Juventus stuttering under Andrea Pirlo

The Andrea Pirlo era has not exactly gotten off to the start Andrea Agnelli was hoping for when he appointed the rookie tactician. Juventus has struggled in recent weeks, dropping points against Crotone and Hellas Verona. In fact, the Bianconeri have only recorded one victory on the field this season – in their opener against Sampdoria. Beyond the poor results, Juventus look like a side clearly in transition and is currently in the midst of defining its new identity.

Since his appointment, Pirlo has emphasized the need to press up the pitch and force turnovers as well as committing many men forward in attack. This is a complete turnaround from his predecessors, notably Maurizio Sarri. The former Empoli tactician stressed the importance of intricate buildup play and recognizable patterns of possession. Pirlo has completely shaken this up and has instilled a new system in place, which allows for flexibility in and out of possession.

When Juventus lose the ball, they typically fall into a back four and defend with a 4-4-2. As the side wins back the ball, however, the Bianconeri quickly transition into a hybrid 3-5-2/3-2-5 of sorts and look to stretch the opposition. Considering Pirlo did not have a preseason to work out the kinks of his system, growing pains are to be expected. In addition, this setup is the polar opposite of Sarri’s footballing philosophy.

As a result, it is only normal that Pirlo encounters some issues when attempting to essentially reset his players. Tactical changes take time to be fully immersed into the eleven, even if the poor results add to the pressure he is currently facing.

Beyond their recent struggles, it is important to consider Juve’s notable absences. Cristiano Ronaldo has missed the side’s last three games after testing positive for COVID-19, and will likely miss their upcoming clash against Barcelona. Other than Ronaldo, Pirlo has had to make do without Alex Sandro, Matthijs de Ligt and until recently, Paulo Dybala. Weston McKennie is another player who tested positive for COVID-19, after his impressive start to the season. When considering that four bonafide starters have been missing, it puts Juve’s early-season struggles into context .

Absences, however, are not excuses as the side has failed to impress in their last two league affairs. Once again, Juventus have demonstrated complacency in their games against Hellas Verona and Crotone and only took the game to the opposition after conceding a goal. This mentality has been present for the past two seasons now and is something that needs to be changed immediately.

Pirlo’s men played their best football in the last 20 minutes of their most recent clash against Hellas Verona as their backs were against the wall. Simply put, a narrow deficit should not be necessary for the side to demonstrate urgency on the pitch. The Italian champions were at their best in their Champions League opener, dominating the proceedings from the get-go, and must translate this mentality into their domestic play. Otherwise, they risk relinquishing their Scudetto crown for the first time in 10 years.

Juventus will now shift their attention to Barcelona in their second Champions League game and will do so, with only one fit central defender. After Barcelona, the Bianconeri take on Spezia, Lazio, and Cagliari. Despite their notable absences, Juve will have to return to winning ways sooner rather than later, otherwise risk falling into crisis mode.

Given it is still early days in Pirlo’s tenure, it would be wise to exhibit patience and allow Juve’s regular starters to return to action before judging him and his setup. The early signs have been encouraging, but Pirlo needs to eliminate his side’s complacency and introduce a newfound desire to conquer Italian football.

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Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round Three

Atalanta: Pierluigi Gollini (PCL tear), Aleksey Miranchuk (thigh strain) and Matteo Pessina (patellar dislocation) will once again be unavailable and the coach raised some concern regarding Cristiano Piccini, who has not been able to practice fully since joining. The fact that they are signing another player in his role does not bode well for his timetable. The team announced that somebody tested positive but did not disclose whom: Mattia Caldara and Rafael Toloi are absent out of the blue. 

Benevento: Federico Barba returned midweek but subbed off in the first half and has been ruled out. Andres Tello (thigh) and Oliver Kragl (neck) are again sidelined. Nicolas Viola (meniscus) might not be back for the first game after the break. Continue reading

Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round Two

Atalanta: Duvan Zapata and José Palomino should be good to go after COVID, but they might be initially limited. Cristiano Piccini will be held out as he works on his fitness level. Aleksey Miranchuk (thigh strain) is unlikely to be back before the international break. Pierluigi Gollini (partial ACL tear) and Matteo Pessina (patellar dislocation) are expected to return in November. Berat Djimsiti and Cristian Romero are suspended. Josip Ilicic remains out indefinitely as he recovers from mental health issues, but at least he is practicing. 

