Over the last 24 months, Juventus have seen more turnover than a pastry shop in Paris.
There’s no need to list all the names, but suffice it to say the outgoing list has included integral pieces of the old guard, globally recognized (if slightly fading) superstars, supremely talented young players whose futures we hoped would go differently, and reliable role players.
There’s little surprise, then, to observe the fact that the club’s new signings are going to be important.
Filip Kostić, Angel Di Maria, and Gleison Bremer are all good players — interestingly, at three completely different stages of their career. Di Maria is a proven commodity, and even at this age in a few friendlies he has shown how lethal he remains. Kostić, really in the prime of his career coming off his best season, is a crossing maven who should give the club a sorely needed weapon on the left flank. Bremer, especially as a center back, is probably still a couple seasons away from what could be described as his “peak” — a fact that should strike fear into opponents, given the fact that most would say he was superior to Matthijs de Ligt last year in Serie A.
But “important” isn’t just an understatement when describing these players. The effectiveness of this trio will determine whether Old Lady ho-hums her way to another disappointing season — not winning a Scudetto, bouncing out of the Champions League before the quarterfinals, not hoisting the Coppa Italia — or else exceeds the expectations of fans and pundits alike and gets back to domestic supremacy and legitimate Champions League contender status.
If you stack-ranked the club’s players in terms of pure talent, among these three arguably only Di Maria would crack the top five. But talent, of course, can bely criticality. Here’s how each player could transform the team’s play.
Kostić: Pepper the box with crosses, defend adequately
I honestly can’t remember the last time the club had a player consistently sling good crosses into the box. Was it literally Stephan Lichtsteiner? It might have been. I suppose you could make the case for Cuadrado, but he is also fairly erratic with his crossing, doling out his damage in other ways.
This is where I think the Serbian will do the most damage. I have extreme reservations whether he can act as a left back in a four-man backline; I’m not sure Max Allegri would even try that out.
Perhaps the possible loan of Luca Pellegrini means that Allegri is really considering a three-man backline. Kostić as a left wingback with most of his concerns facing toward the opposition does feel like a better fit. No matter how you spin it, though, whether it’s Kostić or Alex Sandro, there’s probably still going to be some sort of deficiency on the left side. With Kostić you lack a true defender — with Sandro, an attacking threat.
But where Kostić will certainly excel is providing more chances from the left, and that in itself will be a huge sigh of relief, certainly for his countryman wearing the No. 9. If he can find a way to convince Allegri that he’s a capable or, knock on wood, more-than-capable defender, things look a lot rosier a lot faster.
Key for this player: Being at least an average defender
Di Maria: Bring the sauce
There is no small amount of consternation when folks around these parts discuss or digest Allegri’s attacking system. There is no system! That’s the thing. This is not the same as many of the top clubs in Europe, whose coaches schematize possession down to the last pass and movement inside the box. Allegri seems to provide some general guidance and movements for his players while essentially allowing them free rein.
In case you didn’t know, during the last campaign this approach failed somewhat spectacularly. The Bianconeri tallied 57 goals in Serie A; 12th-place Udinese bagged 61. Insert face-palm emoji. There’s a whole argument that can be made about why exactly that failed, and how much of the fault ought to fall on Allegri himself, but at this point it doesn’t matter: there has to be improvement.
Juve bid farewell to one of its best creators in Paulo Dybala, but it brought in a more lethal player in Di Maria. The newer/older Argentine is going to be absolutely critical when it comes to chance creation, especially in primetime games.
At 34 years old, Di Maria is no spring chicken, and he’ll almost certainly be in a situation where he’s not asked to play big minutes week in and week out, especially when the Champions League arrives. But as good as Dybala is at his best, and as much as I love Paulito, and even considering Di Maria’s age, I think this is an improvement for this campaign. Di Maria is an expert on the ball, a magician, who spends a heck of a lot more time than Dybala did running straight at defenders.
Di Maria can cook (on the pitch, not on the grill like Joaquin Correa); let him cook.
El Fideo has played 25 or more league games over the last eight seasons; that should provide us with some solace (insert joke about J-Medical). I think the most important thing for club and player will be to keep Di Maria fresh for the critical fixtures.
Key for this player: stay fresh
Bremer: ‘Courage is grace under pressure’
I honestly don’t envy the amount of pressure that Bremer faces this year.
With the departure of Giorgio Chiellini, the Brazilian starlet is essentially never going to be in a position in which he is not the absolute pillar of the back line. Even de Ligt had the fortune of Il Capitano’s presence, despite Giorgio’s erratic minutes due to injury. Bremer, of course, does have three full playing seasons of domestic Italian play under his belt, and that will certainly aid his cause.
But still, here’s what he has for brothers-in-arms: Chiellini-less Leonardo Bonucci, Daniele “the Wall” Rugani, Federico Gatti and his exactly zero minutes of top-flight experience, and Danilo, who’s not even a center back.
We know that even if Good Bonucci decides to show up more often than not this year, that man is not the impenetrable wall that Chiellini was. He’s still going to do the weird butt-stickout move; he’s still going to be out-paced. Good Bonucci will most certainly take the pressure off Bremer in terms of first point of distribution and, hopefully, being a generally good leader and vocal organizer on the backline, but Bremer is still going to be faced with copious amounts of difficult situations.
And if Bad Bonucci shows up? The pressure’s on all the more.
Whether Bremer plays in a three- or four-man backline, whether there’s Alex Sandro or Mattia De Sciglio or Kostić or Danilo or Cuadrado, whether Good or Bad Bonucci, whatever the combination is, Bremer will be asked to do a lot. The weight riding on this young man’s shoulders is immense, which is good because his shoulders are ridiculously jacked.
Key for this player: Composure, especially after mistakes and bad games
Conclusions: New routes to attack
Even with Paul Pogba out of the picture — and, frankly, my baseline right now is that any Pogba this year is going to be a bonus — I believe Juve have significantly increased its avenues to providing Dušan Vlahović with service. Kostić will swing more high-quality crosses into the box than any Juventus player in recent memory. Di Maria is going to attack defenders 1-on-1, beat them a fair amount of the time, and wield the vision and technical ability to get DV9 the ball in dangerous spots.
If Pogba ever does play minutes this season, the level of creativity on this team is going to be astronomically different than last year. Imagine a lineup with Leandro Paredes as regista, flanked by Manuel Locatelli and Pogba, with Di Maria and Vlahović in attack, and a back three of Bremer, Bonucci, and Danilo, with Kostić and Cuadrado as wingbacks. I imagine Federico Chiesa is going to make a furious return at some point, too, and if the suits somehow replace Moise Kean with a player like Memphis Depay, then the combinations seem pretty damn scary.
I do worry about the number of goals this team might concede. I think Bremer is about as stellar as an addition as you could’ve found to replace de Ligt, but Bonucci at this stage is far from perfect, Rugani is Rugani, and Gatti is a completely unknown commodity. The left back situation is a gigantic question mark, and right back isn’t far behind it. A balanced roster was always going to require at least a couple more transfer windows to achieve, but that does little to quell the fears of a well-oiled attacking machine facing this Juventus defense. Or even, who am I kidding, Sassuolo.
And that’s kind of what I mean with these three players: if all three meet expectations in a satisfactory manner, things should go at least better than last season. But if one or more of them can find a way to be more than what we ever could’ve dreamed, this team’s ceiling gets a hell of a lot higher.