Pre-season is a time of reflection, an opportunity for teams to recalibrate and consolidate on the back of the previous year. Players will be bought and sold in an attempt to strengthen, while coaches and sporting directors will also take the chance to flit about. The level of rumour can drive a person insane, though it can also make for interesting discussion.
Here at Tactical Calcio, we will be asking experts about the transfer activity undertaken by their club, what it all means from a tactical perspective and what next season holds in store. We begin this series by asking Adam Digby about Juventus’ pre-season thus far.
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TACTICAL CALCIO: Massimiliano Allegri worked wonders in guiding Juventus to a domestic double and Champions League final in his first season. He achieved this with a team predominantly made up of players in their late 20s and early 30s. Do you feel the team’s average age will be an issue going forward?
ADAM DIGBY: I don’t feel like it is at all, this isn’t a team like the 2007-11 Milan or the 2006-10 Inter that has been allowed to age without being refreshed. Yes there are older players, but it’s far too reductive to say it’s an old team; Paul Pogba and Alvaro Morata (both 22) are first-team regulars, with the likes of Roberto Pereyra (24), Stefano Sturaro (22) and Kingsley Coman (19) all featuring regularly too.
Paulo Dybala (21) and Daniele Rugani (20) have arrived, with Simone Zaza (23) expected to follow soon. Max Allegri has shown he’s not afraid to field youth team players either, something that hasn’t happened here in some time, with the likes of Federico Mattiello and Mattia Vitale getting playing time last year.
You need veterans, and even with the exits of Andrea Pirlo, Carlos Tevez and Simone Pepe, there are other experienced players like Claudio Marchisio ready to step into leadership roles. The club has shown – and continues to show – that there is a plan in place to sustain the current success, with Juventus winning today but always building for tomorrow.
TC: A big part of Juve’s success last season was Allegri’s 4-3-1-2 system with a diamond midfield. Andrea Pirlo was integral to this as a regista, though he is rumoured to be leaving. With this in mind, how do you see Allegri lining up his midfield in the coming season?
AD: Continuing that theme of progression, Pirlo had already begun to be phased out in 2014-15 with Claudio Marchisio thriving in that central role. While he lacks the vision of Pirlo (like the rest of us mere mortals!), he displayed a useful range of passing and a sound understanding of the tempo of a particular game. Those attributes are as essential as creativity is to that role, it’s about making the right pass rather than the highlight reel play or Hollywood ball.
Ahead of that, Juve are blessed with an incredible array of options and that’s what Allegri wants. You labelled his formation 4-3-1-2, I’d say it was 4-3-2-1 as Tevez played very deep but the coach calls it “4-3-& then we’ll see.” People get too hung up on these numbers and formations, football has become much more fluid and we’ll see that from Juve this season I think.
A playmaker and a winger have been mentioned, so I think we’ll see that idea of a central three remain intact, with so many alternatives both in front and behind that, with Allegri also able to use a 3-5-2 when needed. I believe the 4-3-1-2/4-3-2-1 will remain the default framework but it’ll be tailored to the opposition as it was last season.
TC: Juve have signed Paolo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic following Carlos Tevez’s return to Boca Juniors. Given Dybala’s relative inexperience and Mandzukic’s alternative playing style, can either of them fill the gap Tevez leaves?
AD: In short, no. Neither has the ability to replicate what Tevez did for the team each and every week. Dybala has proven to be a livewire in attack and is able to score goals or create for others, but can he replicate that under much greater scrutiny in Turin? Netting 13 times for Palermo is great, but at Juve that would be a poor return, he’s got to raise his game and I think it’s such a pity he won’t get the benefit of a year alongside Tevez to guide him.
Can you imagine Dybala learning to replicate the same tenacity and desire, playing with that same intensity then Tevez leaving him in twelve months? However, this is where Mandzukic comes in. He lacks the skillset of the Argentinean but has that same work ethic AND can score goals at the required rate when the spotlight shines brightest. In a one-on-one comparison they’re nowhere near Tevez, but between them – and with the continued maturation of Morata, Pereyra and others – Juventus can make up the difference.
TC: Juventus have developed a reputation for buying and then loaning out young players, such as Daniele Rugani and Domenico Berardi. Do you see this as a successful policy?
AD: You’d hope that eventually it pays off with these guys getting to pull on the famous black and white stripes. As I mentioned, Allegri isn’t afraid to give youth a chance, and I think that over the next year-18 months we’ll see both Rugani and Berardi represent the club at last, setting the example for others to follow. You can’t underestimate the validity Sturaro lends to the policy either, a kid they took from Genoa starting a Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid shows how the chances are there for those good enough to take them.
TC: The club has been busy so far this summer. Roberto Pereyra has signed permanently after his loan spell while Sami Khedira, Mandzukic and Dybala have all arrived. Who has been the best signing thus far and are there any specific areas of the team that you feel still need to be addressed?
AD: Khedira and Mandzukic have undeniable quality and bring a guaranteed level of performance, but to me the best signing is Dybala. At his age, he could genuinely become a star and people should not overlook the fact Juve were willing to pay €32million to bring him to the club, a record (by €12m!) under the current regime. That speaks volumes about how he’s viewed and I’m excited to see what he can do here.
TC: Finally, can anyone challenge Juventus’ domestic dominance in the 2015-16 season?
AD: I’m loathed to say no, as football has often shown such predictions to be foolhardy, but you have be realistic too and say next season it’s difficult for anyone to catch them. Succeeding in Europe last season ensures there’s less pressure there and Juventus never neglect the league to pursue Champions League glory.
Milan have a lot of work to do, but what Inter and Napoli are doing – if the former gel and Maurizio Sarri gets the players to buy in to his ideas with the latter – should be much stronger this time around. Roma should be much nearer Juventus with the squad they have too, and Rudi Garcia will start the season as perhaps the most under-pressure coach in the league.
Adam Digby is the author of ‘Juventus: A History in Black and White’. He writes about the Bianconeri and Italian football in general for FourFourTwo and BeInSportsUSA, among others. Find him on Twitter @Adz77.