Corto muso may be the Old Lady’s customary weapon of choice, but lately she’s getting out the blunt instruments as well: Juventus hammered another little fish in the Coppa Italia, absolutely waxing Frosinone on Thursday night, and we’re starting to see that the Bianconeri are developing new and varied ways of dispatching their opponents.
Juventus look good right now; Juventus look solid and consistent, which might even be more impressive. Max Allegri’s boys haven’t lost since September and are riding a five-game cumulative win streak between the Coppa and Serie A. Their next opponent? The one blemish on their record in Sassuolo — a chance for revenge.
All this success has me wondering: What if we imagine a best-case scenario in terms of health and development of the existing roster — how close is this team to being able to seriously compete for the Champions League crown? And what is still missing?
It’s been a long time since I’ve even dared put on such rose-tinted glasses; let’s try’em on.
What if ...
Just for a second, imagine: What if Fabio Miretti builds on his recent performances and starts to become the fluid, incisive midfielder we’d always hoped he could become? What if Adrien Rabiot really does have a special place in his heart for Juventus and signs an extension without asking for a preposterous amount of money? What if Nicolo Fagioli returns with a vengeance, Federico Gatti learns to shore up his mistakes, and Danilo still has gas in the tank? What if Andrea Cambiaso is the wingback we’ve been looking for and McKennie truly embraces his role on the right flank? What if Juventus don’t need to look in the market for a creative playmaker, because Kenan Yildiz and Matias Soule are everything they need? What if Dusan Vlahovic works his tail off to become a more well-rounded striker? What if Bremer takes yet another step forward and becomes arguably the best center back in Europe? What if Federico Chiesa played like a madman week in, week out, the force and spirit inspiring this team?
The Big Problem and the flanks
Even in the best possible “what if” scenario, this roster isn’t complete. The first problem is the midfield. It’s shocking, I know.
Even if Miretti and Fagioli improve, even if Rabiot stays, and even if Locatelli takes another step of progression in his game, if Juventus were to seriously compete for the Champions League I believe Cristiano Giuntoli needs to grab two midfielders over the next two transfer windows. One might only need to be a rotational body, a tool for Allegri to deploy in certain scenarios, but the other needs to be a very good to world class player. How Juventus can obtain such a player in her current financial predicament is Giuntoli’s challenge to embrace.
On the flanks, Cambiaso seems like a keeper, and I think McKennie as right wingback is a keeper. If you retain one of Filip Kostic or Timothy Weah, that leaves one very good wingback I think you need to procure on the market — all assuming Juventus continue playing a 3-5-2 next year and don’t switch formations.
Final tally: two midfielders (one rotational piece, one very good to world class), one wingback (very good). Supplementing the current roster with more development, that is starting to seem like a sneaky scary good team.
The final product
Regardless of sport, the greatest teams that I have witness — the real dynastic powerhouses — have almost always had one thing in common: they’re capable of winning in multiple ways. In calcio, maybe that means the ability to cede 70 percent of possession and still eek out a 1-0 victory with a counter-attack goal, then the following week grabbing 65 percent of the ball and methodically picking apart an opponent. In American football, that means winning with your defense and special teams one week and winning a shoot-out the next.
Great dynasties are dynamic. That’s why I’m so encouraged by the recent poundings laid out by the Old Lady. I think it’s naive and perhaps even foolish to believe Juventus should go into every single match, against every single opponent, guns blazing. By necessity, it’s still going to be corto muso a lot of the time, but we are not far removed from watching Juventus draw and lose to bottom-table teams fairly consistently.
The team outlined above, especially with the addition of a very good midfielder and the imagined development of playmakers like Soule and Yildiz, is the type of team that looks like it could absolutely thrash an opponent one week with a peppering of goals and then suck back into an impenetrable defensive shape the next to ride out a cagey win.
All this is overwhelmingly optimistic, and unlikely to come to fruition so quickly. But taking the positive signs and running with them is a useful exercise, and as exciting as it is it’s also a stark reminder that a hell of a lot has to go right for this team to be where fans want it to be, and also that Giuntoli has his work cut out for him. With less optimism and more realism, I think it’s safe to say things seem to be heading in the right direction.