When Andrea Pirlo was handed the reins this offseason, it came as a huge surprise across the calcio world. After all, the World Cup winner had no prior experience at the top level and was still in the midst of completing his coaching licenses. Fast forward six months later, and Pirlo’s inexperience is becoming increasingly clear.
Injuries have not helped the rookie tactician, but Pirlo has made many questionable choices in his debut season. The Italian champions are set to relinquish their stranglehold over Serie A to arch-rivals Inter, while they already have one foot out of the Champions League. Once the season comes to an end Juventus will have a big decision to make: Should they back Pirlo or fire him?
Thrusting a rookie manager into the spotlight without fully backing him is a recipe for disaster. Year after year, Juventus neglects its stuttering midfield and persists with overvalued bosman deals. See: Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey. While both have flashes of brilliance, neither are good enough on a consistent basis to form a world-class midfield unit.
It would be completely unfair to criticize Pirlo without first mentioning that Fabio Paratici has done him no favors himself. The Juventus sporting director has done close to nothing to revitalize the midfield or other areas of concern. Beyond the middle of the park, Juve’s fullbacks leave a lot to be desired. Alex Sandro is on his final legs, Gianluca Frabotta is simply not ready, while Danilo is a backup at best.
Pirlo has had to adapt in this respect, promoting Frabotta from the second team. Decisions to sell Joao Cancelo and Leonardo Spinazzola have undoubtedly come back to haunt Juventus this season. While Paratici has made a number of mistakes on the transfer market, it doesn’t totally absolve Pirlo from the blame.
The rookie tactician has regularly demonstrated he is stubborn in his ways, persisting with a 3-5-2 when it clearly doesn’t suit his players. Pirlo has shoehorned Dejan Kulusevski up front, while deploying the side’s most dangerous player – Federico Chiesa – at right wingback. Both players would be better suited to a more conventional 4-3-3 and offer the Bianconeri some much-needed unpredictability in the final third.
Pirlo’s decisions in the middle of the park have not been much better either. Rodrigo Bentancur and Adrien Rabiot continue to feature, despite their inability to dominate proceedings week in, week out. Injuries have ravaged Juventus’ midfield core in recent weeks, but Pirlo still has alternatives on the bench.
Weston McKennie can be used from a deeper role as was the case in Juve’s 3-0 win over Barcelona, while Nicolo Fagioli is ready for a bigger role. At a time where the side’s midfielders shy away from dictating play, Fagioli would be a breath of fresh air. Beyond Arthur, the young Italian is one of few players who is comfortable in possession and willing to progress the ball forward. A midfield duo of McKennie and Fagioli with Kulusevski or Ramsey roaming in front of them should be tried before the all-important clash against Porto.
All this leads us back to the initial question: Should Juventus fire Pirlo or back him? Well, it’s tough to say. In many ways, the second half of the season could serve as his final audition. If the rookie manager shows he is willing to adapt and shake things up, Juventus would be wise to back him and accept the growing pains. That being said, if Pirlo continues to persist with a losing formula, it would be difficult to justify significant spending to fit his system.
At the end of the day, Juventus is in desperate need of an overhaul, which is very much out of Pirlo’s hands. The rookie boss can’t be faulted for what he doesn’t have, but if his first season in charge is anything to go by, Pirlo has a lot to learn.
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