Crucial Summer Ahead for Juventus

After wrapping up their eighth consecutive Scudetto following their 2-1 win over Fiorentina, Juventus will now focus their efforts on addressing the issues plaguing their roster. While the bianconeri added two trophies to their haul this season, they failed in Europe losing to a superior Ajax side over the two ties, and were sent packing in the Coppa Italia against Atalanta. Both defeats spoke volumes of this Juventus side and demonstrated just how fragile the Italian champions are when pressed. Here are three fundamental questions they must answer come summertime if they are to achieve European glory.

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1) Massimiliano Allegri: In or out? 

Since their collapse in Cardiff, Juventus have not been the same, and look a side devoid of an identity. This season much of the same problems persisted. The bianconeri strolled to the Scudetto, barely challenging themselves in the process as their competitors consistently shot themselves in the foot. Frankly, most Serie A tacticians would have won the title with this roster.

What’s more frustrating for Juve is that Allegri has completely failed at instilling a consistent style of play, and largely depends on individual brilliance to see him through. And when all else fails, the Italian champions typically bombard the box with crosses, and hope for Mandzukic or Ronaldo to come through. When opposing sides pressed the bianconeri high, and played without fear, by contrast, Juventus struggled to put three passes together.

When the board meets with Allegri to discuss the past season, they should replay the Ajax and Atalanta games. In both instances, Juventus cowered deep in fear, while the bolder team was rewarded for their self-confidence. If Juve are to win the Champions League, they need a fearless leader, and one thing’s for certain: Allegri is not that. It’s the end of the Allegri era, as we know it.

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2) Project Fix The Defence. 

Since Antonio Conte brought back Juve from consecutive seventh place finishes, the bianconeri’s defence was always their foundation and backbone for success. With Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini, Juventus possessed arguably the strongest backline in the world, and kept opponents at bay with ease.

However, with Barzagli nearing retirement and Bonucci looking like a shadow of his former self since his controversial return, Juventus’ defence has been a weak point for the side and has held the team back. Factor in Alex Sandro’s continued struggles, and it’s clear to see: Without Chiellini, Juventus are a mess at the back.

Considering Daniele Rugani’s stagnation, and Bonucci’s regular lapses in concentration, it’s time Juventus revamp their defence. First of all, they shouldn’t hesitate to sell Rugani and Alex Sandro as soon as a good offer arrives. The former has been a disaster when called upon, and shirks at the first sight of a physical battle. Alex Sandro, by contrast, has lost most of his pace, and offers close to nothing in the final third.

With Cristian Romero already on his way from Genoa, and Leonardo Spinazzola improving with every week, the state of Juventus’ defence remains decent. However, they will need at least two reinforcements: a centre-back and a left back.

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3) Project Fix the Midfield.

Much like the defence, Juventus’ midfield is in complete disarray, and lacks a true leader. Since dismantling their midfield in 2015 by selling Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba, the bianconeri are yet to bolster the midfield sufficiently. At the moment, only Miralem Pjanic and potentially Emre Can are worthy starters, while the others are solid bench options at best.

Even Pjanic and Can, who on their day are world beaters, struggle to impose themselves, and aren’t meant to lead the midfield as seen through the Ajax clashes. Despite Aaron Ramsey’s arrival, Juventus are still lacking one profile in their midfield. A ball-winner capable of maintaining possession. What they would do for a prime Claudio Marchisio again? But Juventus could settle for Lyon’s Tanguy N’Dombele.

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Allegri previews Juventus v SPAL

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Massimiliano Allegri met the journalists earlier today, giving few hints about the lineup: “I will evaluate after today’s practice, but I think many of the starters will rest. Some others need to play and this will be the right game for them. Some may not even be called up. Few youngsters will have the opportunity to be with us. We have an all-important game on Tuesday that will close this current cycle and could allow us to advance to the semifinals.”

On Ferrara: “It would be nice to celebrate there, they are moving towards their second straight successful campaign in Serie A. They renovated the stadium and it is a beautiful city where you breath history, passion and enthusiasm. Whoever ends up playing will have to do well in order to grab one or three points because they are good at home.” Continue reading

Juventus Top Performers – UCL quarterfinal first leg

Ajax v Juventus - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final: First Leg

A rather uninspiring Juventus display in Amsterdam still led to a positive result ahead of the second leg.

