Juventus struggling for consistency under Andrea Pirlo

Juventus has stumbled in the early goings of the Andrea Pirlo era, playing out to six draws in its first 13 games. Most recently, the Italian champions were handed their first defeat of the season, losing to Fiorentina 3-0. Juan Cuadrado’s early red card may have essentially sealed their fate on Tuesday, but the Colombian’s sending off is a part of a worrying trend for Pirlo’s men.

Indiscipline has come back to haunt Juve this season, earning six red cards already. In many ways, it has cost them important points, forcing them to share the spoils with Roma and Crotone, while losing to Fiorentina on Tuesday. Beyond Juve’s indiscipline, the Bianconeri have regularly been victims of lapses in concentration in their own defensive third, indicating their own complacency.

Juventus can ill afford to drop any further behind as the season wears on and currently sit seven points behind the league-leading Milan. CONI’s ruling to overturn Napoli’s forfeit means that in addition to playing Gennaro Gattuso’s men, Juventus has to take on Milan and Inter as well. January could just prove to be a make-or-break month for Pirlo and could come to define his Juventus tenure.

The Italian champions could use their encounters with both Milan-based clubs to turn their season around and close the gap atop the table, but on current form, it seems unlikely. Pirlo has persevered with his hybrid 4-4-2/3-5-2 formation and is clearly experiencing growing pains.

Juventus often get caught on the break, just like they did for Fiorentina’s opener, and at times, struggle to make their possession count. While Pirlo’s system is completely different compare to Maurizio Sarri’s rigid setup, time is running out for the rookie tactician. If Juventus keep dropping points, they will be out of the title race before it even starts.

At times, the Italian giants look unstoppable in the final third and run rampant against their opposition, as evidenced by their 4-0 win over Parma. Other times, the Bianconeri look completely toothless and devoid of any inspiration. Juventus has impressed in Europe this season, topping their Champions League group, but has failed to translate their dominance back to Serie A – indicating their struggles might boil down to a lack of motivation.

Juve’s struggles in big games is another concern for Pirlo heading into the new year. The Turin-based club has drawn against Roma, Lazio, Atalanta and is yet to beat a side in Italy’s top six. Their upcoming clashes against Milan and Inter can serve as a turning point in their season, but it won’t be easy. On one hand, the Rossoneri are playing some of the best football in Italy, while on the other, Conte’s Inter is as well-drilled as they come in the peninsula. Factor in another game against Napoli in addition to a congested schedule, and it’s an uphill battle for Pirlo.

The rookie tactician can take solace in the fact that he has all the ingredients to turn it around. Alvaro Morata has hit the ground running since returning, forming a deadly partnership with Cristiano Ronaldo, while Weston McKennie appears ready for a bigger role. Their backline may not be as solid as it used to be, but Matthijs de Ligt’s continued progression into one of Europe’s elite defenders is encouraging.

The wealth of options has since given Pirlo quite the dilemma, with the World Cup winner yet to decide on his best eleven. Moving forward, the Azzurri legend should make the most of the upcoming break and establish his starting lineup – otherwise, the Bianconeri’s woes will only continue. Juventus is in dire need of consistency going into 2021 and needs their manager to step up. Pirlo may have all the tools to succeed in Turin but whether he knows what to do with them, remains to be seen.

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More questions than answers under Andrea Pirlo

The Andrea Pirlo era hasn’t exactly gotten off the ground in the early goings of the season, with the Italian champions drawing five of their first nine games in league play. Most recently, Juventus was forced to share the spoils with Benevento, playing out to a 1-1 draw against the newly-promoted outfit.

While there have been some signs of progress under the rookie tactician, there are currently more questions than answers in Turin. The Bianconeri currently sit six points off Milan in first place, and have shown no signs of consistency. As Juventus are on the hunt for their 10th consecutive Scudetto, Pirlo will need to figure out his best eleven and start making up some crucial ground ahead of the next stretch.

