The performance in Riyad came as no surprise, nor the result. A defeat serving as a clear and fair barometer of the first half of Sarri’s debut campaign in the hot seat. Still though, it was somehow appalling.
It is not as if we were promised anything, by the club or manager, when Sarri was given the job. And yet it is fair to assume that the hype and hope of the beautiful football played by Napoli appearing in black and white was very much in the management’s thinking when they made the move.
Early in the season we actually looked exciting. There seemed serious hints of a quick, fluid, attacking brand of football we had all wanted to see for so many moons. Unfortunately this faltered then stopped abruptly with the first international break and has barely been seen since.
It is as if the players or Sarri himself, have understood that with the current talent at our disposal, the best we can aim for is to pick players for roles where they will be average at least, and as they are generally superior to most opponents we face the results will remain positive. With any serious attempt to change the style of football vanishing then gone. Bookmarked for a future pondering.
Sarri has spoken of the hectic schedule and absence of time to drill his players. My own prediction/assumption before a ball had been kicked in anger in August was that we would have to wait until at least the New Year before we could hope to see anything cohesive. Which I now consider overly optimistic, for too much has gone wrong. Not with our results, for the supercoppa means little to me, we topped our CL group and remain close to perched top of the league. What has gone wrong is the fallen, now sinking into darkness and oblivion shooting star of hope…for a new identity to be born, for a recognisable drive to entertain, to excite, to make the most of our array of attacking strengths in the final third.
Injuries have played their part. Chiellini’s move long term to the treatment room well mitigated by the emergence of De Ligt and even more so, Demiral. Also must mention Costa, who began the campaign in searing form; the loss of his high octane class and speed has hurt us, for he is probably the most capable – of all our front men- of making something happen out of seemingly nothing. Still, with the likes of Ronaldo, Dybala and Higuain available, losing Little Doug was not the end of the world.
It irks me to suggest this, but depriving the side of Sami Khedira’s intelligence and natural talent for making intelligent runs into the box has seriously downgraded our offensive verve. Without him, and add to this the long term ailments of Ramsey, and incredibly slow progress of Rabiot, the biggest problem this side has is the inability of the midfield to create and support.
Against any team who is organised in playing counter-attacking football, making sure they are first to the ball, giving us zero time and space in their half, or even higher up, we struggle. Against a team like Lazio, whose counter attacking football has the exact players the coach wants for his system, we are well beaten, deservedly so, twice in a fortnight. Its only when the opponents leave gaps in the midfield that we prosper, or when one of our front men makes the most of a mistake or creates a moment of brilliance. Rarely do we find beautifully made goals involving more than the forwards. Which again leads back to the midfield and also the wide players.
We have one of the strongest headers of the ball on the planet in Ronaldo, and yet we seem to keep our fullbacks ever more deep. Only Cuadrado gets forward often enough and has the ability to create opportunities. Sandro has been very average. De Sciglio is risk averse; will play the ball laterally or backwards more often than not. Danilo has been acceptable but again seems more prone to remaining comfortable in his own half. I cannot help thinking this is by design and when studying Sarriball prior to his arrival it was clear that Sarri does not like playing with wide men flinging in high crosses. He wants the ball passed to feet in the box. Yet to do this, there must be both players in the box, support from midfield to draw defenders out of position and man marking duties, and fullbacks or wingers to carry the ball into the final third to create/support.
This constant demand to play the ball to feet through the middle is telegraphed and easy to defend against, for our front 2 or 3 are constantly left isolated with double their number to contend with if they do receive the ball in a useful position.
Its simply not working and terrible to watch.
Pjanic has been probably enduring his worst season at Juve. When many assumed he would blossom under Sarri. Perhaps tasked with touching the ball so much and opponents knowing to push him deeper and leave him no time on the ball.
Bentancur has been more promising, but arguably only when he is tasked to replace the Bosnian, as he offers more dynamic energy as the pivot. Also able to tackle and put his foot through the ball and opponents.
Matuidi has lost his usefulness. Seems all at sea too often, and is clearly allowed time on the ball by opponents precisely because he is unlikely to create anything. Which is not some tactical masterpiece, its logical – deny the creative players space and we wont create. Allow those whose passing range is limited to straight, slow recycling to have the ball and wait for them to lose it. Then pounce in numbers.
I understand why Sarri likes Bernardeschi’s work rate. He is more comfortable making up numbers in midfield and driving forward, but driving from the middle to a congested final third where all the forwards are marked rarely leads to anything positive. We just look like we are more present in midfield when he plays. His finishing and passing, the all important end-product, are both poor, and no sign of improvement has been registered. If anything he has regressed, as have a few others in the side.
Yes, I still believe that if we can somehow transform Rabiot into a quicker, more confident player, and Ramsey can be kept fit, we could see the side transformed. This is wishful thinking. Not just on the fitness and sharpness requirements, but on what we have seen of them in this system so far.
What is the system? Defend in numbers and expect the forwards to create something without a supporting cast against 6 opponents in the 18 yard box?
I was watching Pogba’s return to the United side in their defeat to Watford recently. Whilst I don’t believe United are getting the best of him from playing him so deep, what was very clear indeed was that to have a player of his passing range, his vision and confidence and top draw technique, made a staggering difference to the opportunities created. Its raw talent to see passes and for forwards to anticipate these passes.
