Juventus Top Performers – UCL Round of 16 – First Leg

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Juventus could not rise to the occasion against Atletico Madrid, got pushed around and pinned back by the opponents in the second half and now find themselves in a nearly insurmountable hole ahead of the second leg. Here are the best performers from a rough night at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium.

Wojciech Szczesny: two solid saves by the goalkeeper, one on a strike from distance by Thomas and the other on Antoine Griezmann’s wicked free kick from the edge of the box, and a superb one of the Griezmann/Mattia De Sciglio’s lob in the second half, where he just managed to tip the ball on the crossbar. Continue reading

Allegri and Pjanic preview Atletico vs Juventus

Juventus Live wire

Coach Massimiliano Allegri and Miralem Pjanic held late yesterday the usual pre-game presser. The coach begun by announcing that Sami Khedira has not been called up and later the club informed that the midfielder will undergo testing for a atrial arrhythmia that emerged yesterday: “We lose a world-class player and will remain with four available midfielders.”

Paulo Dybala will play tomorrow. It is a game unlucky any others this season, but it is similar to what we already faced in previous years. Champions League has always been a goal for us and whether from the outside they give us more or less chances to win does not concern us. Continue reading

Allegri Opting For Caution Against Atletico Madrid

Juventus Training Session

With their crucial Round of 16 clash approaching, it appears Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri will go for pragmatism when the bianconeri take on Atletico Madrid on Wednesday. Rather than sticking with his three-pronged attack, the former Milan tactician has reportedly been tinkering with Joao Cancelo at right midfield and Mattia De Sciglio at right back in a 4-4-2 – leaving Paulo Dybala on the bench in the process.

Allegri has opted for caution in the past, and has often used this defensive 4-4-2 in away clashes in the Champions League. With Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira occupying the two central midfield positions, Blaise Matuidi typically shifts wide on the left, blocking the opposition’s right flank.

Up top, the tactician is reportedly going to field Mario Mandzukic alongside Cristiano Ronaldo. While a 4-4-2 would essentially mirror Atletico’s formation and would go a long way in nullifying their offensive firepower, this setup has backfired for Allegri in the past before. Against Real Madrid in the Champions League final, the Italian manager went for a similar formation, with Dani Alves occupying the right wing.

His pragmatism worked initially against the Spanish giants, however, as soon as Zinedine Zidane made some tactical tweaks at half-time, his 4-4-2 and by consequence, Juventus’ European dream, soon fell apart. The bianconeri found themselves consistently on the back foot, and had nothing to show for in the final third.

On Wednesday, Allegri cannot afford a similar performance and must find a way to achieve defensive solidity without sitting too deep and playing too safe. An away goal at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium could go a long way in this tight affair and might prove to be the difference over two legs.  While having players like Paulo Dybala, Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi come off the bench against tired legs could sway the tie, one of them needs to start against Los Colchoneros. 

Considering Mandzukic’s flexibility and ability to play on the left both in the offensive and defensive phases, Allegri should field Dybala alongside Ronaldo. The Argentine has played his best football when deployed in a partnership and has recently developed a blossoming relationship with the Portuguese superstar. Coming off an impressive performance and a thunderbolt of a goal against Frosinone, now would be a good time to provide La Joya continuity. Against a defensively staunch Atletico Madrid side, Juventus will need all the creativity they can get to break their deep block.

With Ronaldo attracting much of the centre-backs’ attention, Dybala will have the license to roam between the lines and could carve out space for himself – either to fire strikes or find a teammate in space. As Ronaldo and Dybala wreck havoc centrally, Mandzukic will have ample opportunities to let his presence be known in the eighteen-yard box going up against Santiago Arias.

As it stands now, Allegri’s reported setup will stifle his side in the final third and will inevitably isolate Ronaldo and Mandzukic – forcing Juve to go wide to Cancelo. Considering Godin’s aerial presence and Jan Oblak’s command of his box, filtering in crosses from the wing – a common Allegri tactic – will fail miserably. With the clash approaching, time will tell if Allegri’s caution will be repaid or whether another European disaster is on the horizon for Juventus.

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Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 22

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Juventus: Giorgio Chiellini suffered a calf pull that should force him to miss a couple of games. Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira returned in Coppa Italia, while Mario Mandzukic (ankle) is expected to be available this week. Emre Can is ill but available.

Napoli: Fabian Ruiz is suspended. Raul Albiol and Elseid Hysaj are fatigued, while Adam Younes is banged up: the first two have called up, the winger has not.