Much like it was the case against Ferencvaros, Juventus struggled to create chances against Benevento. Paulo Dybala’s recent woes continued on Saturday, with the Argentine maestro struggling to make an impact on the proceedings. When he did create space for himself, Dybala was wasteful, spurning a high-quality opportunity in the first half. The former Palermo man has been an awkward fit in Pirlo’s setup until now and has since been usurped in the lineup by Alvaro Morata.

The World Cup winner has typically deployed him in a front two but Dybala has regularly left a lot to be desired up top. It may be the ongoing contract negotiations, but Dybala will need to get his season back on track sooner rather than later. If he can’t turn it around, Pirlo may be forced to reduce his minutes and use him as a supersub.

Beyond Dybala’s continued struggles, Juve’s wingers have disappointed and regularly fail to offer much, outside of flashes of brilliance. Pirlo’s hybrid setup means Juve defends in a 4-4-2 and attacks in a 3-5-2 of sorts, yet, this formation has held back the likes of Dejan Kulusevski and Federico Chiesa. The former has thrived when played centrally, either up top, or as the side’s trequartista, and fails to make an impact from a retreated wingback position. In many ways, Kulusevski’s talent is wasted out wide and is another one of Pirlo’s experiments that should be abandoned.

Chiesa has impressed at wingback at times, most recently providing an inch-perfect assist to Morata, but it is clear he is at his best when playing in a front three. The former Fiorentina man can do a job at wingback, but like Kulusevski, is being shackled by defensive responsibilities. If Juve’s creative struggles persist, Pirlo would be wise to consider shaking up his setup and move into a more traditional, winger-friendly 4-3-3.

Pirlo’s current setup fails to get the best of his front men and shoehorns them into unfamiliar positions. While the lack of a pre-season has not helped the rookie tactician, he needs to demonstrate flexibility moving forward.  The likes of Chiesa, Dybala, Ronaldo, Kulusevski, and Morata represent one of the league’s deepest attacks and could benefit from a formation change.

As Juventus enters a crucial part of the season, they simply cannot afford to drop any more points. The Bianconeri have already drawn against Crotone, Benevento, and Hellas Verona, games they should frankly be winning. Juve’s continued dependence on Ronaldo is a worrying trend but could be remedied by the emergence of their summer arrivals. Chiesa and Kulusevski have demonstrated they have the ability to contribute, but they need to play in their preferred positions.

Pirlo’s Juve is clearly a side in transition, but even then, these are games they should be winning. If the Italian champions will defend their crown and march to a historic 10th title, something needs to change in Turin. Whether Pirlo is aware or not, will likely determine if he is successful in his managerial debut.

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Early qualification offers Pirlo time to find his feet

The Andrea Pirlo era is slowly kicking into gear in Turin, with Juventus punching its ticket into the Round of 16, thanks to a late winner against Ferencvaros. The Italian champions find themselves three points behind Barcelona, with two games left to duke it out for first place. Beyond progressing to the next round comfortably – an impressive feat in itself from the rookie manager – Pirlo has been presented with a unique opportunity in the two final matchdays; An opportunity to stamp out his best lineup and impart his footballing philosophy, pressure-free.

The World Cup winner has used the first months of his tenure to experiment with his roster, attempting to find his ideal eleven. As it stands right now, there are more questions than answers. For example: What is Juve’s best midfield pairing? Is there room for Paulo Dybala up front? When fully fit, who should start in defense? All questions that will largely determine how successful Pirlo is at Juventus.

Merih Demiral and Matthijs de Ligt impressed in their first game together against Cagliari, while Danilo – excluding his slip against Ferencvaros – has hardly put a foot wrong, playing in the back three. Leonardo Bonucci’s importance can’t be understated, with the veteran defender heavily involved in Juve’s buildup play, while few defenders are as uncompromising as Giorgio Chiellini when fit. That leaves Pirlo with the tough decision of leaving two defenders on the bench.

While not an easy decision, de Ligt will almost certainly start. The young Dutchman is the prototypical modern defender, equally capable of thwarting the opposition’s attacks as he is starting his own.  Demiral has been nothing short of sensational alongside him, adding some much-needed physicality in Chiellini’s absence. Given their potential to grow into Europe’s top centreback pairing of the future, Pirlo should entrust Demiral and De Ligt and give them a go against Barcelona. Danilo has earned his starting spot alongside them, offering something different from your typical centrebacks.

