The season is here.
Despite the fact that the two remaining weeks of the transfer window could and probably will mean a tasty dose of roster chaos — Is Leonardo Bonucci moving to Germany? Does Harry Kane’s move to Munich mean a North London venture for Dušan Vlahović? Is Filip Kostić suddenly for sale? — the actual Serie A war is about to begin.
Juventus open the season against three decidedly mid-table sides, a golden opportunity to earn points and give the team confidence as they fight for, at minimum, a spot to reenter the Champions League the following year and, dare we hope, the Scudetto.
There’s no way of knowing what unheralded or under-appreciated or overlooked player might break out and contribute more than we currently anticipate, but we can forecast right now who seem to be the most important players for this critical year. Here are, in my humblest opinion, the three most important players to Juventus’ quest in regaining domestic prominence.
Bremer: thou shall not pass
Even if the aforementioned Bonucci remains on the Juventus roster, the dying days of BBC in Bianconeri colors are, officially, dead. The Brazilian trio that saw a lot of time together last year is once again touted as the solution this year, with Alex Sandro rejecting offers from Saudi Arabia and Juventus having no left-footed center back, so I imagine the back three — if the 3-5-2 that we assume is what Juventus will play is indeed what Juventus will play, which is probably not a very safe assumption knowing Max Allegri! — will be a lot of Danilo, Bremer, and Sandro ... or else Federico Gatti, Bremer, and Danilo. We know what we’re going to get from Danilo in both ethos and pitch performance, but Bremer, who did have some inconsistencies last year adapting to a new team, is going to be crucial.
We know the big lad has all the tools. He’s fast, strong, and pretty good in the air. He’ll track down a streaking striker like a lion chasing down its prey. But if Juventus want teeth again they need the lion version of Bremer night in, night out.
The defensive record was not bad last year — only Lazio and Napoli conceded fewer than the Old Lady — but I believe the center backs will be under even greater stress as Timothy Weah and Andrea Cambiaso take on larger roles. For all his faults, especially in these twilight years of his career, Juan Cuadrado was a great communicator and, outside of the occasional “oopsy daisy” moment, a fairly reliable defender who had practiced that position for a few years at that point. Kostić works his butt off but is simply not a first-rate defender, either.
Bremer has a lot on his shoulders this year; good thing he has very strong shoulders.
Federico Chiesa: the heart and hopeful goal machine
If Danilo is the soul of this time, Chiesa is the heart. When Chiesa is healthy and playing and screaming and buzzing around the pitch and gesticulating his arms wildly, Juventus reach a different level of intensity. And let’s face it: “intense” is not a word we’d probably use to describe the Juventus of the last few years. Fino alla fine has felt a little weak, a little tepid, a little fearful, but if Freddy Church dons the shirt I don’t think there’s a problem with that, or at least much less of one. Chiesa, like Danilo, brings an intangible, metaphysical component to this squad that is sorely needed.
Aside from that spirit, Chiesa does something else this team badly needs: threatens the goal. Juventus need more goals, and whether it’s Vlahović or Moise Kean or Arkadiusz Milik or Romelu Lukaku or someone else, the strikers need service. This is not something the team has done well in the last couple of seasons, for a great variety of reasons. But Chiesa has the ability to distribute the ball creatively, to run at attackers with the ball and absorb the interest of more than a single opposition player, and to make great runs himself to open up lanes for others.
There are, of course, a couple caveats here: the first is that Chiesa makes the final roster come Sept. 1. While the rumors surrounding his departure — as one of the higher-value assets left — have cooled a bit, you never know. The second caveat is that if Juventus consistently play a 3-5-2 in which we expect, Chiesa needs to figure out how to be effective. Given last year’s injury woes he didn’t have much of an opportunity to crack that nut, so here’s to hoping he and the coaching staff can do so this campaign.
Adrien Rabiot: a little bit of everything the midfield lacks
Barring a very unforeseen transfer market move or an overnight recovery from Paul Pogba, the midfield is probably going to be another underwhelming unit for Juventus (the 362nd year in a row). Manuel Locatelli looks like he’ll be pressed into service once again as a holding midfielder, where he’s performed well some of the time and not so well at other times. Nobody apparently wants to buy Weston McKennie, so the American’s own inconsistent play will be back on the pitch at least until Nicolò Fagioli can return 100 percent and challenge him. As far as who slots in behind those guys, only time (and Allegri) will tell.
Which leaves Rabiot. The Frenchman with the flowing locks and the very involved mama.
I will never not be tickled by the reversal of this man’s reputation: for several seasons his most typifying trait was that no matter how well he played, he’d do at least one insanely bone-headed thing to wipe away everything good until that point. Last year? He was Mr. Consistent. And if it was only because the Frenchman was on an expiring contract, we’ve got the remake of the movie about to hit theaters.
Rabiot can recover the ball, he’s difficult to dispossess, he mostly makes the smart pass and sometimes makes the very smart pass, and he found a goal-scoring habit to add to his quiver at a time when Juventus were desperate for players to score goals. Even if he remains the exact same as he was a year ago, that’s going to be hugely beneficial and valuable for this team. If he gets injured or reverts back to a space cadet, color me worried.
I believe and hope that at the end of the season that these three players will have helped Juventus to achieve at bare minimum a top-four finish, and hopefully more. I also believe and hope that someone else on the roster might arrive in an important way to play a much larger role than we suspect at this time; maybe that’s Cambiaso, maybe Samuel Iling-Junior, maybe a youth product.
But, honestly, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter who helps this club get to the destination. The destination is all that matters. And that destination is winning.