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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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

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

Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round Five

Atalanta: Matteo Pessina returned in Champions League from a late-season patellar dislocation. Ruslan Malinovskyi had an old scar in his adductor flare up and missed the previous game, but he is set to be available SaturdayCristiano Piccini (knee) could return sooner rather than later, while Pierluigi Gollini (knee) is at least two weeks away.

Benevento: Nicolas Viola has resumed practicing after his meniscus surgery and made the squad list. Gabriele Moncini and Federico Barba are out again to muscular problems and are joined in that regard by Iago Falque.  Continue reading

Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round Four

Atalanta: Aleksey Miranchuk is set to be available after missing the first three matches with a thigh strain. Cristiano Piccini and Matteo Pessina have resumed practicing regularly following knee injuries and they too will return soon. Josip Ilicic is getting closer and closer, but the information on him is not always solid. Rafael Toloi is out of the quarantine after skipping the previous game, while Marco Carnesecchi has COVID. Mattia Caldara partially tore the patellar tendon in the left knee and will not be back before 2021.

Benevento: Andres Tello is be back after missing some time with ailments, but Federico Barba is still out. Gabriel Moncini will skip a game or two due to an adductor strain. Nicolas Viola needs more time to recover from a meniscus tear. Continue reading

Andrea Pirlo learns tough lesson in first test against Roma

Andrea Pirlo’s managerial career has gotten off to an impressive start, opening the season with a convincing win against Sampdoria. Most recently, Juventus came from behind twice to draw Roma, doing so with a man down for the better part of the second half. While four points out of a possible six is a good start for the rookie tactician, Juve’s draw against Roma demonstrated Pirlo still has a lot to learn on the touchline.

The former midfielder deployed an unconventional formation, starting Juan Cuadrado at left wingback and Dejan Kulusevski on the opposite wing. Alvaro Morata joined Cristiano Ronaldo up front with Aaron Ramsey roaming dangerously behind them. Weston McKennie and Adrien Rabiot were tasked once more with dictating the tempo and breaking up play, and both largely struggled.

In many ways, Pirlo got it wrong. His decision to shift Kulusevski wide and field Morata from the start simply did not work, and the Spaniard struggled to impose himself. Kulusevski’s influence in the final third was reduced from the wide position and needs to play more centrally; be it alongside Ronaldo or in Ramsey’s free-roaming role.

Beyond getting the front two wrong, fielding Cuadrado at left wingback was an odd choice altogether. The Colombian international has rarely featured on the left and looked out of place for the most part of the game. Last week, Cuadrado did not have his best game, but still filtered in dangerous crosses from the familiar right side. Moving forward, Pirlo will need to find an answer in Alex Sandro’s absence. Whether it’s Mattia De Sciglio or Gianluca Fabrotta remains to be seen, but Cuadrado simply isn’t the solution.

Ultimately, the biggest difference was the midfield battle. The duo of McKennie and Rabiot were excellent against Sampdoria but were largely left to fend for themselves against Roma. As a result, Juve’s backline was exposed on many occasions on the break. The Giallorossi bypassed them with ease throughout the ninety minutes, passing through the double pivot at will.

Pirlo persisted with both McKennie and Rabiot regardless, with the latter eventually picking up his second yellow. The decision to keep Rabiot on the pitch despite his yellow and overall poor performance highlighted Pirlo’s inexperience and is a lesson that will serve him well in the future.

As a whole, the Juventus manager will be happy with his side’s first two games. Pirlo has them learning a new system, alternating freely between a back three and four and for the first time in two seasons, they are committing many men forward. There will undoubtedly be growing pains with this new system but at the very least, the early signs are encouraging.

It won’t get any easier for Juventus next week as they take on Gennaro Gattuso’s high-flying Napoli. The Partenopei have gotten off to a phenomenal start to the season and are as good a test as any for Pirlo’s new-look Juventus. It may be early days, but Juventus are heading in a clear direction under Pirlo – even if the Azzurri legend will make mistakes along the way.

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Grading Juventus’s Mercato Dealings

Juventus was extremely active this offseason, rejuvenating its ageing roster with a number of key arrivals. Fabio Paratici aimed to reduce the Bianconeri’s wage bill and was ultimately successful, shaving 30 million euros compared to last season. 

It may have taken until the final days of the mercato for many of Juve’s deals to be done, but the Italian champions were able to shake up their stuttering midfield and add some much-needed speed to their attack. Paratici’s inability to sign a fullback may come back to haunt him, but all in all, it was a decent transfer window for Andrea Pirlo’s men.

Let us take a deeper look at Juve’s mercato dealings:

IN: Arthur, Weston McKennie, Dejan Kulusevski, Federico Chiesa, Alvaro Morata, Rolando Mandragora (option exercised and loaned back to Udinese)

OUT: Gonzalo Higuain, Blaise Matuidi, Miralem Pjanic, Mattia De Sciglio (loan), Daniele Rugani (loan with option to buy), Douglas Costa (loan).

