The break got progressively weirder for Juventus, and January will be an ordeal off the pitch with all the inquiries, trials, and legal troubles going on. The pressure will mount, and the club and the coach will have to be capable of shielding the squad from it. They managed in November, but the situation wasn’t as dire. It’s probably a positive that some of the stuff went down during the stoppage, as the general sense of disorientation could have been a problem. Unfortunately, the storm won’t placate any time soon.

We’ll see whether the accusations will hold up, but there’s a chance the most relevant outcome of the whole drama will be Andrea Agnelli, the board of directors, and half of the management stepping down. It was an unceremonious end for a president that won a lot during his tenure and did a lot for the Bianconeri brand in general too. It was surely wise, as the team will have enough on its plate that it couldn’t possibly be dragged into the trial against the executives in the ordinary justices as well, which will take years.

His tenure can be split into two non-equal parts length-wise. A glorious first few years when the machine was humming and taking home the Champions League was a realistic objective. Then, things started to go sideways when Giuseppe Marotta was ousted, the brass got too ambitious, if not reckless, leading to baffling technical choices, disastrous finances, and all the mess that triggered the ongoing investigations, and its partial demise on the pitch. Any Italian team would be content with qualifying for Champions League with so much continuity, but the aspirations of the Old Lady are loftier.

Agnelli deserved a better finale for the early marvels, but he had indeed gotten long on the tooth with the stubborn and nonsensical commitment to the Super League. Two new head honchos have been installed, and probably more will come at the end of the season. Federico Cherubini, who may or may not survive the tribulation, is much more cautious than Fabio Paratici, but there would be no downsides in having both a sporting director and a chief of football. Having just one guy at the top can too easily become a rollercoaster. If it’s impossible to bring back Marotta, it should be a veteran of the same ilk.

It’s disappointing that the lengthy stoppage didn’t bring substantial improvements on the injury front. Angel Di Maria and Weston McKennie are the only returns compared to the final few Serie A matches, Federico Chiesa had a little hiccup and probably won’t be his full-fledged self for a month or so, Juan Cuadrado is banged up, Leonardo Bonucci is hurt again, and more discouragingly, Paul Pogba and Dusan Vlahovic are still out, and there’s no telling when they’ll be back.

Naturally, the club’s priority is to get everybody fully healthy, and that takes time, but the winning streak that closed out 2022 risks being fool’s gold. You can patch things together only for so long before the wheels come off. If linchpins aren’t ready to go in short order, the holes need to be assessed through the transfer market, but it seems that January will mostly be quiet.

At least another wing-back, preferably one that can play on each flank, is needed. When the team was on a roll in November, the role was interpreted offensively enough to make Chiesa an option for it, but it’s better not to lean on him too much for the time being. The return of Mattia De Sciglio provides an extra body, but he’s a pure fullback, and his contribution in the final third is lacking.

As Massimiliano Allegri hinted in some remarks, he’s happy with constantly changing the scheme depending on who’s available and fit, but the previous positive stretch proved the virtues of sticking with one, as it gelled and got better organically. 3-5-2 should be the way to go, with some detours more towards 4-4-2 than 4-3-3 when there’s the necessity to be more offensive. Fitting Angel Di Maria and Chiesa in it isn’t the smoothest proposition, but they are versatile enough to make it work. In any case, it’s hard to imagine them being full-time starters in the short term given their physical problems.

All the injuries drastically reduce the doubts, and the biggest one will be who will man the right wings. Tommaso Barbieri would be the cleanest fit as he’s a pure fullback, while Matias Soulé has done okay in the friendlies, but he’s more offensive-minded. Weston McKennie would be the most experienced option, but it’d be a new thing for him. Who knows, maybe he could end up like Kwadwo Asamoah a few years back, and the Bianconeri wouldn’t mind leaning on internal resources rather than having to buy a new wing-back. The USMNT star could also start in the midfield, as the latest reports indicate that Adrien Rabiot could be eased off the bench following a late return from the World Cup. Fabio Miretti could make the XI as well, either in his natural position or in a supporting role instead of Moise Kean. Wojciech Szczesny is a late call with neck stiffness.

Probable lineup

3-5-1-1: Szczesny; Danilo, Bremer, Alex Sandro; Soulé, McKennie, Locatelli, Fagioli, Kostic; Miretti; Milik. 