Inter: Matteo Politano was slapped with a two-game ban. Stefan De Vrij is dealing with some muscle fatigue, but he has been called up, while Balde Keita remains out.  Continue reading

Serie A Top Performers – Coppa Italia Quarter-Finals

Soccer: Italy's Cup; Atalanta - Juventus

Juventus this time could not overcome their own struggles in all the facets of the game and got deservedly eliminated by Atalanta in the round of eight of Coppa Italia, which they had won in the previous four editions. A very pedestrian showing that ends the often manifested target of winning the treble and represents an alarming signal for the challenges ahead.

Alex Sandro: when you give up three goals, clearly no defenders performed well. Sandro was the only who did not actively took part in one of the goals, two caused by misplaced passes by Joao Cancelo and Mattia De Sciglio, while Daniele Rugani and Wojciech Szczesny did not look great in the second one. A two-minute black-out at the end of the first half, the Bianconeri were unable to recover from. The squad had already started off poorly, but the back-line in particular was plagued by mental mistakes after Giorgio Chiellini was forced out of the game by a calf injury. The officials might have to revisit their stance about not signing a centre-back.

Sami Khedira: again the three-man midfield looked completely idea-less without Miralem Pjanic leading them and the situation did not change when he got into the game. Rodrigo Bentancur and Blaise Matuidi spent the night chasing after the much more energetic Atalanta players and, alongside the rest of the ball club, were very sloppy in the passing game. The German world champion did not perform much better, but he had one of the few chances with a header on a corner.

Federico Bernardeschi: he was almost the only one who tried to drag the team out of its funk, making plays in multiple positions, but without being effective. At least he put in a modicum of effort in a game where the squad just did not have it. Paulo Dybala had a slew of turnovers and was thrown around by the opponents all night long. In the last couple of games it was evident why the coach prefers Cristiano Ronaldo wide, as it become too easily to engulf him and cut off the feeds for him when he is surrounded by centre-back. Douglas Costa was affected by the general apathy and imprecision of his teammates. It is the first time this season that the front-line fails to score a goal and it is the first loss on the road in a domestic game since 2017.

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Allegri on the Atalanta game: “Who makes fewer mistakes will advance”

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Coach Massimiliano Allegri talked to the press today ahead of the Coppa Italia clash with Atalanta and begun by updating on the injured players: “Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira are available, while I will evaluate Mario Mandzukic today, but he looks very good. Juan Cuadrado and Andrea Barzagli are out. Leonardo Bonucci will miss time too, but his injury is less severe than anticipated, so we hope to have him back as soon as possible. There will be some changes tomorrow, somebody will rest.”

On the defence: “We have four centre-backs and one of them is hurt, Medhi Benatia left. Martin Caceres is finalizing his transfer and if everything goes well he will be there tomorrow. Daniele Rugani has not played much thus far, Mattia De Sciglio can move to the middle if necessary. We will take it one game at a time.” Continue reading

Time for Allegri to take off the handbrake at Juventus

Last night Juventus put in arguably their worst performance of the Massimiliano Allegri era and still, somehow, walked away with all three points. Throughout the first hour of play, the bianconeri’s midfield trio looked devoid of any ideas moving forward and got pinned back to perfection by Simone Inzaghi’s aggressive setup.  As a result, Juventus’ front-line were starved of any service, until Blaise Matuidi made way for Federico Bernardeschi.

Had it not been for Wojciech Szczesny’s impressive exploits combined with some poor finishing, Allegri’s side could have easily found themselves down three or four. In fact, at one point in the game Lazio outshot Juventus 12 to zero. With a roster as powerful as Juve’s, this is hardly the type of performance you come to expect from the Italian champions. Right now, Juventus are a Ferrari being driven like a Prius.

Without Miralem Pjanic in the lineup, Juventus struggled in the first phase of the buildup and were quite literally pressed off the pitch at times. A superior opponent would have undoubtedly punished Juventus with a couple of goals. With Emre Can deputizing as the side’s regista, the bianconeri were unable to establish a rhythm and rarely got forward. While the German international is a talented midfielder in his own way, last night’s nightmare at the Olimpico highlighted his shortcomings in progressing play under pressure.

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Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 21

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Juventus: Mario Mandzukic is trying to come back from high strain, but it might be too early. Miralem Pjanic and Joao Cancelo are dealing with minor calf ailments, while Sami Khedira has a sore knee: they are unlikely to be available this week, but the fullback has a shot. Medhi Benatia (groin), Andrea Barzagli (thigh) and Juan Cuadrado (knee) remain out.

