Grading Juventus’s Scudetto Winning Season

Juventus clinched its ninth consecutive Scudetto on Sunday, besting Sampdoria thanks to goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Federico Bernardeschi. The latter notched his first goal in Serie A in two years, breaking his goalscoring duck. It wasn’t always pretty for the Bianconeri, but Maurizio Sarri’s men inevitably got the job done.

Let’s take a deeper look at Juventus’s Scudetto-winning team.

Player of the season: Cristiano Ronaldo

The Portuguese superstar is undoubtedly Juve’s player of the season, netting 31 goals and counting in league play. Since the restart, Ronaldo has struck a partnership with Paulo Dybala, forming a deadly one-two punch in the final third. If the Bianconeri have any chance at overturning their narrow one-goal deficit against Lyon, Sarri’s men will need Ronaldo firing on all cylinders.

Signing of the season: Matthijs de Ligt

The former Ajax man got off to a rough start in Bianconero, but quickly kicked into another gear as the season wore on. de Ligt formed an uncompromising partnership at the back with Leonardo Bonucci and established himself as one of the league’s best centerbacks. Today, the defender is crucial to the Italian champions’ long-term plans. Juve’s defense conceded more goals than they are accustomed to, but it would have undoubtedly been worse without de Ligt.

Most improved player: Rodrigo Bentancur

The Uruguayan international took the next step in his career this season, becoming a first-team regular under Sarri and dominating the proceedings in the middle of the park. With Miralem Pjanic on his way to Barcelona, Bentancur is expected to become Juve’s undisputed regista next season. The former Boca Juniors man combines a keen sense of anticipation with an impressive passing range and is well on his way at becoming one of football’s elite midfielders.

Biggest disappointment: Miralem Pjanic

Many of Juventus’ players can feature on this list as the Bianconeri regularly left a lot to be desired on the pitch, despite their positive results. Initially, much was expected of Pjanic under Sarri with the Bosnian featuring at the heart of the veteran tactician’s setup. The former Roma man struggled immensely this season, offering little to nothing in the final third. As a result, it did not come as a surprise once Juventus decided to swap him with Arthur and send him to Barcelona.

A word on Sarri: 

The former Napoli tactician was handed arguably the weakest Juventus side in recent memory and managed to win his first trophy in Italian football, becoming the oldest manager to win a Scudetto. While the end result was positive, Sarri’s Juve often underwhelmed, losing both finals they played in. The side may have been out-of-balance due to a weak midfield and middling fullbacks, but Sarri’s first season in Turin was largely disappointing.

What’s been more concerning has been Juve’s propensity to drop points from winning positions, relinquishing 18 points. In addition, the Bianconeri were uncharacteristically weak at the back, conceding 38 goals on the season. Only Luigi Del Neri’s Juve conceded more over the last decade. Ultimately, the veteran tactician often relied on individual brilliance to see his side over the line. Simply not good enough for Sarri who will be on the hot seat in his second season.

An overall grade: C+

In many ways, Juventus did not win this Scudetto but rather, other sides lost it. Lazio, Inter, and Atalanta all challenged the Bianconeri at times but dropped points at crucial moments throughout the season. Inter held a narrow led atop the table early in the season while Lazio looked a shadow of their former selves after the restart. Sarri’s Juve looked as vulnerable as they have ever been and will need to significantly bolster their ranks if they are to make it ten in a row next season. Factor in both final losses to Lazio and Napoli and what seems to be an early Champions League exit and Juve will be disappointed with their season.

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Juventus Top Performers – Round 36 vs Sampdoria

Juventus won the Scudetto thanks to an imperfect but ultimately successful performance against Sampdoria that led to a rare shut-out win.

Wojciech Szczesny (7 points): the Bianconeri tried to give away another lead, but the Polish goalkeeper prevented that with great saves on a venomous free kick by Gaston Ramirez and a point-blank header by Fabio Quagliarella. Not exactly superhuman interventions, but just what the doctor ordered these days when the back-line is not on top of its game. Matthijs De Ligt gutted it out again and thwarted a pair of chances, same thing for Leonardo Bonucci, who bounced back from a pair of subpar outings. Alex Sandro was a bit sloppy but won a PK with a late sprint, while Danilo subbed off early after a worrying head-to-head collision. 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

Arthur Melo was meant to be Barca’s ‘new Xavi’ so what has changed?

