Think about this for a second or two: You’re Juventus Women manager Joe Montemurro and your team that you’ve clearly upgraded over the summer for the purpose of competing on multiple fronts — and especially so in Europe — sees one of its biggest goals of the 2023-24 season go up in smoke even before there’s 10 days gone in September.
That’s what happened to Juve when they were knocked out of the Women’s Champions League qualification rounds all of two games after the Bianconere got started. The draw was not kind and getting somebody like Eintracht Frankfurt that early on was tough, sure, but the goal had always get to the group stage like you had the previous two seasons and then try to get to the knockout rounds like you did two years ago.
That didn’t happen, and the frustration (and massive amounts of disappointment) was clearly there from the manager, the team and the supporters alike.
While you can understand why some of that disappointment still lingers 2 1⁄2 months after the fact knowing full well how talented this roster is, but they had no choice but to try and move on. There was a league season about to begin and a Scudetto to try and get back after Roma’s impressive run to their first-ever title a year ago.
Through the first five games of the 2023-24 campaign, the two teams that everybody expected to be at the top of the standings are doing just that. Five games played, 15 points earned for Juventus and Roma — who just so happen to play this Sunday afternoon at the Bianconere’s new home, the Pozzo-La Marmora stadium in Biella.
Juve were the only domestic team to beat Roma a season ago — and that’s something they four out of the whopping six times the two rivals met, with the new-look Phase 2 of the Serie A Femminile schedule adding a pair of meetings on top of the two cup finals they played against each other.
So even with no European football beyond the two qualifying mini-tournament games, all eyes are now on the domestic season to try and salvage something. It’s gone pretty well so far, and this weekend’s showdown with Roma is very much the big-time fixture that has been circled on the calendar for weeks as well as the chance to get an early upper-hand on the defending champs.
What’s gone into Juve’s strong start? Here are a few things that jump off the page ...
1) Lineth Beerensteyn is playing like the best player in Serie A
In about 16 months, Beerensteyn has proven to be one of the best signings that the Bianconere’s front office has made in their near-decade of existence. She has been just about as good as you could have hoped when she arrived from Bayern Munich two summers ago — and it
Also: Beerensteyn only seems to be getting better.
She finished with 11 goals in 21 league appearances during her first season in Turin. Through this season’s first five games, she’s already recorded five goals and is totally out-pacing what her xG of 1.9 is over that same timespan. And as she did last season, her goals aren’t just fueling an attack that is only second to Roma’s red-hot start to begin the new campaign, but those goals are proving to be hugely important as well.
So, we ask: Is Beerensteyn the best player in the league at the moment?
She leads the league in goals. She’s played nearly every minute of every league game so far this season. She’s also leading an attack that already has one of the best goal scorers in the league who has also started the new season in strong fashion.
Beerensteyn has great this season — no doubt about it. And if you don’t think she’s been the best of the best in Serie A Femminile so far this year, I’d love to hear the argument as to who beats her out because it’s most definitely not going to be a very long list.
2) Cristiana Girelli is back to scoring goals again ... again
The 2022-23 campaign was a bounceback season for Girelli, who found the back of the net 15 times after a seven-goal showing the year before in what was easily the lowest total of her Juventus career.
Despite the strong showing a season ago, it didn’t equate into consistent playing time at the Women’s World Cup in New Zealand. Girelli scored one of Italy’s most important goals of the group stage, but that didn’t result in much outside of some good vibes in the moment for the Azzurre.
Girelli, the only Juventus Women player to score over 100 goals in the club’s history, has started the 2023-24 season in strong fashion again. As much as Beerensteyn has gotten the deserved headlines for leading the league in goals, go ahead and guess who’s right behind her? Yep, it’s Girelli, who scored the game-winner from the penalty spot in Juve’s 2-1 win over Fiorentina two weeks ago ahead of the international break.
3) The new formation is starting to pay off
If anything, Montemurro has shown plenty of willingness to adapt his main formation for the personnel that he has on his roster each season. And with a roster that was constructed with the Women’s Champions League in mind — more depth, more creativity and more versatility — using a different tactical setup, in hindsight, seemed like it was always something that Montemurro had visions of come the new campaign.
