Many, myself included, were left with that same feeling of unexpected despondency from the first hour of the Supercoppa match against Lazio as we felt for the second half of the Champions League final. We witnessed the same complete absence of fluidity, cohesion and organisation. Yet this time there were no amusing then bothersome rumours of controversy at half time, of the Alves pig taking a pop at Dybala. No…the angst this time around has been flung almost solely at Allegri. The more extreme of which, I do not find amusing, just ignorant, disrespectful and brattish like a spoiled kid accustomed to having everything they want served up on a silver platter. Why such a spiteful if not merely passionate stance? Precisely because Max has led us to three league titles on the trot, two champions league finals, three coppa italias and one supercoppa…in three seasons. This is a superb return by any reasonable measures.
Still, I am not at all positioning myself to suggest we should be pleased, encouraged, anything less than unhappy after witnessing the lethargic, at times clueless capitulation from Sunday. Yet rather than wail, I prefer to focus on discussing our issues, how they might be remedied and hoping to inspire in turn your own opinions. Which I seek far more readily than agreement with my own. I learn and grow only through finding my views mistaken or unearthing something new…
The major issue last year was our central midfield area. Marchisio was out of sorts and not trusted (or ready) to play often from the start or consecutive games. He was our only squad member anywhere near a natural DM who can sit in front of the defence – regista style – affect tempo, funnel and recycle the ball, screen the defence. Yes, Rincon was signed late on, but for the fringes. Some might suggest Sami can do this job. I disagree on that score. His game is offensively focused. He lacks the pace and defensive zeal to be a holding midfielder. His instinct is to attack. Get forward at every opportunity. His only defensive value is through using his physicality.
Pjanic is another very offensive minded player. He is no natural tackler, marker or hustler and of diminutive physical form. He prospered at Roma with not just one, but often two hard working, brutish CMs in close attendance.
The 4-2-3-1 masked this problem with the midfield. Mandzukic basically played as a CML/LM and whilst of no natural defensive talent, his work rate, monstrous size and willingness to fight for the cause made him fairly useful especially in terms of helping block direct runners to our rear third. Alves and Cuadrado were able to stretch teams, mainly who hadn’t caught onto our still very weak centre. Which was hardened often through Big Leo stepping up. And Dybala dropping ever deeper to become a truly roaming far and wide trequartista.
Still, when we played teams who flooded the central area with runners, we often struggled. Higuain was left high and dry, well away from the action. Yet the combined talents of our attacking strengths were enough to put most teams to the sword, and as mentioned – for any foe to pass through the Pjanic/Khedira axis of fluff there was Big Leo roaring and charging out, if not already acting as the fulcrum to the side.
Leo has gone. His value of a ball playing CB able to step out with the ball at his feet from the back to start attacks as well as read the play superbly has not been replaced. I have little faith in Benatia, who has never impressed me and I find it hard to fathom why we signed him. Rugani seems ready, he has the eagerness, experience at the club and in the league and he is swift, careful and capable. Barzagli could still be fine there, though is slow, as is the Kaiser. Not enough pace to play them both. Which means Rugani or Benatia…Or De Vrij if we somehow manage to sign him.
The most annoying transfer rumour for me is that of Spinazzola. I very much like the idea of bringing home the former primavera star. He is italian, young enough to further improve and had a fine season with Atalanta. Yet he excelled, from what I saw, mainly as a left midfielder/winger. Far more comfortable linking the play in the middle and high up the field than as a defender. I am not a great fan of stats, yet refer quickly to a comparison of defensive measures from whoscored-
Asamoah – 1.7 tackles, 1.4 interceptions, clearances 1.3, won 0.9 headers, lost 0.4 headers, unsuccessful touches 1.1, dispossessed 1.2
Spinazzola – 0.9 tackles, 1 interception. Clearances 1, won 0.4 headers, lost 0.5 headers, unsuccessful touches 1.4, dispossessed 1.3
(all stats are per game average)
I always focus first and foremost on defensive ability when judging defenders. Asamoah is stronger in every defensive measure I have seen with my own eyes, and the stats seem to agree. In short, I believe that to replace Asamoah with Spinazzola weakens the side defensively. (I am certainly aware that others have likely seen a lot more of Leonardo than myself and will hopefully assuage my concerns?)
However, some might be suggesting he will be signed to play as a wide midfielder? Or winger? In which case he will be competing directly with Bernardeschi, Costa, Pjaca, Mandzukic, perhaps even Keita and Dybala. Depending on what formation we adopt.
No, the one player we needed to retrieve from Atalanta earlier than scheduled was/is the monstrous Caldara. Yet there has been barely any mention of this by the club, fans or most commentators. He is nowhere near as valuable on the ball as Big Leo, but he is a beastly defender who is a constant, highly capable menace to opponents at both ends of the field.
At right back the club now have De Sciglio who I hope becomes a starter and is given the chance to regain his form and blossom. There is also Pol Lirola to consider, which is perhaps why the club have hesitated to spend a fair chunk of gold on Cancelo or any other (presently speaking), for we might have a ready made replacement for Lichtsteiner next Summer.
