So close, yet so far. Juventus fell 3-2 to Lazio in yesterday’s Supercoppa, with the Roman side’s winner coming in only minutes after the Bianconeri had equalised. Do not let the result fool you, though. This is a match where the reigning league and cup champions of Italy were thoroughly outplayed.
Juve never remotely resembled the dominant side that came within forty-five minutes of a treble last season. Some of the same problems that led to the collapse in Cardiff were still present in yesterday’s match. While I’m sure the players and management will tell us this is a defeat they’ll learn from
and that they’ll use this as motivation and all that nonsense, the truth is that this is a case of them tripping on the same stone they’ve tripped on before.
Not one of the issues that hampered Juventus vs Lazio was new, not a single one. The loss in the Supercoppa was not a particularly important one (it is a glorified friendly) but if this club is serious about their ambition in Europe, they need to take action to correct these flaws. Firstly, and this is the only one that they have an excuse for, the club needs a starting right back. Dani Alves’ decision to leave after only one season clearly took management by surprise, and the general lack of starting-quality fullbacks in world football today makes it especially difficult to find a suitable replacement on relatively short notice. That being said, it happened early enough in the mercato for Marotta & Co to fix it, and with two weeks left in the window, they have not. Stephan Lichtsteiner is well past his days as a serviceable option for a club of Juve’s level, and Mattia De Sciglio is not talented enough to be anything above a backup. Also, I don’t know who told Allegri that Andrea Barzagli was a suitable option at right back, but that person deserves a slap.
Beyond the situation at right back, there is the midfield situation. Sweet Jiminy Cricket, the midfield situation.
Juventus went from having arguably the best midfield in the world (Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, Paul Pogba) to having a midfield that is almost unanimously agreed to be the weakest link in the lineup. Failing to properly reinforce the midfield following the 2015 departures of Vidal and Pirlo and the 2016 sale of Pogba has been, in the opinion of this writer, Marotta’s biggest failure at Juventus. Not that there have been many failures to pick from, the man is great at his job, which makes this all the more baffling.
A top-level midfielder is by far the biggest need Juventus has to address. The two-man mid in Max Allegri’s 4-2- 3-1 can hide this to an extent, but (as seen vs Real Madrid and Lazio) it can be exploited. While Claudio Marchisio seems to have rediscovered his best form and Miralem Pjanić has been generally effective (though he can be taken out of games too easily at times), Sami Khedira has suffered a massive drop in form since the formation switch and there are no reliable options at the club beyond those three. Securing the services of a top-class mid is a must. And by top-class mid, I most certainly do not mean Blaise Matuidi or players of a similar calibre.
The Bianconeri can and should do much, much better. There is also an argument to be made for centre-back being an area of concern, though I personally do not see reason to worry (yet). Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli may be nearing the end of their respective careers, but they are still amongst the better defenders in the world today. Rugani remains one of the best defensive prospects in the world (not that his recent performances would tell anyone that). Benatia is good for his backup role, but nothing more. And there is also the impending arrival of Mattia Caldara, hands down the best Italian centre-back prospect, in 2018. I think the laughable defending throughout the preseason has been a mixture of rust, lack of effort (it’s preseason), and players getting used to playing without Leonardo Bonucci.
Speaking of Bonucci, when is this “will of the player” balderdash going to end? This philosophy has been the reason Juventus has plateaued to a certain extent since the 2014 Champions League final. They are not any worse than the very high level they had back then, but they also have not managed to get over the proverbial hump in European competition. The problem with selling a star every summer is that it leads to the perpetual state of rebuilding that Juventus find themselves in. There are clubs smaller than Juve that show much more resolve to keeping their players. Some may disagree with me on this, but I believe that ditching the “will of the player” approach to sales will be a huge step forward. Even if Juve does end up losing the players in the end, if they play hardball and don’t immediately give in, they could fetch a higher transfer sum than the laughably low prices that they got for top-notch players like Bonucci and Vidal.
In spite of everything listed in the above paragraphs, the club is still in a good place. The squad, incomplete as it may be, is still one of the stronger sides in Europe. That being said, if the club wants to make that leap in quality in European competition, and that should be their main priority going forward, they must address the needs listed previously. Otherwise, they risk stagnation and eventually, decline.
Words: Luigi Moreno