Daniele Rugani: something close to a coming out party for the young defender, who did not shake in his boots in his first Champions League elimination game and was very precise in most of his reads despite adversaries putting the back-line under intense pressure. It is always recommendable to have Giorgio Chiellini in any kind of scenario, but this is not the worst match-up for Rugani’s skillset. Leonardo Bonucci had a pretty clean performance too, but that is what is expected from him. Continue reading

Rugani and Allegri preview the Ajax tilt

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Daniele Rugani, who will start for the injured Giorgio Chiellini, and Massimiliano Allegri addressed the press late yesterday. The defender had the floor first: “We all know the value of Chiellini, I will do my best to make up for his absence. It is a very nice moment for me, I am going through it with enthusiasm. These are the kinds of game you dream about where you are a kid.”

On Matthijs De Ligt: “I know him, I faced him with the national team. We might play together in the future, why not? It is always a good thing to feature next to strong players. They have several of them, it is natural that there is some interest around them.” Continue reading

Juventus Top Performers – Round 31

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Juventus had to bring something close to their A-game in the second half, but eventually managed to outduel Milan on Saturday night and moved one win away from Scudetto.

Daniele Rugani: not a satisfactory defensive performance by any stretch, although the level of the opponent has to be taken into consideration and the Rossoneri are no slouches, especially when they are performing with this level of intensity. Leonardo Bonucci had a dreadful giveaway that led to the first goal, while the fullbacks had a muted performance, even though Mattia De Sciglio and especially Alex Sandro did manage to pitch in offensively a little after intermission. Continue reading

Three Things We Learned From Juventus’ Win

Today, Juventus overcame Empoli at the Allianz Stadium extending their lead over second-place Napoli to eighteen points, in anticipation of the partenopei’s clash against Roma tomorrow. While Allegri’s men did just enough to claim all three points, Juventus played poorly, and demonstrated their past midfield issues still loom large, as the visitors dominated the proceedings in the first half.

Despite this, it would only take super-sub and star-boy Moise Kean two and a half minutes after his introduction to break the deadlock, and bag the three points for Juventus. Here are three things we learned today about the Italian champions.

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1) Kean and Spinazzola must play more. 

Since the return leg against Atletico Madrid, Kean and Leonardo Spinazzola have gone from strength to strength making the most of their limited minutes, and have given Allegri quite the selection conundrum. With Alex Sandro’s decline in full force, Allegri must now turn to the former Atalanta man for the left back position, and allow him to earn the starting role all for himself. Entering a crucial stage in the season, Juventus cannot afford further subpar performances from Alex Sandro, who at times, is guilty of switching off defensively. After all, Spinazzola has been the superior player since the turn of the new year, at the very least, and is deserving of more minutes.

Much like Spinazzola, Kean must also be given more playing time. At the moment, he’s the side’s most in-form forward, scoring three goals in his last three games, including two on international duty. With Cristiano Ronaldo out, and Mandzukic struggling, it’s only right Kean is given consistent time. Until now, the Italian international hasn’t disappointed in the slightest, netting a goal every 40.33 minutes in Serie A.

2) Juventus midfield struggles on display, once again.

With the league all but wrapped up, Juventus have demonstrated signs of arrogance in Serie A action. Just before the international break, the bianconeri succumbed by a score of 2-0 to Genoa, and put in an overall atrocious performance at the Marassi. Against Empoli, Allegri’s men looked out of sorts in the first half, fielding five midfielders and just one striker in Mandzukic.

Despite outnumbering Empoli in the midfield, Juventus still struggled to impose themselves on the game, and watched as the Serie A minnows completely dominated the first half. Had it not been for some poor decision-making in the final third and profligacy in front of goal, Juventus could have found themselves down one early. Against a better side, they will be punished.

