Nearly 30 seconds past the minimum six minutes of added time in the first leg against Sevilla in the Europa League semifinals, the young Federico Gatti ambled into the penalty area for Juventus’ last chance at an equalizer. When Paul Pogba managed to redirect a header from Danilo back to the center of the box, the Italian center back rumbled his way toward goal, pushing aside teammate Arkadiusz Milik in the process, leaped into the air, and gave the Old Lady life.
Gatti’s story is already legendary; his arrival is now palpable. The same might be officially said for Fabio Miretti and Nicolò Fagioli, and perhaps to a lesser extent Samuel Iling-Junior. At the other end of the spectrum, the careers of Alex Sandro, Juan Cuadrado, Leonardo Bonucci, Mattia De Sciglio, and, unfortunately even Paul Pogba, all might be in the last vestiges of twilight.
As exciting as the well-timed arrival of Gatti and co. is, this doesn’t nullify the fact that, once again, Juventus are in a serious state of transition. If the Bianconeri want to return to the pinnacle, they need to make the right choices in the transfer market. That feat is complicated enough under normal circumstances; sprinkle in the fact that the club is not in an ideal financial situation (to say the least), doesn’t currently have a sporting director, and is facing a litany of off-field drama that will likely extend past the summer months, and you’ve got a bit of a tricky transfer pickle.
Even so, the club must move forward. In my estimation, these are the three areas that need the most help.
A good fullback is hard to find
Juventus have had the fortune for the last decade-plus of very good to truly great defenders. From BBC in the center to the long tenure of Stephan Lichtsteiner, the brief impact of Dani Alves, and the great early years of Alex Sandro as a true fullback, I admit to taking that unit for granted. Unlike the center back unit, which did have multiple seasons as arguably the best positional unit on the planet, the fullbacks never achieved that kind of greatness, but they were reliably reliable.
Now ... not so much, and all you need to realize is this fact: the team’s best fullback, Danilo, is arguably the team’s center back. Mattia De Sciglio, hurt again, is painfully past his prime, as is Alex Sandro, who has had a few good performances as a center back but who still demonstrates a decline that suggests the end of his career in Turin might be over very soon.
Juan Cuadrado is probably a year behind Alex Sandro, but the signs are there. And as great of an addition as Filip Kostić has been, the Serbian is definitively not a fullback. Max Allegri’s solution (of sorts) has been to go to a three-man back line, but it’s not always a satisfactory solution. Of the three areas I’m suggesting the club needs to address first, this is the one that worries me the most, probably because the earth just seems to be lacking in good players at this position.
We’re still doing this midfield thing, huh?
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Juventus’ midfield needs help. In yet another year when the club was theoretically going to make some progress in the midfield, I’m not sure what progress there really is at the end of the day outside of Fagioli and Miretti proving themselves reliable contributors (to say nothing of higher potential).
Manual Locatelli has a great performance every now and then but isn’t as consistent as the best in the world. Adrien Rabiot has been good but will either be walking out the door for a very large salary or collecting an inflated salary from Juventus. Leandro Paredes has only recently shown any value, and all signs indicate he won’t be retained. And Pogba, here to theoretically fill the creative void for so long, can’t stay on the field.
Outside of the minor blips of good things from the kids and Locatelli, this unit is just as incomplete as it has been for a long while.
The next wave of creators
Letting Paulo Dybala go to Roma meant losing one of the club’s truest creative forces. The reload approach was, apparently, Pogba, whose injuries look honestly career-threatening at this point, and Angel Di Maria, who has done a fine job this year but who probably has one additional year at best at the club.
Federico Chiesa is a force, of course, but he too has dealt with injuries, and he’s rarely played in the position for which he’s best suited. As far as the future goes, there’s almost nobody on this squad outside of Chiesa who is a proven creative commodity. That is a huge, huge problem and, like the midfield although not as bad by degree, one that has been around for a few seasons now.
Composing a deep, competitive, and balanced roster is not an easy thing to do. Even a blank checkbook, which one would think would help, doesn’t necessarily do much; just ask Chelsea. The best teams in the world at doing this consistently are probably Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, and very recently Manchester City. None of those clubs is facing what Juventus face right now.
The elephant in the room, of course, is how the hell the club is going to get a sustainable roster retool accomplished if the team doesn’t even make the Champions League next year — i.e. if Juventus don’t win the Europa League and another points penalty knocks them out of the front door. I have no idea how to answer that question, but finding a sporting director with a mix of pragmatism and an eye for overlooked talent is probably a good place to start.
As much grief as Allegri gets, every time I think about and look at the list of players on this team, spend some time digesting unit by unit, I wonder if we aren’t a little too hard on him. Certainly there’s talent here, and certainly losing to a team like Monza two times seems a bit ridiculous, but Juventus are, after all, in second place, and that roster in Naples is clearly constructed much, much better.