Benevento: Nicolas Viola is out as he had a torn meniscus removed and will be sidelined for a couple of months. Oliver Kragl (neck) and Andres Tello have been ruled for minor ailments, Federico Barba because of lack of fitness.  Continue reading

Why a return to a back three makes sense for Juventus

Juventus took the controversial decision to sack Maurizio Sarri and replace him with the relatively unproven Andrea Pirlo this past summer, after a disappointing season. The Bianconeri may have retained their Scudetto, but ultimately fell short against Lyon in the Round of 16 of the Champions League.

Sarri was a firm believer in his preferred 4-3-3 and rarely budged from his playing philosophy, despite his side’s lackluster play. While not much is known about Pirlo’s coaching style or formation, all signs are pointing to some form of a return to a back three. Media outlets have speculated that Pirlo will deploy a back three in possession, which will later transform into a back four when they lose the ball.

As of right now, this is Juve’s reported XI going into their season opener against Sampdoria:

Szczęsny; Danilo, Bonucci, Chiellini; Cuadrado, Bentancur, Arthur, Rabiot, Pellegrini; Kulusevski, Ronaldo.

In theory, Pellegrini would drop at left back when Juventus lose the ball, with the remaining midfielders forming a bank of four ahead of their backline. Matthijs de Ligt’s return would hand the Bianconeri a huge boost, as well, while Merih Demiral will slowly be eased into action following his injury.

The back three ensures Pirlo gets the most out of Bonucci and Chiellini, who have thrived in this system before while giving de Ligt and Demiral the license to get forward in possession. Danilo struggled last season, but could benefit from a deeper role, as the Brazilian will no longer be tasked with contributing offensively.

Beyond the back three, this formation offers a crafty solution to Juve’s fullback conundrum. The Italian champions simply do not have the quality out wide to compete with Europe’s elite, but the 3-5-2 helps remedy this. Cuadrado has typically excelled in this position, while Luca Pellegrini will be raring to go on Sunday. The former Cagliari man will be looking to make the most of Alex Sandro’s recent setback and cement himself as Juve’s starting leftback. Pellegrini has demonstrated he can get forward with ease and with Chiellini behind him, he will have all the guidance he needs in his defensive third.

Federico Bernardeschi and Alex Sandro are two players who will be hoping to get their careers back on track after mediocre seasons and the 3-5-2 could just revitalize the duo. The former has experience in this setup during his time at Fiorentina, while Sandro was at his very best as a wingback under Conte.

The midfield is where it gets interesting for Pirlo. As of right now, Rodrigo Bentancur, Arthur, and Adrien Rabiot are his preferred trio, but Juve’s latest signing Weston McKennie is worth monitoring. Arthur will reportedly start as the side’s regista after convincing Pirlo in training and will largely be tasked with dictating play. Rabiot, on the other hand, finished the season in exceptional form and will be eager to hit the ground running once more.

The biggest question mark, however, remains Bentancur. The Uruguayan international has played his best football at the base of the midfield, but Arthur is currently the preferred man there. As the season progresses, it will be interesting to see Pirlo juggle the two and potentially introduce McKennie into the fold for one of them.

Up front, Ronaldo and Dybala enter the season at the preferred duo, but the latter’s latest injury will hand Dejan Kulusevski a chance to stake a claim for a spot in the eleven. The Swedish international has emerged as one of the league’s brightest young talents and could force Pirlo’s hand with a strong start. As Kulusevski gains familiarity in his system, the rookie tactician may just be forced to deploy a three-man attack to accommodate him alongside Dybala and Ronaldo.

Given his propensity to work hard without the ball, a 3-4-3 with Kulusevski tracking back, similar to Gian Piero Gasperini’s system, is not entirely out of the question. Edin Dzeko’s reported move to Juve will also prove crucial, as the Bosnian international offers a much-needed physical and creative presence in the final third.