Juventus wasted no time revamping its midfield this summer, swapping Miralem Pjanic with Brazilian international Arthur. The former Roma midfielder struggled in his final season under Maurizio Sarri and desperately needed a change of scenery. As a result, Paratici took advantage of a unique opportunity to swap Pjanic for the 24-year-old. In many ways, Juventus emerged as winners from this deal. Paratici was able to get a younger midfielder, all while swapping out a struggling one. In addition, the reported fees involved should impact both sides’ balance sheets positively.

Beyond Arthur, the Bianconeri surprised the masses and secured U.S Men’s National Team midfielder Weston McKennie. The former Schalke man initially joins on a three million euros loan deal with Juventus possessing an option to make the move permanent for a further 18 million euros. Rookie tactician Andrea Pirlo is eager to see his side press higher up the pitch and McKennie’s arrival helps in this respect. Moreover, the formula is advantageous and represents yet another low-risk, high upside transaction.

Looking forward to the attack, Juventus added some important depth to Pirlo’s offensive ranks. The Bianconeri had been linked with a plethora of strikers, including Edin Dzeko and Luis Suarez among others, but ultimately it was Alvaro Morata who joined. Much like McKennie, Juve paid a modest loan fee up front, this time of 11 million euros, with the option to sign him in the summer for 45 million euros. Morata is already familiar with the league, having played for Juve before, and is younger than the strikers previously linked with the club. Moreover, the Spanish international has proven to be a willing runner and will press the opposition unselfishly. Once again, the formula of the deal allows Juve to reassess his signing next summer and is another example of shrewd business.

The last signing Paratici made is Federico Chiesa. The Fiorentina winger joins the Bianconeri’s deep ranks of forwards and offers the side unpredictability in the final third. Juventus sorely lacked speed on the counter last season and went about adding it diligently this window. Between Dejan Kulusevski, Morata and Chiesa, the Italian champions have a new-look frontline; one that is capable to hurt the opposition on the counter. 50 million euros is a steep price, however, once again, it is important to look at the formula.

Juventus will pay two million this year, eight the next, and then the final 40 million euros to complete the deal. The Bianconeri were able to defer the purchase all-while adding a quality player. The only concern is potentially stunting his development. Will the Italian international play as a wingback or compete for minutes along fellow summer arrival Kulusevski? Simply put, there’s only room for one of them. The Swedish international was initially signed in January but only joined this summer. Kulusevski has already hit the ground running and could just emerge as the signing of the summer.

While Juventus’ signings were impressive, their outgoing mercato ultimately disappointed. David Beckham’s Inter Miami FC did Paratici a huge favor, securing Gonzalo Higuain and Blaise Matuidi off his hands, while the sporting director struggled to permanently rid the side’s deadwood. De Sciglio, Douglas Costa, and Rugani will all likely rejoin the side following their loan deals, postponing the inevitable to next season. In this sense, Paratici failed.

The Juventus sporting director also fell short in his pursuit of a fullback. Juventus currently lack a quality option out wide and will rely on Juan Cuadrado and Alex Sandro for much of the season. Chiesa is not a wingback, despite playing there at times, and is at his best in the front three. Much of Juve’s success will depend on Pirlo’s ability to make up for the lack of fullback, deploying crafty solutions in his 3-5-2.

Overall, Juventus fans should be happy with the mercato as a whole. The club was able to add some fresh legs in the midfield, all-while reinvigorating the attack with hungry faces. However, Paratici’s failure to add quality fullbacks could prove to be crucial in the later stages of the Champions League. Otherwise, his inability to sell was disappointing, but eventually managed to part ways with many of Juve’s declining players.

Mercato rating: 6.5/10. 

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Why a return to a back three makes sense for Juventus

Juventus took the controversial decision to sack Maurizio Sarri and replace him with the relatively unproven Andrea Pirlo this past summer, after a disappointing season. The Bianconeri may have retained their Scudetto, but ultimately fell short against Lyon in the Round of 16 of the Champions League.

Sarri was a firm believer in his preferred 4-3-3 and rarely budged from his playing philosophy, despite his side’s lackluster play. While not much is known about Pirlo’s coaching style or formation, all signs are pointing to some form of a return to a back three. Media outlets have speculated that Pirlo will deploy a back three in possession, which will later transform into a back four when they lose the ball.

As of right now, this is Juve’s reported XI going into their season opener against Sampdoria:

Szczęsny; Danilo, Bonucci, Chiellini; Cuadrado, Bentancur, Arthur, Rabiot, Pellegrini; Kulusevski, Ronaldo.

In theory, Pellegrini would drop at left back when Juventus lose the ball, with the remaining midfielders forming a bank of four ahead of their backline. Matthijs de Ligt’s return would hand the Bianconeri a huge boost, as well, while Merih Demiral will slowly be eased into action following his injury.

The back three ensures Pirlo gets the most out of Bonucci and Chiellini, who have thrived in this system before while giving de Ligt and Demiral the license to get forward in possession. Danilo struggled last season, but could benefit from a deeper role, as the Brazilian will no longer be tasked with contributing offensively.

