Change is in the air.
Juventus has had one of its most positive starts to the season in years and there is a greater sense of optimism about the club. Not necessarily because of the results on the pitch, but more so because it seems like Max Allegri has finally given in and decided to try and play a more positive, proactive, and, most importantly, modern style of football rather than the “bare minimum” style that we’re used to.
But change doesn’t happen overnight, so it remains to be seen if this is a long-term change or if we’ll go back to our (bad) old habits when things get tough.
No more “corto muso”?
We started the month with a return to a stadium that carries some pretty bad memories from last season. Thankfully, this match against Empoli was a lot less embarrassing as Juventus were comfortable 2-0 winners thanks to goals from Danilo halfway the first half and the in-form Federico Chiesa in the 84th minute. It was a game that showed Juve’s continued improvement this season as the team played with a clear intent to score rather than sit back. It could have been more as Moise Kean and Arek Milik both hit the woodwork late in the game.
The Bianconeri then welcomed Lazio to the Allianz Stadium for its first big test of the season. And the team passed with flying colors. Even though they had significantly less possession than the visitors, Juventus were remarkably effective with it. Every time the team (counter-)attacked, they genuinely looked like scoring. As I said earlier, it was a remarkable difference compared to last season’s reluctantly-attacking style of play.
Dusan Vlahovic scored his third goal of the season early in the game after a nice passing move and clever cross from Manuel Locatelli. Chiesa then scored his third of the season just 15 minutes later with a spinning left-footed shot after another well-worked attack.
Lazio were much improved after half time and scored a goal to make the game exciting again. Andrea Cambiaso’s error gave Luis Alberto the chance to curl a beautiful shot past Wojciech Szczesny in goal. But as further proof of the renewed energy that Juve has been playing with so far this season, the Bianconeri hit back immediately to restore the two-goal lead. Vlahovic scored one of the goals of the season after chesting down Weston McKennie’s long pass while pressured by two defenders, taking a few touches, and blasting a fantastic shot past Ivan Provedel in goal. It turned out to be the game’s last (and probably best) goal as Juventus convincingly beat Lazio 3-1.
Then came “The Trap Game” that we all feared: the away fixture against Sassuolo. Always a difficult one, this time was no different as Juventus slumped to a 4-2 defeat. Even more remarkably, every goal the team conceded came from an error from a Juventus player: Szczesny was at fault for the first, third, and arguably the fourth goal, while Federico Gatti misplaced a pass to cause the second goal and scored that infamous own goal late in the game. Matías Viña scored an own goal for the 1-1 and Chiesa, Juve’s best player by a mile, scored the 2-2 late in the game, but it wasn’t enough as goals from Armand Laurienté, Domenico Berardi, Andrea Pinamonti, and that Gatti own goal gave Sassuolo a 4-2 victory.
Lecce, one of the surprise packages of the season so far, visited the Allianz Stadium in the final game of September as Allegri’s men looked to bounce back from the Sassuolo loss. It was certainly the least entertaining game of the month (and season so far) as Juventus struggled to create dangerous chances, while the visitors had a mere two shots total the entire game. Milik scored the game’s only goal just before the hour mark to secure the team’s 1-0 victory.
Juventus Women played only three games in September in a month that mostly featured Nations League football. First, the team beat FK Okzhetpes Kokshetau of Kazakhstan 6-0 during a the first game of the Champions League qualifying mini-tournament. Cristiana Girelli (2x), Martina Lenzini, Arianna Caruso, Sofia Cantore, and Ella Palis scored the goals to secure an easy victory.
Life wasn’t so easy just three days later when Juventus faced Eintracht Frankfurt in another Champions League qualifier. Cantore put Joe Montemurro’s team in the lead a few minutes after half time, but Lara Prasnikar equalized roughly 15 minutes later. The score remained level all the way through extra-time, which meant that a penalty shootout had to decide the winner.