If last season showed us anything, it’s that tactical rigidity got Juve nowhere. The Bianconeri played mediocre football and struggled to create chances. Pirlo’s appointment is by no means a sure thing, but at the very least, the rookie tactician is ready to experiment, starting with their opener against Sampdoria.

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Juventus Top Performers – UCL Round of 16 vs Lyon

A sloppy, gassed and quickly dejected Juventus came one goal short of completing the comeback against Lyon despite Cristiano Ronaldo’s heroics as, sans a hobbled Paulo Dybala, the supporting cast proved to be nowhere near the level of the Portuguese ace.

Alex Sandro: he was not only the best defender on the pitch, but straight-up the second-best contributor of the night, as he bust out a vintage performance full of charisma, sprints and tidy defending. He was one of the few that still had some energy in the second half and thus created some dangerous situations galloping down the flank. Continue reading

Juventus Top Performers – Round 37 vs Cagliari

Despite what the final result may indicate, Juventus actually put in a decent effort against Cagliari few days after the title-clincher, but it was one of those in the box where they would not have been able to score even if they played one more hour.

Alex Sandro: tough to find a good contributor among defenders, as the back-line collectively fell asleep (again) on the initial goal, where Cagliari players were allowed to pass the ball from one flank to the other and then back to the middle for a tap-in without much opposition. Leonardo Bonucci and Gianluigi Buffon then were both poor on the Giovanni Simeone goal, as the centre-back should have stayed closer and the goalie had his hands bent. Since it is often hard to notice that Daniele Rugani is even playing, the nod goes to Alex Sandro, who was moderately active offensively and has become a sneaky asset on set pieces with his headers. Continue reading

Juventus Top Performers – Round 33 vs Sassuolo

Juventus believed have tamed the Sassuolo with a one-two punch in the first 15 minutes, but could not have been more mistaken as the Neroverdi managed to fully rally back. The Bianconeri re-focused late and came away with a tie, garnering the third negative result in a row.

Alex Sandro (1 point): the back-line was facing another quality attack, but still conceded way too easily, although it is likely no coincidence that things really fell apart only after Giorgio Chiellini subbed off. Granted that the first two goals were a bit random and product of the shooting prowess of the opponents, the defenders were often on skates when Sassuolo came close to the box. Continue reading

Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 32

Atalanta: everybody is available and perhaps that is one of the reasons behind their success.

Bologna: Stefano Denswil is suspended, while Roberto Soriano won the appeal and will be available. Federico Santander and Andrea Poli should not be out much longer with their thigh strain, while Andreas Skov Olsen returned in the last round. Jerdy Schouten will miss a couple of weeks due to a biceps femoris strain. 

Brescia: Emanuele Ndoj was available against Torino. Jhon Chancellor (thigh) is progressing and is likely to come back at some point, Andrea Cistana is still 50/50 for the season. Continue reading

Serie A Injury and Supension Report – Round 31

Atalanta: José Palomino is suspended.

Bologna: Roberto Soriano was red-carded in the last game and has been suspended for two matches. Gary Medel was a late scratch for the last game due to back spasm, but he is in the squad list. Ibrahima Mbaye and Andreas Skov Olsen (thigh) recovered enough to be called up. Andrea Poli and Federico Santander are nursing thigh strains.

Brescia: Andrea Cistana (lower leg surgery), Jhon Chancellor (thigh) and Dimitri Bisoli (patellar tendon) remain sidelined, Emanuele Ndoj and Enrico Alfonso are questionable.  Continue reading

Serie A Injuries and Suspensions Report – Round 27

Atalanta: Josip Ilicic sprained his right ankle in practice and will have to be assessed before the Lazio game. Mario Pasalic is suspended.

Bologna: Mattia Bani, Jerdy Schouten and Federico Santander are suspended and the striker also picked up a biceps femoris strain and will be sidelined for three-to-four weeks. Similar timetable for Andreas Skov Olsen, who is nursing a lesion of the myotendinous junction of the right flexor. Continue reading