If Juve would like to focus solely on the Champions League in the latter stages of the season, it would be a good idea to wrap up the league as soon as possible. That way they can pour all their efforts into Europe’s elite competition. In any case, whatever happens this season, one thing’s for certain: Juve’s midfield is nowhere near good enough and is in dire need of reinforcements, starting with Aaron Ramsey.

3) Rugani needs to grow physically. 

Daniele Rugani has been rather inconsistent since being trusted with more minutes these past two seasons, and still has ways to go before he can compete for a starting position alongside Giorgio Chiellini. Regardless of his inconsistencies, the former Empoli man has showed glimpses of his true potential, and has always boasted an impressive sense of anticipation. Capable of reading the game well and instilling calmness at the back, Rugani is one of the nation’s highest rated defenders, but has stagnated a bit. Today, against a more technical strike-force, the young defender did well and stifled Empoli’s threat with ease.

However, every time Rugani goes up against a physical threat (See: Duvan Zapata) he struggles to cope, and makes the Juventus rearguard all the more vulnerable. With Bonucci and Chiellini ageing, and with Ajax’s Matthjis de Ligt looking set to sign with Barcelona, Rugani would be wise to make the most of this unique opportunity, and bulk up. A little more muscle, and tenacity to his game could go a long way, and could help him live up to the hype.

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Allegri’s presser before Juventus v Empoli

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Coach Massimiliano Allegri addressed the media earlier today: “Cristiano Ronaldo had a day off and went to Barcelona for some commercial or private stuff. I do not pay attention to the rumours. He is fine, but we need to be cautious with every injury. It is better to skip one game rather than miss two months considering at what point of the season we are at. He will come back where there will no risk of a relapse. There are ten matches to go plus the Champions League ones.”

On Moise Kean: “He is a kid, he needs to stay serene and be built step by step. I am really bothered by this kind of things. Continue reading

Ronaldo updates, Rugani extends and ICC schedule

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Cristiano Ronaldo returned in Turin today after international duties and underwent a quick check-up at the Continassa training center and did a physiotherapy session, but did not take further medical exams after the initial ones in Lisbon. He might undergo some tests in the next few days to assess the healing of his thigh strain and determine his availability for the first leg of the Ajax clash on April 10th.

Earlier this afternoon, Juventus announced that Daniele Rugani has signed an extension till June 2023, which had been rumoured since the summer after the Bianconeri rebuffed the strong interest coming particularly from Chelsea. Continue reading

Are Rugani & Diawara running out of chances to live up to their reputations?

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Hope springs eternal is what I often think about of when I see an exciting new prospect starting to establish himself in Serie A. It’s human nature to always look with excitement to the next great thing, we can easily project different attributes on the blank canvas of a player who has a small sample size of games under his belt.

Just think of how recently Nicolo’ Zaniolo has been anointed as the new Totti, or how many new Maldinis and Buffons we have crowned in recent years. But the reality is that for every Gigio Donnarumma, there are countless examples of Hachim Mastour type prospects who simply fizzle after receiving a lot of hype at the start of their careers- as Jay Z rapped on “Takeover” some players “had a spark when they started, but now you’re just garbage”.

Before we go any further, let me be clear- I don’t think Daniele Rugani and Amadou Diawara are garbage players by any means, but it’s certainly possible that because of the very distinguished starts to their careers, the way they are perceived today doesn’t fully mesh with reality. 

Most of the takes on their performances include the phrase “if they got more opportunities, they would be playing better”- but is this reality or are they not getting more opportunities because they aren’t performing well? Interestingly there are many parallels between the two.

Let’s start with Rugani, who despite not turning 25 until next summer is already playing in his fifth Serie A season. The Italian international has been pegged as the building block for Juventus’ defense in the post BBC world since he made the most of his opportunity playing for Maurizio Sarri at Empoli. Rugani’s career trajectory has however taken a turn for the worse, since he’s fallen behind Alessio Romagnoli in the conversation for the next great Italian defender.

The recent story line on Rugani is that he’s getting his best opportunity to establish himself at Juventus now that Mehdi Benatia left in the middle of the season. While the Moroccan international’s departure in it of itself only made him the first backup, the subsequent injuries to Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini made him the top player at the position at least on a temporary basis.

