Despite holding on to Arturo Vidal, the midfielder’s injury concerns leave many questions for Max Allegri to answer. Eric Wood has a look at what measures have been taken so far, and what needs to be done in the future.
After a pre-season that brought about nothing but uncertainty for the defending Serie A champions, Juventus will be looking for stability from wherever they can find it. A lot of it will come down to the incoming Massimiliano Allegri finding a system that will work for his team, and keeping his major players fit and healthy.
This is particularly true when it comes to Arturo Vidal. The midfielder missed some of last season through a knee injury, and is only now starting to find his match fitness again. Even though Juventus claimed their third straight league title with relative ease, they still showed signs of weakness when Vidal was on the field. This leaves Allegri with two tasks to complete in order to retain Juventus’ league title: find a way to bring the best out of Vidal, and figure out ways they can deal with his absence.
The Juve Midfield
During Antonio Conte’s tenure as the Juventus manager, he put his faith in 3-5-2 formation. His five-man midfield contained three of the best players in the game, and they all played a key part in securing Juve’s Italian dominance. Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba, and Arturo Vidal all play vital roles in what has effectively become the spine of the team. The only problem they have is that when one of the three are absent, Juve’s midfield dominance can take a dramatic fall.
This is probably one of the few benefits of hiring Allegri as manager. The former AC Milan manager will be more inclined to change the system to fill in the gaps when injuries weaken the side. With a fully fit midfield, Allegri will be able to experiment a little to find a system that will define his team. Allowing Pogba to play in a more attacking role, for example – something the young midfielder has said he enjoys – could open up some more attacking options for them. The only real concern for Allegri will be how his midfield is able to defend against the opposition when the likes of Vidal aren’t there.
When Juventus have Vidal in their team, they are quite simply one of the best teams in Europe. This includes the offensive and defensive side of the game. When the Chilean teams up with Pirlo and Pogba, there are tonnes of possibilities for the team when they move forward. What made Juventus such a tough opponent last season was their intelligence. Going forward, they were capable of making clever movements that would often leave their opponents for dust.
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Vidal is effectively the heart-beat of the midfield. When he has the ball in a good position, he is capable of making forward runs that are often ruthless in their execution. When he’s off the ball, he’s able to track-back and make a challenge to win possession back. His strong end-to-end style allows players like Pogba to focus on moving forward without the fear of being caught out on the counter attack. Vidal and Pirlo play a big part keeping as much off the plate of the three-man defence as possible, and thus keep the team moving forward and pressing with possession.
When Juventus have been without Vidal, they have struggled to deal with their weaknesses. Instead of finding a way to adapt to his absence, Conte would deploy his side playing the same system showcasing a lack of tactical flexibility. Without Vidal, they often continued to try and move forward with speed and had little success.
Without the 27-year-old, Juventus found their authority in midfield greatly reduced last season. They would often give up possession and then have difficulty trying to get it back. This left their three-man defence way too exposed for comfort. Juventus were without Vidal during a match against Fiorentina last season, and found their two goal lead slip away in a 4-2 defeat. After going two goals down, Fiorentina simply decided to deploy three strikers, thus spreading the Juventus defence very thin. With Pirlo left alone to compensate for Vidal’s absence, Juventus were totally inept at stopping the attack.
What Allegri Has To Do
While Vidal will naturally be a big part of Allegri’s plans, the new manager will also have to think of a few other possibilities. There is always the chance that Vidal could aggravate his knee injury, and in that event, Allegri will need to find a proper solution to compensate for his absence.
Allegri will of course be coming up with his own system, in which case a Vidal injury may not be as noticeable as it was under Conte. It will all depend on the pace of Allegri’s system. During his time at AC Milan, he was criticised for having a midfield that moved too slow, and for having a total lack of drive to move forward and attack. Considering that Conte was working with a team that was getting weaker and weaker during his tenure, he probably found himself in a position where there was only so much he could get out of his team.
With Juventus however, Allegri has plenty of resources to choose from. When Vidal is absent, Allegri could find a way to slow the midfield down a little, relieving it of the pressure of keeping the same pace set by the ex-Leverkusen man. Allegri could even deploy Pogba in the attacking role he craves, while Pirlo is charged with handling the deeper zone. While Allegri was criticised in Milan for simplifying things too much, perhaps in the event of a Vidal injury, that would be for the better.
There is no doubt that Juventus will be the hot favourites to stand atop of Serie A come the end of the season. The Juve fans will demand nothing less. However, the fans and indeed the team itself should be looking for progress. A decent run in the Champion’s League would certainly be progress worthy of merit. If Allegri’s side are able to achieve that however, they will need to be better prepared for the absence of key players. If Juventus are caught out by a Vidal injury, regardless of its severity, they could find themselves struggling to make the progress they want.
Written by Eric Wood.
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- Allegri has to take measures to cope with the potential absence of Arturo Vidal - September 16, 2014