Serie A Preview: Juventus
What a summer this has been. After seven successive Scudetti, Juventus can’t be accused of resting on their laurels. They are looking for the Champions League title after two finals in four seasons and they decided to go for it. Big time. Cristiano Ronaldo is the headline arrival, of course, but there has been plenty of other eye-catching transfers too. Juve will be heavy favourites to win Serie A again but as, our tactical analysis will show, there are some question marks surrounding Juve. How will they set up? 4-2-3-1? 4-3-3? Let’s have a look at Juventus ahead of the Serie A season.
Massimiliano Allegri remains in charge after four sublime seasons. The Italian tactician has won four domestic league and cup doubles in four seasons. The coach has also reached two Champions League finals. His fantastic tenure now has its most difficult demand; win the Champions League. He’s been given a superb squad. Now he needs to deliver the big trophy.
The signing of Cristiano Ronaldo struck Italy like a huge bolt of lightning. It’s been Ronaldo-mania in the Italian press ever since, with his first day described as “Ronalday” and he’s been called “the Martian.” It’s obvious why the attention is drawn to one of the two most successful individual footballers of all time. Ronaldo is box-office, and that’s part of the reason Juve have signed him. The other reason is because of his five Champions League titles and they hope he’s the one to deliver it to Turin.
In Ronaldo’s shadow, sporting director Beppe Marotta has overseen a whirlwind window with plenty of interesting signings. Left-back Leonardo Spinazzola has returned from a successful two-season loan-spell at Atalanta. Valencia right-back Joao Cancelo has replaced Stephan Lichtsteiner. Emre Can has been signed as an obvious upgrade on the declining Sami Khedira. Douglas Costa’s loan has been made permanent after an impressive spring. Mattia Perin has joined as competition for Wojciech Szczesny in goal. Mattia Caldara finally joined the club after being signed in January 2017 but subsequently loaned back to Atalanta for 18 months.
But Caldara was quickly used in a deal to get Leonardo Bonucci back from Milan as the two central defenders were swapped for one another. The deal signalled Juventus’ intentions; win now, not in a few seasons. Gonzalo Higuain was also forced to make way for Ronaldo’s arrival, he too moving to Milan. Midfielders Tomas Rincon and Rolando Mandragora have also been sold. Juventus have signed well but the Ronaldo and Bonucci deals show the urgency with which they crave the Champions League title.
Tactical Analysis: How do Juventus play?
This is a question not many people can answer prior to each game starting. Well, one man can. That man is Allegri. Those of us outside his brain will never know for certain. Allegri is one of the most flexible coaches in Europe and has shown that he can coach a team to play in a variety of ways. During his tenure in Turin, Juventus have played an excellent low-block defence one week before pressing high the following. They can defend in a positionally-orientated system or by man-marking their opponents. They can counter-attack ruthlessly or build attacks methodically by dominating possession. Allegri changes his tactics from game-by-game depending on how he sees the game play out, making it impossible to predict how he will set up in Serie A.
A few things are certain though. Juventus will be extremely well-organized in defence whichever way he chooses to defend. In attack, given the presence of players like Ronaldo, Cancelo, Costa, Alex Sandro and Mario Mandzukic, there will be an emphasis on attacking down the flanks with crosses towards the attackers. The quality of Paulo Dybala and Miralem Pjanic will add a creative dimension through the centre. Simply put, Juventus will be tough to defend against. Last season Allegri mostly used a very functional 4-3-3 or 4-4-1-1 but as I’ll look at below, there are other options too.
Three possible line-ups when Serie A starts
In the last 18 months, Allegri first favoured a 4-2-3-1 formation which sometimes became 3-4-2-1 and then mostly used more rigid 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 structures last term. Adding the new signings to those formations would look like this. The 4-2-3-1 is definitely the most attacking option as it resembles the “Five Star” team of 2016/17 which saw Pjanic in midfield with Khedira behind a front four of Juan Cuadrado to the right, Mandzukic to the left and Dybala behind Higuain. Now, this would mean Costa for Cuadrado, Can for Khedira and Ronaldo for Higuain. Bonucci, Benatia and Chiellini would be the three front-runners to start in defence with the Italians likely to start despite Benatia possibly being better than both at the minute. But hierarchy would probably decide.
It’s a very attacking team, especially if Cancelo and Sandro start at full-back which could make a case for Mattia De Sciglio to start on either side. It’s a fantastic team though and it would likely blow most Serie A teams away. Many European sides too. The balance is tipped towards attack but the team would have everything; pace, power, skill, creativity, experience, youth and character. But it mightn’t be the eleven you approach Barcelona away with.
This more cautious 4-3-3 would though. The above formation could be made more defensive by including Matuidi over Mandzukic on the left, but in this alternative, the Frenchman joins Can and Pjanic in a midfield three. Those three give a lot of cover and solidity to that fantastic front-three to go and grab a few goals on the counter-attack. If I know Allegri right, then this eleven will be used plenty of times this season when he sets up to defend his way to a win.
A third and final option would be a very defensively solid 3-5-2 suited for tough away games where a point is an acceptable result. Benatia comes into defence while Costa drops out. This is possibly the best defensive setup but it lacks the pace and dynamism that Costa or Cuadrado can offer. This won’t be used much, but tweak a few positions and you can have a devastating team with Ronaldo and Dybala as a front two.
As you can imagine, Allegri has plenty of options to choose from when coming up with his starting elevens. I have barely mentioned players like Barzagli, Rugani, Spinazzola, De Sciglio, Khedira, Bentancur, Bernardeschi and Cuadrado. Now that’s what I’d call squad depth. Juventus are set up to win this season. Yet again.
Juventus have gone all-out this summer to increase their chances of winning the Champions League. The blockbuster signing of Cristiano Ronaldo is the biggest deal completed, but the comeback of Leonardo Bonucci is equally spectacular. Cancelo and Can, in particular, are also really clever signings. After seven straight Serie A trophies, Juventus will be expecting an eighth after their summer spending but the focus is on winning the Champions League, make no mistake about it. With Ronaldo, who’s won it three times on the bounce, they have increased their chances.
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