Needless to say so far Rugani hasn’t made the most of this opportunity since Juventus gave up 6 goals in back to back matches against Atalanta and Parma. Now Rugani defenders have pointed to the fact it’s unfair to judge him in these matches since he was forced to partner with Mattia De Sciglio, who was playing out of position, and Martin Caceres who had just arrived from Lazio- while that is a fair point, it’s also important to remember that not long ago Rugani was pegged as the player to lead Juventus defense and Romagnoli is doing so at a comparable age at a high pressure club like Milan.

In addition, Rugani was already given a juicy opportunity to establish himself as a starter at Juventus when Leonardo Bonucci left for Milan. Rugani was given first crack at being Chiellini’s partner at the start of the 2017/18 season and eventually lost his starting spot to Benatia- a change that brought a massive improvement to Allegri’s defense.

While Rugani is set to sign an extension, which will also help sustain or potentially increase his transfer value, there’s now already talk that Juventus will make at least two significant additions at the center back position next summer with De Ligt, Milenkovic, Manolas and Genoa’s Romero all on Paratici’s list- not exactly an endorsement of Rugani’s future at the club.

 

Just like Rugani, Amadou Diawara has been in our lives for a long time despite being born in 1997. The Guinean midfielder broke out at Bologna, the club that discovered him in Italy’s lower divisions, in 2015- he combined excellent passing abilities with remarkable calmness on the pitch and defensive prowess. After one season under Roberto Donadoni he was sold to Napoli where he started off as Jorginho’s understudy.

Diawara’s development wasn’t helped by Maurizio Sarri’s refusal to rotate frequently, give playing time to prospect and the current Chelsea’s manager devotion to Jorgino- Diawara faced a trifecta of challenges in his efforts to reach the next level in his career. At least the former Bologna midfielder scored his first goal as a professional against Manchester City in the Champions League under Sarri.

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Carlo Ancelotti’s arrival and Jorginho’s departure for Stamford Bridge were supposed to jump start Diawara’s career. The former Milan manager took the opposite approach of his predecessor and used twelve different starting lineups in his first twelve matches at the club, he even went so far as rotating his keepers frequently to show he would give an opportunity to everyone.

But while existing Napoli players like Ounas, Milik and especially Nikola Maksimovic made the most of their new opportunities and new additions like Kevin Malcuit and Fabian Ruiz quickly unseated previous starters, the same cannot be said for Diawara who has yet to put in a vintage performance like he used to give frequently at Bologna.

During the January window, Napoli fielded offers for Diawara but while they were never going to loan him to Milan, no Premier League club came close to meeting De Laurentiis’ valuation of 40 million euro. While the winter window did not provide him a new team, Diawara should have even more opportunities now that Marko Rog was loaned out and Marek Hamsik is on his way to China- it’s now time for him to make the most of it because while hope springs eternal, you can only live off your reputation for so long before someone else becomes the hot prospect.

Squad Overhaul on the Horizon at Juventus

With Juventus conceding six goals in their last two games, question marks have been raised about Massimiliano Allegri and his side’s ability to deliver the Champions League for the first time in 23 years. In just over two weeks time a clash against La Liga giants Atletico Madrid awaits where the stakes could not be higher. A round of sixteen exit would be a disastrous end to an indifferent campaign for the bianconeri; a campaign in which European success was stressed from day one at Villar Perosa. Despite signing Mr. Champions League himself – Cristiano Ronaldo – the Italian champions look no closer to winning Europe’s elite competition than they were last season. In fact, you could argue their chances at winning it all are lower. If Juventus’ recent woes are anything to go by, it means a squad overhaul is on the horizon.

After whimpering out of the Coppa Italia in embarrassing fashion against Atalanta, Juventus hosted newly-promoted Parma. For the first time since March 2012, the bianconeri lined up without one member of their famous ‘BBC’ trio and fielded a hardly inspiring centre-back partnership of Daniele Rugani and latest acquisition Martin Caceres. Since Mehdi Benatia’s departure, reports have surfaced that the Juventus brass would entrust Rugani with a bigger role moving forward, however, it’s safe to say, the defender failed in his first real test.

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