The news that Arthur Melo is likely to be swapping the Camp Nou for Juventus stadium at the end of the 2019/20 campaign appears to be a real head scratcher on the face of it.

The player can’t be blamed because his stance has always been the same. Many times he’s expressed a desire to stay at Barcelona, and the only reason he could’ve reversed it is because the club have made it clear he’s for sale.

So, you have to ask what’s changed, given he was once touted as the ‘new Xavi.’ Continue reading

Fan Zone: Enrico covers many Juventus topics including legends Buffon & Del Piero

In the latest Q&A, we welcome Enrico Passarella, a writer who covers diligently the Italian league, in particular fantasy football and transfer news. If you want the latest injury news as well as other updates regarding Serie A then you should give Enrico a follow on Twitter @Guardalinee. You will not regret it.

Check out the Q&A’s first segment below and read what Enrico has to say about legends such as Andrea Pirlo, Gianluigi Buffon and others. Feel free to reach out to both Enrico and @RamiSoufi on their respective Twitter account. You should scroll below and look for Enrico’s take on Juve’s all-time best player!

1) Name your 3 favorite Juve players, and tell us why?

Gianluigi Buffon: This is a particularly easy one. I was a goalkeeper when I was a kid and that plays a huge role. It is very simple, I always looked up to him and felt a strong
connection because of playing in a similar position on the field despite of course the gap in levels.

Alessandro Del Piero: This is another simple choice. He is an undisputed icon for all things Juventus. He is one of those star players who brought endless joy to the Juve fan base.

Giorgio Chiellini: I always loved his grit and charisma. I absolutely admired the way he went toe-to-toe with the best opponents while still setting the tone for the whole squad, particularly in key matches.

2) From the current squad, list your favorite players per position & state why? 

Among defenders, I am going with Chiellini again for the reasons I just mentioned a short while ago. I feel confident Matthijs de Ligt can and will fill the void once the captain retires.

In midfield, Rodrigo Bentancur is my choice. Juve can always count on his contribution, including his fair share of yellow cards, and he has shown exponential growth since joining the club. He already has about 30 caps for Uruguay.

In attack, it must be Paulo Dybala. He is truly a joy to watch when he is able to express himself and when he is in good form. I would add that he is a true difference-maker and I strongly believe he can still improve to get to another level.

3) Name the most important Juve triumph in your lifetime, and explain why?

The first Scudetto under Antonio Conte back in 2011 because it meant Juve were finally back where they belong after several difficult years. It was also an incredible achievement as the squad was inferior when compared to other title contenders. At the end, the players pulled it off, with much of it thanks to their drive and perseverance.

4) Choose your favorite Juve match. Why?

No doubt when talking about this one. It is Juventus-Real Madrid in the semifinals of the Champions League in 2003 with the Bianconeri winning 3-1. Juve performed a remarkable comeback against a legendary team and the best Bianconeri players, Del Piero, David Trezeguet and Pavel Nedved scored while our number one Buffon saved a penalty. So all the key players from that squad chipped in on that memorable night. I cannot stress enough how it was a truly magical night.

5) Choose two from Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal for your midfield, and state why?

I am definitely picking Pirlo and Vidal -both unique contributors. There is really nobody like Pirlo, who remains unmatched for the way he was able to pull the strings and dictate the tempo with his class and vision. Vidal was an animal in his prime, he embodied the fighting spirit of the club and it was a gut punch when he decided to leave.

6) What are Juve’s weaknesses? Many focus on the midfield while some say it is the lack of creativity when Dybala is not playing. Your thoughts?

The current fullbacks are not great but the biggest issue lies in the midfield- an area that is too dependent on Miralem Pjanic from a creative standpoint. To make matters worse,  Pjanic has been subpar this year, and does not provide much scoring in any case.

Summer signings Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot were supposed to fix that, but the former has been too injury prone and the latter has yet to really settle in. It is another cautionary tale when it comes to signing free players as it can backfire too. I can see a major investment coming in to fill the gaps in midfield if Juve plan to compete regularly in Europe.

