Through four games in the 2022-23 Serie A campaign, Massimiliano Allegri’s Juventus have looked nothing if not erratic.
A promising start against Sassuolo, punctuated by a Dušan Vlahović brace and a debut goal from Angel Di Maria, followed by an absolutely dismal draw against a depleted, limp Sampdoria side — itself followed up by the best half of the season in the first 45 minutes of Roma, itself followed by a giveaway half ... you get the picture.
Up and down, up and down. Through all those ups and downs, though, I feel like I’ve started to see a constant. And it’s not a good one. It’s something that has lingered with this club for the last few campaigns, both in Europe and domestically. It’s something that has been accentuated by the exit of the old guard, by the void of leadership left with the departures of Giorgio Chiellini and Gianluigi Buffon. And it’s something that must be overcome if the Old Lady is to consistently occupy the top spot in Italy and the upper echelons of Europe.
The consistent element of an inconsistent run from Juventus is that this team plays to the exact level of its competition.
The question is how to resolve that fact, and, unfortunately, the possible answers are all too familiar.
1. Find consistency in the midfield
Despite the changing of the center back guard, despite the absolute train wreck that is the fullback unit, despite the club churning through more attackers the last few years than seems possible, despite the efforts and attempts of several managers, the main problem at Juventus continues to be the midfield. We’ve seen this movie a million billion times, and we saw it again against Spezia for large stretches of the game.
There are, however, three points which should give us hope that improvement is somewhat imminent.
First, teenager Fabio Miretti has been nothing short of a revelation. The fact that Allegri didn’t immediately pull Miretti when he started to struggle against Spezia was hugely encouraging from my perspective — all the more so because Miretti finished the game in dazzling fashion, notching his first assist of the campaign to boot.
Second, Paul Pogba is going to return at some point. Maybe he gets injured again, but any return and any minutes from the Frenchman could bring some seriously positive voodoo to the unit (too soon?).
Third, Leandro Paredes has arrived. Once the Argentine is settled, Allegri will probably slot him into the regista spot and be afforded some creativity in midfield combinations. Here’s to hoping that actually unlocks Manuel Locatelli.
Fourth, one would hope that, as time on the pitch passes, this unit will gain some cohesion. There are a lot of new faces, and some old faces in new roles, and it’ll be up to the fellas and Mister to figure out what’s what.
Here’s the final list: Pogba, Locatelli, Paredes, Miretti, Adrien Rabiot, Weston McKennie, and Nicolo Fagilio. That’s seven dudes! If everyone is healthy, there’s no doubt it’s a better unit than last year. A little healthy competition won’t hurt the proceedings, either.
2. Obtain some semblance of health
There is probably not going to be a time over this entire year, like I pointed out last time, in which Juventus doesn’t field one or two players who are probably not as good as we’d like. That’s just the way the roster is right now. Equally, there is probably not going to be a time over this entire year in which Juventus is not missing someone we’d describe as a “key player” because of injury.
Folks will blame Allegri’s training methods (weird how much specific information you have) or J-Medical (illegally placed security cameras?), but the reality is Juventus play almost every three days up until the World Cup not counting a couple international breaks. That’s a hell of a lot of games, and players are going to get injured.
From my book, the goal wouldn’t be to reach “total and perfect” health, which seems essentially impossible, but instead to avoid — mostly with some luck we very much deserve — season-long injuries, and for Allegri to intelligently juggle minutes in such a way that distributes the load as fairly as possible. I don’t think we should rush anyone back no matter where we are in the table, and I am of the opinion that if we can hang on within 10 or so points through the first half of the season that we could be hitting full stride in terms of health and form once January arrives.
3. The boss needs to take ownership and responsibility
Juventus have finally wrapped up its summer transfer market — which, lest we forget, essentially begin in January with the Vlahović deal — and Mad Max has a regista. Paredes might not be the midfield revolution that, say, an SMS-Paul Pogba partnership could’ve been, but he’s the type of player Allegri has (allegedly) been asking for.
So, Mister, here’s my ask: stop making excuses.
There are teams that are better and more cohesive in Europe, rosters that are more talented top to bottom, but Juventus have enough talent, especially when we reach a degree of health, to not be making excuses for pathetic performances against clubs like Sampdoria. It starts with Allegri; for one single time in my life after a bad game, I just want to hear him say: “This one’s on me, I need to get this ship pointed in the right direction.”
Lastly, this team needs leaders to step up. I think Danilo has done a fine job in this regard; he’s got a calming presence in his style of play and his demeanor that benefits the team greatly. But we need someone to step into that Chiellini absence, to be the roaring lion, the pitbull, the guy who mean-mugs the opponent.
Of course, finding great form doesn’t mean that Juventus will or should win every game against every side, no matter where the opposition lands in the table. I think what we as fans generally want to see is a passionate, hard-working team that achieves a modicum of consistency. There will be losses and bad breaks of luck, but it’s time to start winning consistently.
The optimist in me at least sees that this year’s start is markedly better than last year, despite the fact that 1) some of the club’s best players have hardly touched the pitch, and 2) the turnover was quite high, especially on the back line. I’m happy with the transfer market, with the materialization that’s starting to take place. As I’ve said many times, this is a multi-year rebuild, as much as we don’t want to think that. The ingredients are here to improve and break out of this habit of playing down to the competition.
We’re two points behind the top of Serie A, and Champions League football is around the corner. It’s not all doom and gloom, amigos.