Stephan, as with Asamoah, receives too much abuse and misguided criticism. Both were far from atrocious for every minute they played last season. The latter especially proving more than merely competent on many occasions. It’s just a sign of the times. One person on twitter makes a comment, others follow and repeat, then it spreads and people fight each other to repeat the same latest ‘thought’. Mass hysteria in the virtual realm…It is not just that I feel they are both competent back-ups (in Asamoah’s case he could also revive as a box to box CM), it is their experience, professionalism and black and white DNA that I am loathe to lose so easily and simultaneously. We need players at the club who know what it means to be a juventino. Real life is not FIFA; the hearts, minds, spirits and souls of the players truly matter. A forward who scores 30 goals at one team will not automatically be the same player at another team. Relationships and club culture are of huge importance. (NB – It appears that Asamoah could be on his bike to Turkey – in which case, I am a little surprised at the drop down in quality. 28 years old, plenty left in the tank, 6 league titles with Juve, he deserves far better than Galatasaray. Yet this would also mean that another left back, or right back is coming IN. De Sciglio can play both flanks, so could be a LB or RB)
Anyway, onwards…ever onwards…
The central midfield remains the dilemma. Costa and Bernardeschi hugely upgrade the flanks, and the italian can also play through the middle. Keita would allow us to loan Kean (hopefully outside of Italy…PSV seems a decent idea) and offer proven talent covering all the offensive positions. It is behind them where our season will be made or ruined.
We couldn’t afford or entice or decided against the likes of Tolisso, Verratti, Fabinho or Matic. This is no fault of the club. I am sure we tried for some, especially the latter, but United have more cash and they also have his old chum Jose. This is not the club’s lack of competence or commitment.
Matuidi will be fine. He has a wealth of experience, is still often considered a starter by one of the strongest national sides on the planet and is not too long in the fang to prove sprightly. He can also operate in several roles.
We have Marchisio revived. Who has proven in the past very handy indeed as a DM/regista. And then there is young Rodrigo, the player who I have been long ear-marking for glory, crossing my fingers and talons that his starlit destiny will come in black and white…Indeed, the kid is naturally at his best as a CML, in a very similar role to how we deployed Pogba. Languid in style, yet transitions from still to galloping so beautifully swiftly with the ball at his feet, able to read the game and defend well from his time as a holding midfielder and offering an already well established passing range. A true gem in the mega rough.
A move to a 4-3-X is required. More security must be placed centrally and deep to fill the gap left by Big Leo. Khedira and Pjanic can not fill this role. Marchisio and Matuidi can. It is really that simple. One of them MUST play. Ideally both.
Pjanic will struggle playing in a midfield duet where his partner holds deep rather than bombs forward at every opportunity. Hence the need for a three. Options could include –
Matuidi – Marchisio – Pjanic
Bentancur and Marchisio can both play the LCM role. Matuidi can play the DM role (probably will take it, but I believe Il Principino should be a starter and his last period of superb form for the club was at DM). Khedira and Sturaro can play the Pjanic role.
How would that affect us higher up the field? It would likely be a shape-shifting 3.
Costa – Higuain – Dybala
Where Bernardeschi, Pjaca, Cuadrado, Keita can challenge and cover. Mandzukic returning to a CF backup role. His time as a LM is over.
A 4-2-1-3 would also be possible with Marchisio(Bentancur) and Matuidi(Sturaro) as the 2.
Something else to bear in mind is that the club has a hopeful, reasonable idea of youngsters who will make up the core of the future first team. If we purchase players for huge money, of a good age, it further restricts the chances of our own youth prospects finding an opportunity to return to the fold if they prove themselves worthy. With players like Mandragora, Bentancur, even Caligara (remember the name) to consider, Matuidi seems a fair choice. Or we could spend 100m+ on Verratti, forget about 2-3 very promising talents of our own…Watch them excel elsewhere then see no room at Juve and head to our rivals at home or outside of Serie A. It becomes counter-productive.
I suspect we are now in Lithuania. I should scout some new talent whilst here! And I see that Slivka has recently joined Hibs for a paltry 90k. Amazingly cheap. A decent spring-board to bigger and better leagues…
…My thoughts are hopefully clear and I implore you to offer your own. Nzonzi, Matuidi, anyone but Can would be fine with me and hopefully lead to a return to a side with a resolute not fluffy core of iron strength and will through the middle. Other than which, I will simply make a plea for my fellow juventini to bear in mind that we have lost a major pillar of our recent period of glory and success. This cannot be easily rebuilt, and there will be a period of transition which might prove rather prickly and harrowing.
Continue to believe in the club, in Max, in the players. It is through periods of adversity that we see our true colours…I hope yours remain black and white.
(Follow me on twitter here)
NB. A youth report will be forthcoming…a few loose ends to tie up by the club, not just me! And I will ear-mark some time to complete the over-view for when I am bedding down in Krakow then Prague to work on my novels for 10 days in the near future.