Napoli: Marek Hamsik will return from a thigh strain, while Allan is experiencing some back pain and has been ruled out.

Inter: Balde Keita (thigh) will not be able to come back this week, while Sime Vrsaljko is under the weather and also nursing an achy knee. Matteo Politano is fatigued.  Continue reading

Bernardeschi Shines in Mandzukic’s Absence

With Mario Mandzukic out indefinitely, Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri turned to Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi to provide the width against Chievo. While the Brazilian would steal the headlines with his thundering strike in the first half, it was Bernardeschi’s performance that stood out from the rest. The Italian made the most of his second start in three games, and dominated proceedings from the left wing, adding an assist to Daniele Rugani from a dead-ball late in the game.

The former Fiorentina man got the start in an unfamiliar left midfield role, yet proved to be a consistent threat against the visitors, combining with his teammates wonderfully. Whether he was taking on his man one on one or splitting the defence with an inch perfect through ball, Bernardeschi pulled the strings for Juventus. As Miralem Pjanic was rested, someone needed to pick up the creative burden; Bernardeschi did exactly that.

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Is Aaron Ramsey Juventus’ Missing Piece?

Earlier this month it was announced that Juventus secured Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey on a free transfer at the end of the season. The Welshman’s arrival isn’t the bianconeri’s first bosman dealing, and has come to be a defining feature of the club on the transfer market in recent times. In the past, Juventus signed the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Kingsley Coman, Paul Pogba  and most recently Emre Can among others.

While in the past these transfers helped the Italian giants boost their depth, Ramsey’s signing represents something entirely different. This time around, Juventus are turning to Ramsey to complete their midfield ranks and to give them some much needed creativity and drive from deep. But does the 28-year-old fit the bill?

Since breaking onto the scene with Arsenal, a defining characteristic of Ramsey’s game has been his ability to get forward and create space for himself in the opposition’s box. Last season, the player made the most of his chances in close and registered seven goals and eight assists. Juventus are expecting him to bring this aspect of his game to Turin and take some creative burden off Miralem Pjanic in the midfield. You could even argue Juventus haven’t had a player with Ramsey’s characteristics since Pogba. As of right now, Allegri’s side don’t have a single midfielder with more than two goals, and could use some production from deep.

In Pjanic and Rodrigo Bentancur, the bianconeri have two deep-lying playmakers with a pass-first mentality. In Matuidi and Can, Allegri finds the defensive responsibility he seeks without compromising his team’s balance. With Sami Khedira’s output dropping significantly, it’s normal Juventus are in the market for a progressive midfielder; someone to pick up the slack and drive the team forward in tight affairs. Ramsey is different to what Juventus already have, and will act as an ideal foil alongside Pjanic and Matuidi.

Capable of playing anywhere down the middle, Ramsey’s versatility will undoubtedly be a welcomed addition in Allegri’s setup. However, expect him to make the mezz’ala spot – outside of the midfield three – his own rather quickly upon his arrival. With Pjanic pulling the strings from deep and Matuidi doing much of the dirty work, Ramsey will have the freedom he seeks to push forward.

While the Welsh international, at times, has held onto the ball for too long, expect this to change quickly in Juventus’ extremely structured setup. Simply put, he won’t be afforded minutes if this persists. That being said, over the years the bianconeri have demonstrated an uncanny ability to iron out a player’s weaknesses and quickly turn them into strengths.

Despite arriving on a free transfer, Ramsey is expected to make around £300,000-a-week; a wage typically given to top players. Moreover, his salary indicates that he’s likely going to be Juventus’ only midfield reinforcement in the upcoming summer as it would simply be unfeasible to commit similar money to another player. Given his increased wage and Juventus’ desire to get the deal done as quickly as possible, it highlights the club’s belief in the player.

Over his Arsenal career, Ramsey has polarized opinion, especially in his early days, but has since established himself as a fan favourite. At Juventus, the 28-year-old will be armed with both the proper coaching, a clear system and the teammates to take his game to the next level, competing for Europe’s top honours in the process. This on its own should motivate Ramsey to succeed and hit the ground running upon his arrival.

Juventus are putting many of their eggs in one basket with this investment, but Ramsey will prove to be the midfielder the club are missing. For one, he’s got all the characteristics they’re looking for and have lacked since Khedira’s drop. Secondly, considering Juventus’ rigorous system, Ramsey’s job will be clear. While this signing has all the makings of a good one, only time will tell if Ramsey will be the man to finally solve Juventus’ midfield conundrum.

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