7) Who is the best player to ever wear the Juve shirt?

In the modern era I would confidently say a certain Cristiano Ronaldo. His achievements speak louder than all the words of praise any of us can give. In the past, I’d single out Michel Platini. The Frenchman achieved a lot on both the individual and team level while with the Bianconeri. Still, Buffon’s standing in the history of the sport should not be underestimated so his is a name we must always keep in mind. I am not going to single out one name, so I would let my fellow Juventini ponder on this point.

Fan Zone: Elio returns to talk Juve in Europe, coaches and CR7

Elio Salerno is back for the second segment of the Q&A. In the initial Q&A, Elio discussed club legends Pavel Nedved and Alessandro Del Piero as well as current icons Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini.

This time around the focus is on the Champions League as well as Juve’s coaches and Cristiano Ronaldo. As we have witnessed from the first Q&A and earlier exchanges, Elio is generous with his feedback and he talks in detail about his beloved Juventus. Will this be the season Juve win the Champions League? And has Cristiano Ronaldo impressed enough at Juve? Elio discusses all the points above and more in the sections below…

1) If European competition returns, will Juve overturn the result against Lyon? How confident are you?

Now that French football has been suspended I guess it is hard to say how this will play out. If football does return, will Lyon play the game? Will they be in a position to? I think so much has changed between the first leg and now. You would have to say Juve would do it because simply put they have to.

2) One team you’d like Juve to avoid meeting in the Knock-out stages of the Champions League?

I would have said Liverpool but they are out so I’d certainly go with Bayern Munich and perhaps PSG because of their pace going forward. They both appear to have the proper balance in their starting lineup, particularly the Germans. Aside from that, I do not think there is a standout candidate and again it will come down to circumstances- what team is in the best condition at the right moment.

3) Do you believe Juve will win the Champions League if they make the final?

Once they get there, of course they can win it. We all know Juve’s record in the finals. We have reason to be critical of their final performances in years prior to the most recent two. Reality is they were beaten by superior teams in 2015 and 2017- there weren’t any teams at the level of the Barcelona and Real Madrid teams at the time and even today.

4)  If the fee, club rivalries, availability etc are not an issue, who’s the one player you’d like Juve to sign?

What a question! I am torn between my personal preference for central midfield players like Frenkie de Jong and Toni Kroos. However, I would have to go with Kylian Mbappe. He is a phenomenon, a frightening match winner who still has years to come at the top of the game.

5)  What do you make of Ronaldo’s career at Juve so far?

If we say anything other than great then we are being too picky. It is easy to look at his transfer fee and wages etc. I expect the most but the reality is not even Ronaldo can make up for the gaps in this team. He has delivered on every front- on and off the pitch he has given the club what they need. There can be no complaints about CR7, it is a pleasure to watch him wearing the Bianconeri shirt.

6) Would you pick Antonio Conte, Max Allegri or Maurizio Sarri as coach, and why?

I would pick Mister Allegri every day, he is the complete package. He is the ideal representative for a football club, professional in his manner and an intelligent communicator.

As a coach he is adaptable, a winner and knows how to get the best out of a group, even if there are significant changes from year to year. He was unfairly criticized by many Juve fans, but he did what he had to do to win despite fundamental pieces being taken away from his squad.

In this first year at Juve, with a near complete team they played good football- enjoyable to watch and beyond that season he never had that luxury again. Instead, he was forced to adapt, yet still maintained a competitive edge across all competitions. He was an excellent coach.

7)  Who is your captain and his backup from among Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Paulo Dybala, Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanic and why?

Chiellini is the captain and should remain the captain as I mentioned previously he is the ideal person and player to lead the squad. Next should be Dybala, I think too much has happened with Bonucci for him to have that privilege while Dybala has invested himself in the club, wants to be a Juventino and I think this resonates with the fans.

8)  Who is the best foreigner to ever play for Juve?

I would have to go again with Nedved for all the reasons I mentioned before. He dedicated many years to Juve and still has a special place and an important role at the club.

