When Antonio Conte left his post as Juventus coach last July, the general feeling was that the Bianconeri’s period of dominance was coming to an end. Roma and Napoli were gunning for them, while Conte’s replacement, Massimiliano Allegri, had eggs thrown at his car by Juventus fans who were upset at his appointment. After three consecutive Scudetti, it felt as if change was afoot at the top of Serie A. But fast forward one year and nothing had changed; Juventus were Italian champions once again. If anything, they had improved under Allegri’s guidance, as they also won the Coppa Italia and reached the Champions League final.
Allegri brought in a new system, retained the personnel that had worked so well for Conte and ensured Juventus only tightened their stranglehold over Serie A while also making progress in the Champions League, which is in itself a modern day rarity for clubs from the Peninsula. His appointment and subsequent surprising level of success reinforced the point that change can promote vitality, something that is worth bearing in mind now more than ever given Juve’s high quantity of transfer activity over the summer.
Andrea Pirlo and Carlos Tevez are gone, moving on to New York City and Boca Juniors respectively to see out their illustrious careers. Arturo Vidal also left Turin to join Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich for a €37 million fee. Other squad members, such as Angelo Ogbonna, Simone Pepe and Alessandro Matri, also saw their time with Juventus come to an end. In came the gifted young forward, Paolo Dybala, for a potential fee of €40 million. German internationalist Sami Khedira arrived from Real Madrid on a free transfer, as did goalkeeper Norberto Neto from Fiorentina, while Juventus augmented their striking options further by signing Mario Mandzukic and Simone Zaza from Atletico Madrid and Sassuolo respectively.
Pirlo, Vidal and Tevez were each integral not only to Juventus’ success in recent years, but to the way they played. Their departures leave huge shoes to be filled and the new signings will have to settle quickly if the champions are to maintain the high levels of performance set in previous years. Juventus aren’t quite a club in transition, but there has been enough upheaval in the squad to give hope to their title rivals. They are off to a good start, though, having defeated Lazio 2-0 in the Supercoppa earlier this month to pick up their first silverware of the 2015/16 season.
Massimiliano Allegri rolled adeptly with the punches in his first campaign at the Juventus helm. He arrived fairly late in pre-season to little enthusiasm and had to work with a team that had been assembled by his respected predecessor. Rather than ripping up the script entirely, he made slight tactical modifications and maximised the full potential of his squad to allow Juventus to compete on three different fronts.
His second year in charge will bring about a new challenge, however. His first season has set high standards to maintain and his squad now looks a lot different, particularly in midfield and attack. Allegri won a Scudetto with AC Milan in 2011 but was unable to repeat the feat, so there remain doubts as to his ability to achieve sustained success.
His quest for longevity with Juventus begins in different circumstances, however. For a start, he won’t have to watch as his best players are sold; Juve have the financial capacity to resist the financial enticements of wealthy foreign clubs, as seen in their keeping hold of Paul Pogba despite obviously covetous glances from Barcelona.
He may have made a habit of slipping at inopportune moments last season, but there is nonetheless no denying the importance of Giorgio Chiellini to this Juventus side. With his flat nose and uncompromising attitude, he has occasionally been labelled as a typical defensive hardman. Such labels are reductive. He is indeed a hardman, but he is also so much more.
Juventus’ defensive organisation and ruthless streak makes them a very difficult team to beat and Chiellini is a big part of that, but they also have a very strong possession game which Chiellini is crucial to. A former left-back, he is more than capable of bounding forward with the ball at feet and always seems to pick the right pass with unerring accuracy. This makes him Juve’s go-to-guy for kick-starting attacks from the back.
Having recently turned 31, Chiellini is unlikely to get any faster and could do with cutting out those pesky foot misplacements. However, his canniness, superb reading of the game and devilish eye for ‘alternative methods’ of defensive negation should ensure that he continues to play a prominent role in Juventus’ future.
One to Watch
It’s hard to tell what brings more pressure: being seen as the long-term replacement for Carlos Tevez or a €40 million price tag. Whichever one it is, Paulo Dybala will have to deal with both. The former Palermo frontman, brought in over the summer, is rated as one of the best young strikers in the game but he will now have to cope with a level of attention he has not yet been subject to in his career thus far.
Dybala arrived in Sicily in 2012 on the back of one excellent season with Instituto de Cordoba in the Argentine second tier, where he scored 17 goals. A slight, raw 18-year-old, he initially had difficulty replicating that form against disciplined Italian defences. He scored just eight league goals as Palermo were relegated and then promoted, but erupted into form last year, striking up a partnership with Franco Vazquez to hit 13 goals.
Dybala led the line on his own at Palermo in a 3-5-1-1 formation, but he will have more support around him at Juventus. With an intricate left foot, poise, pace and agility, he has the potential to become a star.
New signings Dybala and Mandzukic scored on their competitive debuts for Juventus in the team’s Supercoppa win over Lazio, but there is uncertainty as to how Juve’s strikeforce will look this season. Although choosing the 3-5-2 formation for the Lazio game, Allegri is likely to opt for the 4-3-1-2 that worked so well for the club last season. Either way, two strikers will lead the line, but which two?
With Alvaro Morata, Zaza, Dybala and Mandzukic to choose from, Allegri has a dilemma on his hands. Morata was superb as last season progressed, his direct running and pace complementing Tevez’s nimble footwork just behind him. The most viable replacement for Tevez stylistically is probably Dybala, but Allegri may not be so keen on a front two with a combined age of 43.
Behind the strikers, the loss of Vidal prompts the idea that Allegri may be seeking a change in the way Juventus play, with speculation linking the club with moves for Julian Draxler to replace their departed Chilean at the tip of their midfield diamond. Draxler is more of a traditional number 10, which suggests that if he – or a similar type of player – were signed, Allegri’s Juve may play a more fluid, possession-oriented brand of attacking football.
At the base of the midfield diamond, Pirlo will be a hard act to follow. Claudio Marchisio performed well in the role when chosen to do so last season, while Khedira’s passing ability makes him a candidate. The latter will be injured for the start of the season, however, meaning that Marchisio may find himself playing in the regista role irrespective of his form or capability due to a lack of real alternatives.
Despite the attacking changes, Juventus’ defence is pretty much as it was last season. Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli will be the first-choice centre-backs in a back four or a back three, although promising Italy under-21 international Daniele Rugani recently returned from an impressive loan spell with Empoli and offers yet more quality competition. At full-back, the club are reportedly very close to signing Porto’s Alex Sandro to offer an alternative to the 34-year-old Patrice Evra.