Just as it looked like Juventus had turned the corner and were closing in on the top positions of the standings, they were assessed a lethal one-two punch last Tuesday with Napoli’s successful appeal on the forfeiture of the October match and the dismal 0-3 loss against Fiorentina, the first of the season in Serie A play and the largest one at the Stadium. A six-point blow that would make any team wobble and the Bianconeri are left with very little margin of error to take home the tenth Scudetto in a row. In Italy, there is the typical fizzy atmosphere that signal the final days of an empire as the Milanese clubs are surging, so now it will be up to the Old Lady to prove they can really re-enter the title race and January’s gauntlet will be pivotal given its head-to-head clashes.
The issue of dropping points in winnable matches gets exacerbated by situations like the Fiorentina tilt where the difficulties, an early goal and red card, were objectively too hard to overcome. Wonky games like those happen two or three times a year and they are generally not a big problem if you keep it clean in easier fixtures. Juventus have been unable to do that and that has resulted in a significant hole, which will require an impressive streak of results to climb out of. Whether the lads have that kind of consistency in them remains to be seen and the first stretch of the campaign was not encouraging in this respect.
The official start of the January window is nearby, but it does not look like the Old Lady will be a major player, and understandably so, as they have not completely exploited the previous purchases, for instance Arthur and Dejan Kulusevski have yet to really find their footing in Turin, and the players have not fully learnt Andrea Pirlo’s intricate system. The improvements will have to come from within rather from the outside. The squad is thin but does have quality, so it would take a really large investment to improve it, something that generally does not occur in the Winter session and is even more unlikely in this negative conjuncture.
Still, even though the front office is in a bind with the lists, it would not hurt to add some depth in a couple of spots to make life easier on the manager. The front-line could surely use another piece, preferably a tall and physical striker that would come in handy in late-game situations, while the defense needs a lefty that could play either as centre-back or as fullback as youngster Gianluca Frabotta is the only real alternative to Alex Sandro but has been used very little in recent matches, where Danilo and Federico Chiesa have taken care of those positions in a constant rejiggering of the roles. Streamlining the rotation would not be a bad idea. Then, if the coach continues to field Weston McKennie as no.10, then the midfield is one man short.
That being said, if Paulo Dybala, Aaron Ramsey and Kulusevski get going and one between Merih Demiral and Giorgio Chiellini manages to stay healthy, then those additions would no longer be necessary and the newcomers would see very limited playing time. The uncertainty and the question marks at multiple levels make it hard to gauge what kind of signing is really needed, as the current roster could already solve few problems on its own with better performances and/or health.
Cuadrado is suspended and therefore the likeliest option is moving Federico Chiesa to the right flank and have Alex Sandro in a more offensive spot, although some reports suggest Dejan Kulusevski and Aaron Ramsey could feature together in a pure 4-4-2. Alvaro Morata is surprisingly missing from the squad list so Paulo Dybala will get the nod. Arthur has recovered and will try to challenge one between Rodrigo Bentancur and Weston McKennie. Adrien Rabiot in unavailable again due to a technicality related to his suspension.
3-4-1-2 Szczesny; De Ligt, Bonucci, Danilo; Chiesa, Bentancur, McKennie, Sandro; Ramsey; Dybala, Ronaldo.
Udinese had put together a very good run before Benevento blindsided them at home in most recent game, handing them the first loss since the start of November. Prior to that, they had taken down Genoa, Lazio and Torino and shared the spoils with Sassuolo, Crotone and Cagliari, remedying to a hideous start where they had lost five of the first six games. As a result, they are sitting pretty in 12th position with a five-point cushion over the relegation zone.
The newcomers joined pretty late, and that is one of the main reasons they struggled out of the gate, but their squad has improved significantly compared to last year and they are surely reaping the benefits from the partnership with Watford, which allowed them to add Gerard Deulofeu, Roberto Pereyra and Ignacio Pussetto for cheap. The Spanish forward has not done much so far as he looked rusty after months on the shelf because of an ACL tear, instead the two Argentinians have been two of their best players.
Rodrigo De Paul was pretty much the only above average contributor in the last couple of seasons, where they would go as far as they would take them. He is obviously still hugely important, but now they have a couple more quality pieces to ease the burden on him. Pussetto has turned into a full-fledged striker over the years and has had decent success in the box, while Pereyra has done something similar to De Paul, becoming a well-rounded box-to-box midfielder that also takes care of the dirty work. On top of that, his deep cuts have produced few assists.
The contribution of the Argentinians has allowed them to perform well even though their main strikers Stefano Okaka and Kevin Lasagna, have sputtered to so far. Okaka being out for a while has changed their playing style as they now operate at a quicker pace and rely more on short passes, rather than looking for their physical reference point up front. It has made them more unpredictable. Despite his subpar performances so far, Lasagna is a big threat on counters with his incredible speed.
Their offensive evolution has not dinged their forte from years past, which is stingy defending thanks to a rock-solid 3-5-2. They have not had their tidiest defender Bram Nuytinck for some time, but Rodrigo Becao and Samir, who have been up-and-down at times in the past, have been pretty reliable and also Kevin Bonifazi and Sebastien De Maio have proven to be okay. Moreover, they have one of the most talented goalkeeper in the League in Juan Musso. They are a little undermanned there this week sans both Becao and Nuytinck though.
In the midfield, Tolgay Arslan was another notable acquisition and he has held things down in the midfield while Walace and Rolando Mandragora recovered from their injuries, showing he can be a decent anchor. The two wingbacks, generally Jens Stryger Larsen and Marvin Zeegelaar since Thomas Ouwejan has been absent for a while because of COVID, are decent release valves when the middle is clogged up, but they are secondary options as most of their actions go through the two midfielders and, without Okaka, they do not have a massive presence in the box that would justify launching several crosses.
It is a fundamentally sound team with a clear identity, plus they added some oomph in October with some technical players that makes them more interesting than your average minnow.
De Paul has often been linked to Juventus, even recently: he is likely better suited for teams that play with a pure three-man midfield, but he could easily take care of the trequartista role, perhaps with more effectiveness than the current options on the roster, but having three/four players for the same role seems rich, given that it would take a sizeable offer to lure him away. Somebody would have to leave to make room for him but there has not been any buzz about that.
3-5-2 Musso; Bonifazi, De Maio, Samir; Larsen, De Paul, Arslan, Pereyra, Zeegelaar; Pussetto, Lasagna.
Okaka (thigh), Nuytinck (calf), Jajalo (knee), Ouwejan, Deulofeu (foot).