If we are talking all-time, then it is hard for me to assess the likes of Omar Sivori, Michel Platini & of course John Charles. I was never privileged enough to experience any of those legends and without having that connection with them I couldn’t separate them.

Fan Zone: Gregory on Nedved, Buffon, Dybala & more Juve talk

Gregory Caltabanis is an established writer and reporter who covers extensively European football, but what matters for the purposes of this Q&A is Gregory’s unfaltering allegiance to Italian giants Juventus.

Gregory is part of the @FantaCalcioGame team as well! They run the most popular Fantasy Serie A Game, but for now let’s go straight to the Q&A with Gregory offering lots of interesting takes on legends such as Pavel Nedved and Gianluigi Buffon.

1) Who are your 3 all-time favorite Juve players (ranked by preference) and why?

Pavel Nedved: My all-time favorite Juve player is undoubtedly Nedved. One of the first games I saw as a kid was Juve against Milan in 2005 and all I remember seeing was a player with blonde locks run effortlessly down the left wing. Of course, it was Nedved. From that point forward, I always watched Juve and became a fan. The rest is history.

Gianluigi Buffon: After Nedved, I would have to say it’s Buffon. Buffon has been with the team since I’ve followed them and is the main reason I’m a goalkeeper to this day. Beyond saving countless goals, he’s a class act both on and off the field. I’ll never forget his save on Zidane’s header in 2006.

Paulo Dybala: The last one is a bit difficult, but I have to go with Dybala. I know he’s not up there yet with Alessandro Del Piero and other legends, but Dybala is one of the reasons I’m still passionate about the team today. He’s always respected the shirt and is arguably the first worthy number 10 we’ve had since Del Piero. I hope he stays with Juve for the long haul.

2) From active players, pick your favorite Juve player by position: one each from defense, midfield and attack. Why did you pick them?

DEF: My favorite defender is 100% Merih Demiral (Gregory says it emphatically!). Since he’s joined, I always thought he would be very important for our success. It’s a shame the serious injury halted his progress, but I’m confident he’ll come back stronger. Demiral embodies everything that Juve should seek in a player. He’s confident, plays with an edge and has that fighting spirit. I’ll be ordering my Demiral jersey very soon.

MID: It has to be Rodrigo Bentancur. I’ve had my doubts about him over the years, but he’s stepped up this season and looks to be evolving into an important player for us. Like Demiral, he plays with an edge to his game which I feel we lack sometimes. I’m looking forward to seeing him make further progress when play hopefully resumes.

STR: It’s an obvious one- Paulo Dybala. You really get the sense that he loves Juve and fights for the shirt every time he steps onto the pitch. It goes without saying, but his left foot is incredible. It’s just amazing to watch him play. Now, if only Fabio Paratici shared the same opinion, we’d be better off.

3) Your choice for most important Juve victory in your lifetime? Why?

Without a doubt, when we knocked out Real Madrid 3-2 on aggregate in 2015. While the win against Inter in 2018 was huge, for me the Real result announced Juve’s return on the world stage and showed the rest of Europe “we are back.” After all, we just took out Real Madrid. The final didn’t go our way, but I can’t recall a win I’ve celebrated more.

4) Choose your all-time favorite Juve match, and why?

Against Inter and on their home turf just over two years ago. At times, it felt like the game and the title were slipping away but as soon as Dybala stepped onto the pitch, it changed everything. I’ll never forget Gonzalo Higuain’s goal to complete the comeback. Made it that much sweeter that it was against Inter at the San Siro.

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5) Where do you rank Sarri among the current generation of Italian coaches? How about among coaches worldwide?

I’d put him in the top five, but I wouldn’t rank him in the top tier of Italian managers at the moment. Conte is in a class of his own, in my opinion. Other than last year, I’d put Allegri in the same tier as Conte. Beyond them, I rate Gasperini highly but it would be interesting to see how he does outside of Atalanta.

Worldwide, I think he’s a top ten manager. If I had to rank them, I’d say this is my top ten: Klopp, Guardiola, Simeone, Conte, Zidane, Allegri, Nagelsmann, Sarri, Tuchel, Gasperini.

6) What’s Juve’s objective for this season? Is it Serie A, the Champions League, or both?

