Although Cristiano Giuntoli will probably shuffle the cards in the final weeks before the transfer window closes — in fact, it’s somewhat of a necessity given all the on- and off-field questions surrounding Juventus at the moment — Mr. Max Allegri faces a more pressing concern: how he should line his squad up when it commences a crucial Serie A campaign against Udinese on Sunday, Aug. 20, away from home.
In other words: let’s get tactical, tactical ... it’s time to get tactical.
With the obvious disclaimer out of the way as far as what the actual final roster will look like, we don’t know nothing as we get ready to (finally) watch some calcio. We’ve had a couple preseason games, some adorably cheeky comments from Allegri to the press, and mostly the same set of players to tell us what will be going on in 2023.
So, if I’m Mr. Allegri, and I’m fielding a 3-5-2, which is probably what’s going to happen, here’s what I’m starting with against Udinese:
Federico Gatti / Bremer / Danilo
Timothy Weah / Nicolo Fagioli / Manuel Locatelli / Adrien Rabiot / Filip Kostic
Federico Chiesa / Dušan Vlahović
What better way to think about this lineup than with a good, old-fashioned SWOT analysis. Let’s do it!
Strengths: an important captain and a dish served cold
I can’t stress how important Danilo is this season.
The Brazilian’s story of going from a transfer afterthought to the soul of Juventus is one, I hope, we tell over and over in the decades to come, especially if, or when, he is able to help lead the Old Lady out of the difficulties and back into the upper echelons of European football. But now, as the season gets set to start, is when the rubber hits the road.
I’m not one who buys into every newsstand rumor regarding Allegri’s alleged spats with certain players, and it seems to me somewhat remarkable that he has held the locker room together as well as he has — again, partially also a nod to Danilo — but nobody likes losing. Everyone’s record is 0-0-0 to start, there’s hope for the beginning of the season, but if Juventus start poorly, or when they go through a difficult spell, that’s when Danilo is going to be needed to help right the morale ship.
This team has a lot of motivation to avenge last year, and that’s another good thing. I’m not sure this is a motivation that, say, Chelsea have, since it seems like they’ve turned over almost their entire roster. But as things stand, the same players in the locker room right now are the same players that struggled through a poor campaign last year — with the same coach. We as fans have to hope that continuity and the desire for revenge will help carry this team.
Weaknesses: I don’t suppose we could sign Paulo Dybala, could we?
How is this team going to create chances?
Every time I look up and down the roster, that’s the worry I have. Juventus scored 56 goals last year; that’s not enough to win a Scudetto, and without the points penalty it was just enough to squeak into the top four (which, of course, should not be the goal). I miss Paulo Dybala — there, I said it! After years of not playing a formation in which the former No. 10 was suited, the current 3-5-2 would be a wonderful fit for Dybala, much better than Federico Chiesa.
Speaking of Chiesa: that’s part of the weakness here. With Angel Di Maria gone after one season in Turin, Chiesa is the team’s most electrifying attacker left, and in a 3-5-2 he’s either wasted as a wingback or wasted as a second forward, a position in which, to this point, he has not excelled (to put it mildly). Let’s hope there’s a way to leverage him more.
Here’s what we have in terms of offense, then: the best attacking player on the team is played out of position, the starting striker position is in limbo with all the Vlahović-Lukaku buzz (more on that later), and the man in charge of making sure this team scores enough goals to win (you do have to score them) definitively did not show the ability last year to engineer enough chance creation a season ago. It doesn’t matter if it was Allegri’s “fault” or not in some sense. It’s his job as coach to work with the players he has, and even with all the mitigating circumstances and injuries, there’s enough talent here to do better. Allegri doesn’t have much of a choice. Let’s hope he proves us all wrong.
I for one am ready for a lot more slogging on the attacking side of the ball; I just don’t see what has changed or could change for significant improvement on that end barring something extremely unforeseen (Paul Pogba actually plays, Samuel Iling-Junior jumps 25 levels in development, Kenan Yıldız becomes KDB overnight, etc.).
Opportunities: we are we are, youth of the nation
The last two seasons have seen the rise of Fabio Miretti, Nicolo Fagioli, Iling-Junior, and Federico Gatti in the one consistent strand of hope for Juventus. For a club whose signature transfer track record for some time has been to sign veterans on “frees” and hoping to squeeze some juice out of them, the youth movement has been wonderful to see, and it’s paying palpable dividends.
Maybe the most exciting thing about this year? The youth movement isn’t over.
Yıldız, center back Dean Huijsen, and to a lesser extent Andrea Cambiaso (OK, I know he’s 23 and has two seasons of Serie A experience but still) are primed to at least be given chances with the first team. All three players happen to play positions that are in need of greater depth and talent.
Yıldız, in particular, offers at least the faintest glimmer of hope of the kind of player Juventus have not had since the aforementioned Argentine, and Huijsen is looking at a team that plays three center backs every game with only four true center backs ahead of him in reality (Bremer, Gatti, Daniele Rugani, and Leonardo Bonucci), with the last remaining member of BBC surely on his way out this summer or next.
Threats: watch out for the flanks
If Filip Kostic and Timothy Weah are indeed the starting wingbacks to a 3-5-2, there’s a good amount of excitement moving forward, and if Juventus rely to some degree or other on counter-attacks there’s some impressive speed in this lineup, but I’ve got some serious questions on the other end of the field.
Weah has publicly acknowledged that he has a lot of willingness to defend but also a lot to learn; fortunately for the American, he won’t have to deal with the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Vini Jr., or Bukayo Saka thanks to Juve’s lack of European football, but Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Rafael Leão are no slouches, and defending Atalanta’s hydra attack isn’t a walk in the park.
There’s going to be a steep learning curve for Weah in particular, and I hope Juventus fans (and Weah himself) are ready for that. If the lineup I selected above is one that Allegri uses — we know the coach likes to use a different lineup for every single game for some unfathomable reason — then Federico Gatti has quite a bit of pressure on his young, brick-laying shoulders with a relatively inexperienced player (in terms of defending) in front of him.
There’s more than one elephant in the room at this zoo, but the biggest one is probably the case of Vlahović. I, probably like you, really do not want to see him go, but even if Juventus do the unthinkably desperate and swap him for a discount code to Chelsea merchandise and Romelu Lukaku, the lineup is probably going to be the same. And as much as I hate to admit it, if you block out the room for Vlahović to grow and his future value, Lukaku is probably a better fit for this immediate season.
But whether it’s Vlahović or Lukaku, I’ve got to be honest with you: I look at this roster and a top-four finish by no means feels like a shoe-in. It’s not like the other Serie A sides are sitting around trying to get worse. Napoli, Inter, Milan, Atalanta, Lazio and Roma aren’t holding the door open for the Old Lady; in fact, they’re probably like sharks in the water with a drop of blood nearby.
There’s plenty of reason to hope, though, not least of which is Juve’s opportunity to solely focus on the domestic campaign. At this point, a top-four finish is so crucial to getting back on track I would put the minimum viable effort toward the Coppa Italia once the tournament rolls around in January. There’s plenty of hope, but there’s going to be plenty of struggle, too.