Beyond the back three, this formation offers a crafty solution to Juve’s fullback conundrum. The Italian champions simply do not have the quality out wide to compete with Europe’s elite, but the 3-5-2 helps remedy this. Cuadrado has typically excelled in this position, while Luca Pellegrini will be raring to go on Sunday. The former Cagliari man will be looking to make the most of Alex Sandro’s recent setback and cement himself as Juve’s starting leftback. Pellegrini has demonstrated he can get forward with ease and with Chiellini behind him, he will have all the guidance he needs in his defensive third.

Federico Bernardeschi and Alex Sandro are two players who will be hoping to get their careers back on track after mediocre seasons and the 3-5-2 could just revitalize the duo. The former has experience in this setup during his time at Fiorentina, while Sandro was at his very best as a wingback under Conte.

The midfield is where it gets interesting for Pirlo. As of right now, Rodrigo Bentancur, Arthur, and Adrien Rabiot are his preferred trio, but Juve’s latest signing Weston McKennie is worth monitoring. Arthur will reportedly start as the side’s regista after convincing Pirlo in training and will largely be tasked with dictating play. Rabiot, on the other hand, finished the season in exceptional form and will be eager to hit the ground running once more.

The biggest question mark, however, remains Bentancur. The Uruguayan international has played his best football at the base of the midfield, but Arthur is currently the preferred man there. As the season progresses, it will be interesting to see Pirlo juggle the two and potentially introduce McKennie into the fold for one of them.

Up front, Ronaldo and Dybala enter the season at the preferred duo, but the latter’s latest injury will hand Dejan Kulusevski a chance to stake a claim for a spot in the eleven. The Swedish international has emerged as one of the league’s brightest young talents and could force Pirlo’s hand with a strong start. As Kulusevski gains familiarity in his system, the rookie tactician may just be forced to deploy a three-man attack to accommodate him alongside Dybala and Ronaldo.

Given his propensity to work hard without the ball, a 3-4-3 with Kulusevski tracking back, similar to Gian Piero Gasperini’s system, is not entirely out of the question. Edin Dzeko’s reported move to Juve will also prove crucial, as the Bosnian international offers a much-needed physical and creative presence in the final third.

If last season showed us anything, it’s that tactical rigidity got Juve nowhere. The Bianconeri played mediocre football and struggled to create chances. Pirlo’s appointment is by no means a sure thing, but at the very least, the rookie tactician is ready to experiment, starting with their opener against Sampdoria.

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Weston McKennie Could Prove Good Value for Money

Juventus sent shockwaves throughout Italian football on Wednesday after it was announced they were closing in for a surprise move for Schalke’s Weston McKennie. The U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder will join the Bianconeri for an initial three million euros loan fee. Juventus will then have the option to make the move permanent the following year for a further 18 million euros.

While the move came out of nowhere, McKennie’s arrival signals a shift in direction for Juventus in the transfer window. The Italian champions are in the midst of revolutionizing their squad and have already signed two promising young talents, including Dejan Kulusevski and Barcelona’s Arthur.

Andrea Pirlo has wasted no time making an impact in Turin and has already informed Gonzalo Higuain and Sami Khedira are surplus to requirements. McKennie’s arrival indicates the Bianconeri are eager to trim their wage bill, reduce the average age of the roster, and more importantly, return to the past transfer strategy that worked so well from them in the past.

McKennie will offer a dynamic presence in the middle of the park at little to no cost and will complement Juventus’s existing options. If the American international does not pan out, Juventus will simply not trigger their obligation to purchase the midfielder. In many ways, the deal for the Schalke midfielder is a low-risk, high upside deal.

Pirlo alluded to a culture shift in his introductory press conference, claiming he wants his Juventus side to win the ball back as quickly as possible. In addition, the former Juve legend claimed he wants to reintroduce grit back into the fold.

Prior to McKennie’s arrival, the Bianconeri did not have an out-and-out ball-winner in the side and could use one. Rodrigo Bentancur, Arthur, and Adrien Rabiot are all capable of maintaining possession but struggle in the defensive third. Last season, Juventus had one of its worst defensive seasons in recent memory, conceding 43 goals. McKennie’s signing will help in this respect as the American international will offer some much-needed physicality in the midfield.

McKennie excels out of possession and has emerged as one of the Bundesliga’s most intriguing box-to-box midfielders this season, making 32 appearances for David Wagner’s men. Juventus have lacked this exact profile since Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba were still at the club.

Similarly to this deal, Juventus swooped in for both Vidal and Pogba when they were relatively young talents on the rise. While McKennie is far from the final product, his signing is an encouraging one and is a welcome change in transfer policy in Turin.

Last season, Juventus opted for established midfielders like Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey on free transfers, offering both players hefty wages. Rabiot made significant strides forward as the season progressed while Ramsey simply never got going. Ultimately, neither delivered what was expected of them. McKennie’s arrival, by contrast, is a low-cost operation and represents good value for money.

McKennie may not become a starter right away with the Italian champions, but one thing’s for sure: The American international will offer Pirlo something Juve doesn’t currently have at a reasonable price.

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