Unfortunately, Estelle Cascarino, Lineth Beerensteyn, and Paulina Nystrom missed the crucial penalties as the team lost 5-4 in the shootout and, as a result, missed out on participating in the group stage of this year’s Champions League. A huge, huge blow to the team’s long-term progress and seasonal aspirations.
The last game of the month saw the team travel to Naples to face Pomigliano for the first game of the new Serie A Femminile season. It was a thrilling game that didn’t go as expected but thankfully ended in a 3-2 victory for Juventus. Violah Nambi gave the hosts a shock lead but Amanda Nilden and Julia Grosso hit back with two goals in as many minutes to put the Bianconere in the lead. Ana Martínez capped off a thrilling first half with the equalizer for Pomigliano, but Juventus had the last laugh as Girelli scored the winner in the 68th minute. A tough start to the season both domestically and internationally; a long season awaits us.
An unlikely pairing
Great striker partnerships come in many different forms and combinations.
We’ve seen partnerships with two great center forwards, e.g. Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke; Alessandro Del Piero and David Trezeguet; Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton, and others. We’ve also seen great center forwards work brilliantly with talented central attacking midfielders — Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres; Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba; Wesley Sneijder and Diego Milito.
We’ve even seen cases of wingers and center forwards working together to great effect — Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr; Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min; Pele and Garrincha, etc.
When it became clear that Chiesa and Vlahovic were going to be the first choice partnership in attack, I was quite skeptical. Most of us believe/know that Chiesa’s best position is on the wing, ideally in a 4-3-3. That said, he frequently played centrally for Fiorentina, so he can do a job there. Meanwhile, Vlahovic just came off a difficult first full season for Juventus in which he struggled to adapt to Allegri’s negative style of play. Putting those two together seemed like trying to force a relationship between two high school friends that you know have different romantic tastes.
But so far, their unusual central winger-center forward partnership has shown signs of promise. While one of them (Vlahovic) has assisted the other just once so far, they both have scored four goals so far. Most importantly, they actually look comfortable playing together and for the first time in a while our forwards are scoring most of the team’s goals.
The success of this partnership will tell us whether Juve’s/Allegri’s transition into more modern, positive football has been successful. So while Chiesa and Vlahovic have some time to go before reaching the heights of some of the partnerships mentioned earlier, there’s a lot of pressure on their shoulders to make sure that they get close to such illustrious heights.
Battle for the Wings
The second biggest surprise of the season so far, after the aforementioned Vlahovic-Chiesa partnership, has been the battles at the wingback positions.
On the right side, we have the two Americans, Timothy Weah and Weston McKennie
and the fight for freedom, greatness, and democracy. This is a particularly surprising one for multiple reasons. First, nobody even expected McKennie to still be at the club. Second, Weah impressed during preseason and was the (deserved) starter for Juve’s season opener, which made it seemed like that position was his for some time to come.
Third, McKennie is, as we all know, a central midfielder, so he has surprised us by both still being at the club and playing so well in a position that’s completely foreign to him. Lastly, and perhaps most surprisingly, McKennie seems to be winning this battle, for now.
Elsewhere, in a galaxy not for away, the new kid on the block, Cambiaso, is competing for the left wingback position with one of last season’s MVPs Filip Kostic. Cambiaso started with a bang after his stellar performance against Udinese on Matchday 1, but has been quite average ever since. Meanwhile, as we all know, Kostic has really only one quality that sets him apart from everyone else, and that’s his stellar crossing, so when that doesn’t go well then he also looks mediocre. One could even speculate that he has been the primary loser of the team’s new style of play that is based more on short passing than Route One football and crossing.
At the moment, the situation on the wings isn’t necessarily bad but, as I argued in a recent podcast episode, due to the lack of attacking output from our wingbacks there is too much of a burden on Chiesa to carry the team’s creativity in attack. We’re going to need them to carry (or fly?) their weight if we want our attack to be successful.