We have the front men…but not the creativity behind them. And I do not think this can be solved until next Summer at the earliest, other than if we sign Pogba in January. Which is extremely unlikely to happen. Even if we were to try beat the competition for Tonali – who I have seen often making superb passes from deep – either he wouldnt play much, as Pjanic is the starter for his role, or he would remain at Brescia until the Summer.
Its terrible for me to be checking for Khedira’s expected return, and ear-marking that as a possible chance for us to turn the corner! For Sami is a sloth. He can’t run, offers little in the middle, has poor stamina and yet…he has what none of our other midfielders have. He can regularly contribute in the final third.
This side is crying out for more adventurous fullbacks and more quality in the middle of the park. In the meantime, what can Sarri do to make us a better side?
I would suggest focusing on our strengths and adding width to the side. Alongside placing Ronaldo as a CF.
Juan would be more comfortable as a wingback in a 3-5-2, as would Sandro. We have probably our greatest strength outside of the front line with our CB options.
Why not try a 4-4-2? Ahhh…but the one player who has excelled on the left wing for the last few seasons has been frozen out the squad since the Summer and now moved on to the Middle East without a penny paid for his services to the club! Its a hideous business. A player who featured in 33 games for us last season, whose berserker zeal has always been a major asset for the club, this season has not featured at all. It cannot be that he doesnt suit Sarri’s style of play, for what of Danilo? De Sciglio? Matuidi?
He is a player who can plough through a mass of opponents. Close to unbeatable in the air. Intelligent. Works always for the team before himself and a natural born warrior…
Mario Mandzukic was one of so very few, Chiellini is another, and Demiral looks similar, who plays always with immense determination. The manner we have treated him, not just in terms of decency for a man who has given so much to our cause, but on a sporting and commercial front, beggars belief. I am still trying to make sense of the methods of Paratici and Nedved in this regard. I can understand the decision from the hatchetman who sneaked around ol’ one eye Beppe to take his position, but the Czech Fury? What was he thinking to let a man be completely removed from the first team reckoning, sold off on the cheap, who epitomised the same spirit he brought to the field in spades during his playing days?
What does it say to a young, hungry player to see an experienced member of the squad treated this way?
Add to this the managerial choice and mercato, and presently their stewardship of the club looks very suspect indeed.
If there is one player in the squad who is adept at battling physically against multiple opponents bringing the ball down with his back to goal and drawing other runners into promising positions, its Mandzukic. Why had he not played a single minute? And is now ushered out quietly and with no fee paid? I cannot help but think it has something to do with Ronaldo’s sway at the club. The same applies to his hereditary peer routine with the LWF spot. A system built to accomodate him…Which I understand, as we have tied ourselves to his stardom in such an immense way that we must work around his wishes.
To further nourish this anger of the Mario saga the apparent manner in which we have tricked Emre Can. Who we told would be a part of our plans when perhaps he had offers from other clubs, then ditched him from the CL squad? Then of Dybala, who we tried to flog to anyone who would take him, but now, have been forced to accept we need him, desperately? It all smacks of very poor management of the club. And I couldnt give a damn of the trillion new twitter followers Ronaldo has brought to the club. It does not translate to the field. Only twitter.
Quick side note on the old timer…He has regained his sharpness and subsequently got back in the goals, but he has never been a player to do it all himself. He requires a strong supporting cast, which he lacks at Juve. I am quite sickened by the amount of followers who support him not the club, and now attach themselves to the Juve story. Still this is all part of the move to become a global brand. Its something I begrudgingly accept.
We desperately need Ramsey, Costa and Rabiot fit, probably Khedira also, and even Pjanic to be benched for Bentancur in the middle. If we are to seriously position ourselves to play to the manager’s natural style. What we have presently is a half hearted overlay of his philosophy shoe-horned into a functional ‘put players in their natural role’ and hope the front men make something happen routine. Its not good enough. Its not working. We are less than the sum of our parts.
I have read rumours of Pocchetino. And yet he would have the same issues as Sarri, to a lesser or greater degree. Also the club will not make such a change, perhaps even if we lose the scudetto and bow out of the CL early doors.
Until the midfield is improved, we are going to struggle to find any sense of identity or style. I am by now long convinced of this. It may be possible still this season, though I doubt it. And Paratici and Nedved will have a huge job on their hands next Summer and MUST be working overtime from now, to ear-mark players to suit Sarri and the rest of the squad and go for them early, not on the cheap. Our free transfers of Rabiot and Ramsey have barely started a dozen games between them! Which makes the absence of a transfer fee redundant, and two starting positions expected to be upgraded have been an abject failure.
Allegri’s success is looking more impressive since he left the club. His pragmatism was geared towards making the best of the squad in all competitions, and despite the often loathsome lack of excitement, he knew how to win (I very much doubt he would have lost twice to Lazio in a fortnight as he learns from his errors). We may have made a big mistake with Sarri. A mistake mirrored in the signings made to ‘strengthen’ the squad. We are somehow even weaker in midfield, weaker at RB, with even less identity due to the absence of width chosen by the manager. Or Ronaldo.
I am disheartened and despondent for my beloved bianconeri presently. Questioning where the soul of the club has gone, and the heart and the spirit. Everything which matters most to me.
Still we remain in a strong position domestically and on the european stage. Potentially key players are returning over the coming weeks and Sarri still has the opportunity to prosper.
Buon Natale and Forza Juve