Out has gone the 4-3-3 or occasional use of a three-woman backline. In has come a 4-2-3-1 that is still a work in progress but clearly allows Montemurro to get his best players on the field while not sacrificing too much when it comes to defensive stability.
A key reason for the change was the arrival of French playmaker Maëlle Garbino, who has taken well to the No. 10 role that Juve are suddenly using. One of the two summer arrivals from Bordeaux, Garbino already has two goals and a pair of assists to her name in league play, earning the praise of Girelli for her “incredible technique” after the home-opening win over Sampdoria.
The double pivot has, for the most part, seen Julia Grosso and Arianna Caruso start alongside each other and handle things fairly well — which is no surprise considering the quality of those two midfielders. And as we’ve come to know during their respective tenures with Juventus Women, Grosso and Caruso are certainly capable of both connecting the lines as well as getting involved in the attacking phase, with both players scoring a goal this season.
All in all, the change to a more attacking formation has been positive. It’s not the finished product because nothing is likely going to be that way through five league games, but there are signs there to be optimistic about what’s to come as long as everybody stays healthy.
4) The recent defensive solidarity will have to stay if they want to challenge Roma
Ever since the 3-2 season-opening win to a Pomigliano side that has gone on to score three goals in its next four games, things have gotten better for Juve at the back. They’ve allowed just two goals in their next four league fixtures — which is even the more impressive when you consider they’ve been integrating in a very important new piece as well as dealing with plenty of injuries in defense.
Estelle Cascarino (pictured below) was the summer signing that many supporters were crying out for the last couple of years as they’ve seen Juve’s other center backs both get older and deal with more injury troubles. In a perfect world, the 26-year-old Cascarino will be the long-term fixture in the center of defense alongside either Sara Gama, Cecilia Salvai or Martina Lenzini. The thing is, though, all three of Gama, Salvai and Lenzini — who were part of Italy’s Women’s World Cup squad this past summer — have dealt with injuries early this season, meaning Cascarino’s first two months in Turin have been filled with a revolving door of sorts.
Lisa Boattin, the league MVP from two seasons ago, has missed time, too, which has made things even a little more interesting at the back when you consider just how important she is on both ends of the field down the left wing.
But here’s the thing: Despite all of that, Juve’s defense has played well. They are either right behind or slightly ahead of Roma in a good number of defensive categories — which, considering how Montemurro has had to juggle the lineup at the back through the first five games, is a pretty good place to be defensively.
Now, with pretty much all of those players who missed time due to injury in the first two months now back in the fold, things will hopefully be a little more consistent in terms of who Montemurro is able to play.
The biggest test of the season comes this weekend against a Roma squad that is seemingly scoring for fun to begin the season. They’ve scored 19 goals through their first five league games. They’ve scored at least four goals on five different occasions in all competitions. (Or, better yet, they’ve failed to score at least four goals in just two of their first seven games in all competitions.) They’re firing on all cylinders to the point where even their central defenders like Elena Linari is scoring bangers.
If Juve can hold their own against the highest-scoring team in the league, it will go a pretty long way in showing that the defensive struggles of last season are very much a thing in the past. It’s that same defensive effectiveness that allowed Juve to be the top team for so long during their half-decade of domestic dominance, and it will be the thing that gets them back to the top of the standings.
5) Montemurro and Co. have to win silverware without any European competition
Pretty easy to figure out after everything that was said at the top of this whole thing, right?
The crashing out of the Women’s Champions League when they did was brutal and very much something that suddenly derailed a project that very much needs consistent European football to both continue the trajectory under Montemurro’s guidance as well as ne the thing that makes signing with the club an appealing thing for potential new players.
What could also help? Winning the Scudetto. Or at least some sort of silverware.
Much like under Rita Guarino, Juve’s win at least one trophy in the two seasons that Montemurro has been manager. Now in Year 3, Roma looks as strong as they ever have been and are also doing what Juve wish they were doing right now — preparing for the start of the UWCL group stage later this month.
Is simply winning the Coppa Italia for a second consecutive season something you would consider a successful campaign? Maybe, but considering how the season began with so much disappointment at the European level, winning the Scudetto is now the priority more than it already was. Roma will be quite the challenge — especially Juve will play them at least four times in league play alone between Phase 1 and 2 — and are looking so good right now, so ensuring that the head-to-head matchups are what determines the Serie A Femminile title will be crucial over these next few months.