chiesa, Alvaro Morata, Federico Bernardeschi and Juan Cuadrado (depending on where Max decides to play them), Kaio Jorge, Paulo Dybala, and, of course, Cristiano Ronaldo, there’s a whole lot of firepower in Juve’s front line. But, in my opinion, it’s also a microcosm of what’s been holding the club back for several years now: there are a lot of talented players, but they don’t necessarily go together.
Regardless of how Allegri lines up, it’s going to be a challenge to deploy his forwards in a manner that gets the best out of them. This isn’t his fault, nor is it the fault of current sporting director Federico Cherubini, who’s only been on the job for a month. This has to do with the incompetence of Fabio Paratici, who put together a group of players that, while very good at what they do, often all do the same thing. Take, for instance, the quartet of Kulusevski, Cuadrado, and the Wings of Fede. All of them are at their best when playing on the right wing. While some of them, Chiesa especially, can play well on the left or even centrally, it’s still not their best place.
That lopsided approach to player recruitment over Paratici’s tenure has led to the potential quandary currently facing Allegri. Any alignment either excludes players you want on the field or shoehorns them into a position that doesn’t get the best out of them.
Take, for example, the 4-3-3 that Allegri opened the first two preseason games with. With a full squad available, the the front three could actually end up pretty wonky. Obviously, Ronaldo would play in his favorite spot on the left wing. Alvaro Morata or Kaio Jorge would play as the No. 9. That leaves the glut of right wingers for the right side — or does it? Because we’re forgetting Dybala in all of this, and if all the reports from the summer that Allegri envisions him as the centerpiece of his project are true, he needs to be on the field. The right wing would be the only place he could play in this scenario, but there are two problems with this:
- It pushes a ton of other players — specifically Chiesa, who has proven that he needs to be on the field — to the bench who are more naturally suited to the position and
- This was already tried three seasons ago during Allegri’s last year of his first tenure, and it didn’t work out. Dybala had his worst season up to that point.
Allegri could maybe add a wrinkle by playing Dybala as a false 9 the way Maurizio Sarri did, to much better effect, but then you have your more natural No. 9s languishing.
Other options that better suit Dybala’s talents similarly defang other players on the roster. Say Allegri were to go with a 4-3-1-2, which could see Dybala join Ronaldo as either a seconda punta or a trequartista, but removes wingers altogether. Kulusevski and Chiesa have played in a strike pair at points in their careers, but it’s not where they’re best, so Allegri would have to make a tactical switch mid-game if he wanted to employ them effectively. This, of course, isn’t impossible, especially in the era of five subs. A 4-2-3-1 perhaps gives the team the best mix in terms of accommodating forwards in their best spots, with Dybala able to play in the hole behind the striker and Ronaldo and Chiesa/Kulusevski/Cuadrado on the right, but it also brings up a lot of other questions in terms of balance in the defensive phase, especially with a sub-par midfield. The same questions were raised about the midfield in Sunday’s 4-4-2, although that at least allowed for some of the glut of wide players to play as wide midfielders.
There are now a little less than two weeks for Allegri to come up with the solution to all this — a solution that, frankly, he failed to come up with in his last season, which saw the team score only 87 goals across all competitions, as opposed to the 99 and 108 of his successor/predecessors. But if Juve are to have more success this year than last, he’s going to have to take this jumble that Paratici left him and make the best out of it.
Hopefully Allegri unlocks it in a way that both produces the best results on the field and prevents younger players from stunting their development in unfamiliar positions. We’ll have to see what it works out to as the season begins.