The reaction that was expected in the previous round did arrive versus Napoli. It was one of the best displays of the season, considering the opponents’ caliber and in what kind of shape they were. Though, it is true that Juventus have generally fared well against top competition this season. The only stumble came in the Inter game, but the Bianconeri were not overwhelmed there either, but rather punished for their sloppiness in the back and never quite able to turn up the intensity on the other end.
However, the lads have too often had trouble getting up against the minnows, dropping too many points in feasible matches. It is a baffling issue that had never manifested itself in recent years. It is likely caused by a combination of overconfidence in their own means and underestimation of the adversaries. There is a lot of quality in the roster, and displays like the midweek one prove it, but it needs to be supported by the right kind of attitude and desire. Looking back now, the biggest black eye of the season is that the squad basically approached the Porto clash like any other regular match against a Serie A low-table team rather than as a pivotal clash.
The win over Napoli dealt a major blow to the main contender in the Champions League race that is not currently in the top four. While it created some cushion, the work is far from over. The fact that Milan and Atalanta are not locks either will help out, but it would be nice to see the Old Lady rip off a lengthy winning streak to make things more serene.
While the result gave Andrea Pirlo some breathing room, the clouds will resume gathering over him at the first sign of struggle. It would be better for everybody if the final stretch provided real clarity about whether the coach is a keeper or a goner. Surely, the management would prefer not to be in limbo when making the call this summer. This year, it felt like the fluctuations depended mostly on the players’ mood rather than on the work of the coach. Managing that is part of the job though.
Paulo Dybala coming back and delivering was terrific, especially for him. Since he had all kinds of troubles in 2020/21, it has been impossible to verify whether the partnership between him at Cristiano Ronaldo could flourish in the current design. The Portuguese ace has played much more centrally than under Massimiliano Allegri and Maurizio Sarri, so it might actually work out. It is another element that has massive ramifications for the future.
The coach openly stated that Wojciech Szczesny will return on goal and that Dejan Kulusevski will likely start. On the other hand, he suggested that Merih Demiral, Paulo Dybala and Arthur are not ready for big minutes. If that was confirmed, and the manager has been sly in the pressers before, Kulusevki will replace Alex Sandro, Danilo or Giorgio Chiellini, depending on who is in worse shape, with Juan Cuadrado playing at right-back.
4-4-2 Szczesny; Cuadrado, De Ligt, Chiellini, Danilo; Kulusevski, Bentancur, Rabiot, Chiesa, Morata, Ronaldo.
Bonucci, Bernardeschi (COVID).
They relented a little once they built a comfortable enough lead on the red zone, but the work of Davide Ballardini at Genoa has been nothing short of amazing. He took over a side that was almost in a catatonic state because of a lengthy slump and a COVID outbreak and led them to an impressive run, losing just once in two months and winning a bunch of games. Lately, they were bested on the road by Inter and Roma, and have not prevailed with the same regularity, but they are no longer desperate as they have ten points more than then 17th-placed Cagliari.
He did most of his work behind the scenes because there was no tactical revolution. They have carried on with the same 3-5-2 Rolando Maran was using and for which the roster was built for. He has somehow been able to revive Mattia Destro, who had not been this prolific in four years, and boosted the confidence of most of his key contributors. The only move slightly outside of the box was deploying Ivan Radovanovic, mostly a midfield throughout his career, as the linchpin of the defense. He has held up against most strikers and gives them a little edge in the early build-up.
While they were struggling to find their identity before, they are now fully a prototypical old-school plucky Serie A side that tends to muscle up the enemies and take advantage of their opportunities in the final third, even if they are numbered.
Destro’s rediscovered nose for the goal has been a big help, but they have a very deep and well-assorted front-line. Eldor Shomurodov has been a revelation as he has outstanding technique and pace for his size and is likely destined to go places once he becomes clutcher in the box. Gianluca Scamacca is coming back strong recently after the other Italian striker had outshined him and he is too is an explosive talent that potentially boasts a total package and is capable of some pure gems. Marko Pjaca has not been as good but has occasionally been able to bring his speed and mazing runs to the table and Goran Pandev is a weapon with his experience and shrewdness.
The hand of the coach is noticeable in regard to the fact that most of their players are faring well, even those that were in a funk. Miha Zajc has added some dirty work to his skillset and has become an okay aggressive box-to-box. Davide Zappacosta is thriving after some underwhelming campaigns and is always a thorn on the enemies’ side whether he is used on the right or on the left flank. Kevin Strootman has been a force and a great leader in the midfield, but he is suspended for this one. Either Valon Behrami or Nicolò Rovella will fill in, depending on what kind of posture they want to have.
Radovanovic, Milan Badelj and Strootman generally give them a solid and fairly technical backbone that sustains the rest of the formation. Andrea Masiello and Domenico Criscito are perfectly suitable to complete the defense as they have decent mobility. Besides the attack, the XI is mostly the same, with only one wing-back changing based on the match-up. The more aggressive Lennart Czyborra tend to feature in easier ones, while either Davide Biraschi or Edoardo Goldaniga, two adapted center-back, have often been called upon in more demanding ones. Paolo Ghiglione would be the more aggressive option in this one since Czyborra is on the shelf.
They rely on the flank game a lot regardless of who is picked and Destro and Scamacca fill the box very well. Most of their plan is catered to putting their strikers in position to deliver and they can sting in a multitude of ways. They have stiffened up immensely in the back under the new coach and have a ton of physicality and charisma throughout the squad that allow them to stymie and measure up with most opponents.
3-5-2 Perin; Masiello, Radovanovic, Criscito; Biraschi, Rovella, Badelj, Zajc, Zappacosta; Shomurodov, Destro.
Pellegrini (thigh strain), Czyborra (knee sprain).