It is obviously not great news, but the black cloud hanging over Juventus this summer has finally begun to dissipate. The imminent departure of Cristiano Ronaldo leaves major regrets behind. More for the previous years than for how it actually went down, although it was undoubtedly handled poorly, more by him than by the management. Certainly, they could not openly put him up for sale. He had started to send out some feelers at the end of last season, but he should have been clearer, at least internally. That would have allowed the club to recalibrate the transfer market accordingly, knowing that they would eventually part ways. My guess is that he hoped to leave, but he was not sure it would indeed happen.
Whether the deal was worthy of crippling the finances of the club will be analyzed at length in every outlet. Indeed, it was nice to have one of the best players of the history of football for a few seasons. On the other hand, Juventus did not come any closer to achieving the primary target for which they started the whole shebang, winning the Champions League. Although, that had more to do with the other choices of the bigwigs on the coaches and the rest of the roster than with the Portuguese star. Instead, the end of the title streak was bound to happen regardless at some point.
We will see what the mad scramble to find a replacement will yield. I doubt its result will be satisfying for most fans. Anyway, the Bianconeri already have two stars to lean on in their next iteration, Paulo Dybala and Federico Chiesa. Hopefully, Manuel Locatelli is not far behind, and Dejan Kulusevski could take the next step. Adding another one would be great too, but the newcomer should not have to shoulder the burden of succeeding Ronaldo on his own.
Where his departure leaves Juventus in the Serie A hierarchy, that is an excellent question. It also should be noted that his farewell, and Romelu Lukaku’s too, is a natural consequence of the financial struggles of the League. It has been living above its means for years, and the pandemic only accelerated its economic demise. We will see what the Italian teams will do in Europe, but there are several cunning directors and coaches in the Peninsula, and their resourcefulness should not be underestimated. Also, there is no denying that Ronaldo leaving restores a sense of normalcy within the team and its surrounding, which often had troubles dealing with a larger-than-life character.
The opener seems to have happened ages ago now. It could have gone any worse only if Udinese actually completed the comeback, which they would have totally deserved. The two main takeaways are that the healing process is not complete yet. The blunders by Wojciech Szczesny were horrifying, but the team had long collectively pulled the plug, thinking they were in the clear. We saw that time and time again last season. Secondly, the decision to forgo making a strong push to sign Gianluigi Donnarumma was asinine in the moment, and it looks even worse now.
Juventus would need a month off to digest what is happening, but Serie A waits for nobody, and they already have some catching up to do compared to the other contenders. The match-up is not as creampuff as it could appear but is not precisely super arduous either. We will find out soon enough if the squad has been able to isolate themselves and keep an eye on the prize. The coach pulled a fast one last week with Chiesa and Ronaldo coming off the bench. The Italian starlet should start in this one, but there are big doubts concerning the scheme and other contributors. Manuel Locatelli could get the nod, or it will be Danilo in the midfield. Alvaro Morata is available but not at 100 percent, so there could be a light attack. Adrien Rabiot is expected to return, but probably not from the get-go. The alternative is a 4-3-3 with Kulusevski up front.
Probable lineup: 4-4-2 Szczesny; Cuadrado, De Ligt, Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Chiesa, Bentancur, Locatelli, Bernardeschi; Dybala, Morata.
Injuries: Arthur (lower leg ossification), Ramsey (thigh strain), Kaio Jorge (thigh strain).
Empoli are pretty much the opposite of most Italian lowly clubs, who tend to prefer a very conservative approach. Instead, it seems like they always have an attractive brand of football regardless of who the coach or the players are. The tradition was birthed by Marco Giampaolo and Maurizio Sarri back in the day and has continued afterward.
They lost the coach that led them to the promotion, Alessio Dionisi, but they rebounded with a safe, although not super enticing choice, Aurelio Andreazzoli. He is already familiar with the club and has a similar philosophy, although his previous stint did not end so well. However, they probably were not in a position to attract more glamorous names.
As always, they have a lot of talent on the roster considering their status. It should not be forgotten that they were the ones that either unearthed or gave their first shots to Ismael Bennacer, Piotr Zielinski, Sebastian Giovinco, Claudio Marchisio, Matias Vecino, Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Elseid Hysaj, Bartlomiej Dragowski, and so on. It is an ideal place for youngsters to grow with some serenity.
The leader of the pack is now Nedim Bajrami, an exquisite no.10 that is always in the thick of it, ready to dish quality assists or finish on his own. He glides through opponents with the ball on his feet and has great charisma. They have surrounded him with a bunch of all-around and energetic players in the midfield. Filippo Bandinelli shined in the debut against Lazio, but Nicholas Haas and Szymon Zurkowski are no slouches either.
Samuel Ricci is their latest home-grown talent. He can feature either as a box-to-box or as deep-lying midfielder, supplanting Leo Stulac in the second case. The choice will hinge on whether to plan to face the Bianconeri head-on or have more muscles in the midfield. Stulac is primarily a distributor, while Ricci, Haas and company bring a lot more to the table defensively.
Leonardo Mancuso was the best goal poacher in Serie B last season, and they will be hoping his production translates to Serie A too. To be sure, they brought in somewhat similar players in Patrick Cutrone and Andrea Pinamonti. The agility of the trio will constantly make them a threat on counter-attacks, which is how they perforated Lazio last week. They do not lack hunger and ferocity up front.
While they excel offensively, either with choral actions or fast-breaks, they are not very robust in the back. They have completely overhauled their defense in the summer. While it looks decent on paper, as Ardian Ismajli, Riccardo Marchizza, Sebastiano Luperto, Petar Stojanovic, and Simone Romagnoli are all okay, they were rather disorganized against the Biancocelesti. It will take them some time to oil the mechanisms, which is an area Juventus should exploit. The fact that they like to attack in bunches surely does not help either.
It will not be the typical bout against a minnow. Empoli will not bunker up and will try to fearlessly executive their game plan. Juventus will likely have more chances against a less sturdy side than Udinese. However, they will have to match the exuberance of the opponents and be significantly more on point defensively to avoid another disappointing result.
Probable lineup: 4-3-1-2 Vicario; Stojanovic, Ismajli, Romagnoli, Marchizza; Haas, Ricci, Bandinelli; Bajrami; Mancuso, Cutrone.
Injuries: Parisi (fibula fracture).