Juventus has struggled in the early goings of this season, dropping points in Serie A against Hellas Verona and most recently losing to Barcelona. The Italian champions have had to make do without their talisman, Cristiano Ronaldo, who has been battling COVID-19. The Portuguese superstar has missed Juve’s last four games in all competitions but is nearing a return to action. On Friday, it was reported that Ronaldo tested negative for COVID-19, handing Juventus a much-needed boost ahead of a crucial stretch.
The Andrea Pirlo era hasn’t exactly gotten off to the roaring start they expected, with Juventus drawing three of their first five games in league action. The rookie tactician has taken an ambitious approach in his debut season, revolutionizing Juve’s set-up in favour of more fluid and attacking football. The transition has not been without its challenges, with the Bianconeri struggling to adapt to their new identity.
Before testing positive for COVID-19, Ronaldo started the season in sensational form, netting three goals in two games. Juve’s recent struggles have largely been in the final third, with the side being woefully inefficient in front of goal. Alvaro Morata has since seen five of his goals correctly ruled out by VAR for being marginally offside, adding to Juventus’s woes in front of goal.
Beyond Morata, Pirlo’s men lack an out-and-out finisher and rely heavily on creative profiles to spark their attack. Paulo Dybala has not been at his best since returning from a lengthy injury layoff, cutting a frustrated figure in his free-roam role. Dejan Kulusevski has shown flashes of his potential, scoring two well-taken goals so far, but has been rather inconsistent. At just 20 years old, it is only normal that it will take Kulusevski time before he finds his feet and emerges as a crucial piece to Pirlo’s setup.
Fellow summer arrival, Federico Chiesa, is in a similar position. The Italian international has blown hot and cold since joining Juventus, registering an assist on his debut, but later got sent off. Shortly thereafter, Chiesa made an immediate impact in his Champions League debut against Dynamo Kyiv, offering some unpredictability and width in the final third, but struggled immensely against Barcelona. As the season wears on, Pirlo will be hoping the young winger can diversify his game and begin offering sustained creativity from a wide area.
As Chiesa and Kulusevski need more time to adapt, Juventus will undoubtedly turn to its 30 million euros man Ronaldo. After all, that’s what he’s paid for. The former Real Madrid man is ruthless in and around the area and will relieve much of the pressure off of Juve’s young guns. Dybala and Ronaldo haven’t always clicked in the final third, enjoying varying degrees of success, but the five-time Ballon d’Or winner will nonetheless pick up the slack when La Joya is having an off-day.
Pirlo has not had this luxury yet, starting most games with at least four starters out of the lineup. The Italian champions are currently at a delicate point in the season and can’t afford to fall further behind the competition. Milan, Napoli and Inter have all proven they are ready to go the distance, adding further pressure on Pirlo to produce results.
The good news for the young tactician is that Juve’s full-strength lineup is slowly returning to action. Beyond the returns of key men, Juventus will be hoping Pirlo’s footballing philosophy is slowly sinking in. Juventus took a big risk fast-tracking him into the hot-seat, but Pirlo has not shied away from the challenge, aiming for an ambitious setup. The results may not be there just yet, but as Ronaldo nears his return to action, Juventus will be confident in their ability to turn it around.
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