In the midfield, Adrien Rabiot’s recent performances have stood out. Simply put, Juventus are a better team with the Frenchman in the lineup. Pirlo has tried to get Arthur going, giving him a run of games as the side’s regista, producing mixed results. The former Barca man is an extremely gifted ball carrier but fails to break the lines.

Arthur was more aggressive with the ball at his feet on Tuesday, forcing a number of over-the-top through balls. While most of them did not reach their intended target, it is an encouraging first step. As Juve enters two dead-rubber games against Barcelona and Dynamo Kyiv, Pirlo would be wise to give the Arthur-Rabiot connection some continuity.

Alvaro Morata’s rapid rise to prominence has made Pirlo’s decision up front much easier. The Spaniard has hit the ground running since returning, already netting five goals in the Champions League alone – including the all-important winner on Tuesday. Beyond his goals, Morata is clearly better suited to playing alongside Ronaldo, linking up with the Portuguese superstar with ease.

Ronaldo has thrived in recent years with a more physical presence alongside him, something Dybala simply can’t offer. La Joya has struggled this season, scoring one goal in eight appearances. The ongoing negotiation for his new contract, as well, as his highly-publicized battle with COVID-19, have held Dybala back in the early goings of the season. As of right now, however, the former Palermo man is on the outside looking in.

Despite this, Juve’s final two Champions League games would be a good time to experiment with the possibility of playing the 27-year-old alongside Ronaldo and Morata; something Pirlo alluded to earlier this week.

Make no mistake about it, Pirlo’s Juve remains a side in construction and there will be more growing pains. The rookie tactician has demonstrated he is ready to adapt and make the most of the deep roster at his disposal, an intriguing prospect ahead of Juve’s upcoming clash against Barcelona. The coming weeks should be very interesting in Turin as Pirlo continues to stamp his authority on his new-look Juventus side.

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Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round Seven – Top Matches

SASSUOLO-UDINESE

Sassuolo: the Neroverdi were missing their top three players against Napoli, but they won anyway thanks a brand-new scheme by Roberto De Zerbi, who, for once, opted for caution and a three-man back-line and got rewarded with their talented central midfielders stepping up. Filip Djuricic has COVID and will not return here, Domenico Berardi and Francesco Caputo have been called up, but they might be limited, so it is possible Giacomo Raspadori stays initially in a big role and Gregoire Defrel gets the nod. Both the Frenchman and Jeremie Boga have not looked great as they work their way into shape, while Hamed Traore is generally pretty lively. Even if at less than 100 percent, Caputo and Betardi are always good choices, while Lopez would be an outstanding one if used as no.10 to substitute Djuricic. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Recap – Round Six

Standings implications: Milan came out on top again thanks to a late push versus Udinese, retaining the top spot. Juventus managed to pull away from Spezia with a superb second half and moved to third place as Napoli got upended at home by Sassuolo, who come in second. After two losses, Atalanta put one on the win column by handling Crotone rather easily, even though the score was closer than what transpired in the game. Verona returned to winning ways against Benevento and resumed flying high.

Inter could not build up on last week’s win as they were held to a tie at home by Parma and actually were very close to losing. Roma extended their positive streak by breezing past Fiorentina. Lazio topped Torino at the buzzer in a nail-bater. Sampdoria and Genoa shared the spoils in a pretty entertaining edition of the Derby della Lanterna. Bologna got off their schneid with a quality and hard-fought victory against Crotone.

Continue reading

Juventus Top Performers – Round Six vs Spezia

Juventus played with fire by flipping the off-switch too early after getting early lead, allowing Spezia to equalize, but fully exploited the prairies left by Spezia in the second half, celebrating the return of Cristiano Ronaldo in style with an healthy win.