Vlahovic (sports hernia), Pogba (meniscus tear), Di Maria (ankle knock), Bonucci (thigh tendon problem), Cuadrado (knee soreness), De Sciglio (thigh strain), Kaio Jorge (patellar tendon tear).


Cremonese are still winless in the season but astonishingly aren’t dead last in the standings thanks to seven draws already, and obviously because other teams have fared worse than them. They haven’t looked moribund and lackluster either. While their attitude and fighting spirit are on point, they have often paid the price for the evident technical gap when they combat more equipped squads.

They inevitably overhauled the squad after the promotion, and their summer window arguably had more misses than hits. Their main flaw is that they have mighty trouble putting the ball in the net. David Okereke and Cyriel Dessers, the crown jewels of their reinforcement campaign, haven’t been prolific enough. While the former is more of a mobile striker and not a goal poacher, they hoped the latter replicated the Feyenoord numbers, but his finishing has left a lot to be desired.

They’ll likely address the role in January, and a foxy center-forward that can bag cheap goals would be the biggest single improvement they can get. They create at an adequate clip, even though they don’t have many inventive players. Their above-average energy and pace can give fits to opposing defense on their own.

They stuck with boss Massimiliano Alvini through the break despite the results, and understandably so since they play decent football and has the ear of the locker room. However, a coaching change will inevitably be a topic of conversation if they don’t start winning. They might need just one to go on a run. They took a big swing by hiring him since he had no previous Serie A experience and reached it through a Maurizio Sarri-esque excessively long journey through the lower leagues. His style is similarly proactive, but it doesn’t reach the peaks of the fellow Tuscan gaffer, especially with so few ball handlers at his disposal. It’s a make-or-break year for him, as he might go back to football purgatory for good if he gets the ax.

They have mainly used 3-4-1-2 and 4-2-3-1 in the first half of the season, but they have primarily employed 4-3-1-2 in the friendlies leading up to the resumption. Given their scoring woes, they could use all the offensive help they can get. Cristian Buonaiuto, who was all too quickly labeled as a Serie B player throughout his career, has proven to be fundamental since he’s their best passer up front. Depending on how bold they want to be, he can play either as a no.10 or as a second striker. They have been very committed to fielding Okereke and Dessers together, but the difficult match-up could bring a more cautious approach. Charles Pickel, a tenacious box-to-box, has often played in the hole for tactical purposes with decent returns.

Their defense has been so-so regardless of the system and having two or three center-backs probably doesn’t make that much difference. Vlad Chiriches, who’s still an ace despite his age, has missed most of the season due to an ankle injury […] In addition, switching from Andrei Radu to Marco Carnesecchi between the sticks has been a major improvement.

The extra guy in the midfield could help better protect the rearguard, although they’ll have to sign somebody to avoid depth issues. A three-man line there helps Michele Castagnetti, a maestro who’s more at ease with two men taking care of the dirty work flanking him. Pickel and Soualiho Meité are quite apt for it, and they are decent when they venture forward.

The biggest drawback of the tactical switch would be that the fullback would have to tone down their aggressiveness. It would be a shame because Lorenzo Sernicola and Emanuele Valeri are two of their best players and all-around weapons, as they can cut deep and fill the box too, on top of providing width, scampering up and down the flank, and delivering a heap of crosses. If they fine-tuned the formation in the last few weeks, they can still be relevant factors in the final third if the midfielders diligently cover for them.

They are in a relative groove with three ties, against Udinese, Salernitana, and Milan, and one loss, to Empoli, in the last four fixtures. The key will be to match their exuberance and vigor; otherwise, it could allow them to reduce the deficit that exists on paper. Luka Lochoshvili, Matteo Bianchetti, and Jack Hendry are in contention for two spots in the back, while Paolo Ghiglione is challenging Pickel in the midfield, which would make the scheme look more like 4-4-2. In addition, the coach is reportedly considering Frank Tsadjout and Felix Afena-Gyan to deploy a full-fledged trident.

Probable lineup

4-3-1-2: Carnesecchi; Sernicola, Bianchetti, Lochoshvili, Valeri; Pickel, Castagnetti, Meite; Buonaiuto; Okereke, Dessers.  


Chiriches, Radu.