With the resignation of Juventus’ president and the entire board, a pending investigation into the club’s fun financial shenanigans, and, oh yes, the World Cup in Qatar, the strange break in the middle of the season was very strange and certainly not uneventful for the club and its players. A few Bianconeri (current and former) added trophies to their cabinet, and a few others got to stay home in Bel paese enjoying a few days of extra rest.
After all that business, though, life on the pitch must and will go on.
Juventus are less than two weeks away from the recommencement of Serie A, with a couple friendlies to aid in the warmup process. The stakes could not be higher; with the financial state of the club and the pending investigations, the recomposition of the board and team’s direction, one could argue that this is the most important half-season of football Juventus have faced in 15-plus years.
Without significant, consistent contributions from these five players, things could go from unnervingly precarious to “Rock Bottom, Episode VII” very quickly!
Five: Angel Di Maria
All signs point to Angel Di Maria playing a few more months in Turin before turning the page on his (very, very) brief chapter with the Old Lady, but as we saw in the World Cup final, the Noodle Man can still be a devastating force on the attacking side, with a dazzling skill set that perhaps only Freddy Church can claim to rival on this roster.
He may not play every single game, especially as Max Allegri tries to reintegrate a couple returning attackers to the fold, but off the bench and against the top teams in Italy, he can be the difference between zero points and three. Let’s hope he’s happy after a fairly successful World Cup for his country, and that any restraint he may have been playing with before that trophy can be pushed to the side. Let’s rock, Angel.
Danilo should be captain! That’s how I feel. I know Leonardo Bonucci will have the armband whenever he’s in the lineup, and that a couple other guys have the longer tenure card to play over Danilo, but damn if this fine Brazilian man is not arguably the most important glob of glue on the team right now.
We know, of course, what Danilo brings to the pitch. He can play either fullback position or as a center back with ease and grace; he’s especially, I think, a great compliment to Bremer, as the two compatriots have such complementary traits. In a pinch, he can play in the midfield. And maybe we should try him as a striker once or twice just to see.
But it’s the leadership, passion, and calmness outside of his play that make Danilo so important for this club in this particular moment. There are going to be plenty of distractions, there’ll be plenty of noise the rest of the way, and we’ll need this man to help keep the lads focused on what they can control.
Three: Adrien Rabiot
Hear me out: Juventus are the best-possible situation imaginable with our favorite blasé Frenchman. As fantastic as Rabiot has been for most of this campaign, I’m not sure there’s a Juventino out there who thinks he’s actually worth what he and his dear mum are allegedly asking for; this, in other words, is a classic contract-year situation.
One of two things is going to happen with Rabiot. Door No. 1 is that someone like Manchester United will get antsy and make a juicy offer in January, which the club can accept and make a little cash on. Door No. 2 is that Juventus don’t sell Rabiot this winter, and he plays his croissants off for a good contract the rest of the way. It’s a win-win in my books, as it might be the only way to get him consistently playing well.
Two: Federico Chiesa
I am not a future-predictor, nor do I gamble, nor do I hand out vapid promises left and right, but I will make this prophecy: Federico Chiesa is going to come out of the gates with a vengeance, and he’s going to have a very good rest of the campaign. He’s going to score goals, log assists, break ankles, and bring the sort of Tasmanian Devil energy that we need right now.
One: Manuel Locatelli
Stop if you’ve heard me say this before, but the midfield unit at Juventus is not the most solid thing on the planet. Even with the feel-good stories of Fabio Miretti and Nicolò Fagioli, there are way more questions than answers. Is Weston McKennie officially on the market? Does Rabiot have one foot (and a handful of his wavy locks) out the door? Is Leandro Paredes going straight back to Paris this summer (and can he take me with him)?
Manuel Locatelli is one of the very few assurances we have in the midfield; the suave Italian No. 5 is surely here to stay for some time. Leading up to the World Cup break, Locatelli was a married man on fire. For Juventus to continue to win, for Juventus to continue to push for a top-four slot, Locatelli will need to be at that level the rest of the way. It’s asking a hell of a lot.
One conspicuous name left off the list, of course, is another French midfielder. Outside of a few minutes against Chivas over the summer in Las Vegas, we have yet to see Pogba don the Juventus kit, and it seems like we’re at least — at least! — a month away from that even being a remote possibility. If Pogba returns with a good number of games left, he of course can be a player whose efforts help the club’s performance. But I am not counting on anything, and you shouldn’t either.
Bring on the New Year, with all the fraught drama surely to come.