Danilo: another solid all-around display by the Brazilian defender, who was not particularly bothered by the opponents that played on his side and was instrumental in a pair of good-looking plays with his precise passing, in particular initiating the first goal with a splendid through ball for Weston McKennie and springing Federico Chiesa past the back-line few minutes later. Gianluigi Buffon pulled off a monster save on a Julian Chabot point-blank header that would have made it two-all, while the Tommaso Pobega’s shot was deflected right in front of him. Leonardo Bonucci was in his element as he could focus more on intercepting passes rather than in closely guarding an adversary and was sharp with his distribution, instead Merih Demiral was pretty sloppy both in the back and with the ball in his feet. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round Six – Top Matches

INTER-PARMA

Inter: Romelu Lukaku suffered a thigh injury that will cost him at least one game and the Nerazzurri will have to make up for the loss of their target man, something that rarely happened last year. Alexis Sanchez is dealing with a small problem as well, therefore Lautaro Martinez, who has slowed down after opening the campaign with three straight goals, will have to shoulder the attack, then they will hope Andrea Pinamonti can be decent right away. They also briefly used Ivan Perisic as second-striker in the last game. Stefano Sensi is back on the shelf with his customary muscular problems: Christian Eriksen had some flashes last week, but so far him and Marcelo Brozovic have produced nothing too exciting. Their best midfielder has been Nicolò Barella (two assists), while Arturo Vidal has mostly taken care of the dirty work. At some point Radja Nainggolan will get in on the action, but it has not happened yet. Fortunately, Achraf Hakimi (one goal, two assists) was a false positive and he will resume plowing the flank from the start here, while Ashley Young has shaken off the virus and will challenge Ivan Perisic, who has been solid (two assists) but has not really taken off. Their back-line has improved with Alessandro Bastoni back in the fold.

Recommended picks: Martinez, Perisic, Hakimi.  Continue reading

Juventus Top Performers – Champions League home game vs Barcelona

Juventus were handed the first loss of the season, at home no less, by a depleted Barcelona team that never really needed to get into second gear to create problems and whose laundry list of absences was very exploitable, but the Old Lady paid the price for a collective off-day of their most creative players.

Leonardo Bonucci: he bit the bullet coming off a small injury that in other times would have cost him some matches and he was surprisingly decent as started off with an incredible slide to block a shot and then thwarted some insidious actions simpluy with masterful positioning. Continue reading

Juventus Top Performers – Round Five vs Verona

Same as in previous Serie A weeks, Juventus did not fully push the envelope until it was too late and the team got smacked in the face. It still almost worked, as the final siege could have easily yielded another goal, but ultimately the Old Lady was held to another disappointing tie.

Danilo: after a pair of ho-hum displays, the Brazilian international returned to the excellent levels he exhibited at the beginning of the campaign, both as hybrid centre-back and as a pure one once Leonardo Bonucci subbed off. The Italian veteran had a confusing performance as he often ventured forward since he was unguarded, but that did not produce anything good, if not some imbalances when he tracked back. Since when it rains, it pours, he picked up an injury and the back-line is down to bare bones. Usual hustle out of Merih Demiral, who however was not as dominant as in other circumstances. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Previews – Round Five – Top Matches

ATALANTA-SAMPDORIA

Atalanta: the Bergamaschi looked unprepared to match Napoli’s aggressiveness in the last fixture and the much-anticipated bout ended with a shocking beating. They will look to return to form in Serie A as well after pummelling Midtjylland. Alejandro Gomez has been the tip of the spear so far and straight-up one of the best players in the League. Luis Muriel has put his name in the stat-sheet twice, like Sam Lemmers, who has made the most of his limited opportunities. Duvan Zapata has been more up-and-down. Josip Ilicic looked rusty in his first game back, but that is understandable: the good news is that he indeed came back and the coach will likely give him regular minutes to get him into shape. Ruslan Malinovskyi is questionable due to an injury, which may lead to some playing time for the intriguing Aleksey Miranchuk. Their stud wing-backs Hans Hateboer and Robin Gosens have scored one goal each, with the German international adding two assists.

Suggested picks: Gomez, Muriel, Zapata. Continue reading