Definitely both. When you have Cristiano Ronaldo on your team, the objective always has to be the Champions League. While I don’t think the team is well equipped for a deep European run, a player like Ronaldo can make the difference in a big game. It would be a waste of his final years if Juve didn’t push for European glory.

7) Perhaps a tough one here but pick two from Marchisio, Pirlo, Pogba, and Vidal for your midfield, and why?

I love Marchisio and it’ll be hard to leave him out, but I have to go with Pirlo and Vidal. Pirlo is the ultimate Regista and is needed to dictate play. Obviously, it helps he can score a free-kick from just about any angle. As for Vidal, he’s your classic box-to-box midfielder and is not afraid to jump into tackles. Few midfielders impressed me more than prime Vidal and let’s not forget, he could score, too. Juve’s current midfield is really lacking his type of profile.

8) Where are Juve’s weaknesses? Some say right-back, others say left-back, or many mention the midfield. Your take?

It has to be the midfield. This may anger some, but Miralem Pjanic is a complete liability both in and out of possession. Juve can do much better in his position and I think they’ll look to replace him this summer. Blaise Matuidi is necessary to press and offer defensive support, but ultimately he’s far too limited. Remember his turnover against Napoli?

I think this Juve side needs at least two signings in the middle of the park and should arguably offload two or three guys (Sami Khedira, Pjanic and perhaps Adrien Rabiot) As I said before, this midfield lacks fight and demonstrates zero Grinta.

Of course, our depth at full-back is worrisome particularly with Alex Sandro slowing down, but for now, I think Sandro and Juan Cuadrado can manage the situation. Hopefully, Pellegrini comes back in the summer and competes for the left-back position.

9) In your opinion who is the best player (not necessarily your favorite) to ever wear the Juve shirt?

It has to be Del Piero. Record goalscorer and record appearance holder, few match Del Piero’s resume with the club. He’s won it all with us and has inspired many to support Juve over the years. At the height of Italian football, he was one of the best and led Juve to many trophies.

Del Piero set the standard for our number ten jersey and raised the bar for everyone after him. Perhaps Buffon is in it with a shout, but I have to give this one to Pinturicchio.

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 26

Lazio-Bologna: the only game between two teams that actually played last week. The Biancocelesti extended their superb run by grinding out a W versus Genoa, thanks to the usual Ciro Immobile goal and two unlikely heroes coming through, Adam Marusic, who has started over Manuel Lazzari in two matches in a row, and Danilo Cataldi. While Sergej Milinkovic-Savic scored against Inter, the bonuses for their other two fantasy stars, Luis Alberto and Joaquin Correa, have not been there in recent rounds, leaving Felipe Caicedo as the only serviceable option besides the capocannoniere. Jony has taken over for the injured Senad Lulic and, while he is a high-volume crosser, he has come up with just one assist so far. It could be another ripe day for their offense considering that the Felsinei have a soft defence. Continue reading

Champions League: Lyon vs Juventus Preview

Champions League resumes on Wednesday, so Juventus will be back in the competition where they had the most success in so far, as they cruised during the group stage. If it was not for a late two-goal comeback by Atletico Madrid back in the first game, they would have prevailed in each of the six matches in the group stage.

Finishing in first position allowed them to land a fairly cosy match-up with Lyon in the round of 16, an opponent they have familiarity with, since they have faced them four times in recent years, winning in three occasions. The French club is also not having a particular great season as they are in 7th position in Ligue 1 and do not boast a particularly good record at home. Continue reading

Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 25

Atalanta: Berat Djimsiti was a late scratch for the Champions League game but he is simply dealing with a bruised quad and so he could be available on Sunday. Tomas Sutalo continues nursing a foot edema.

Bologna: Stefano Denswil and Jerdy Schouten were red carded last week. Gary Medel (hamstring) and Roberto Soriano (thigh bruise) are the closest to recovering, but this week is too early for them. Mitchell Dijks (foot) and Ladislav Krejci (knee) will not be back before the end of the month, same for Federico Santander (hip) and Nicola Sansone (hamstring). Mattias Svanberg picked up a thigh strain and will miss three-to-four weeks. Continue reading