After almost half a decade of domestic dominance, Juventus are in a state of transition after seeing the trio of Pirlo, Vidal, and Tevez move on to pastures new. Shubham Ahuja has a look at how Massimiliano Allegri will deal with the losses of such influential figures.
Often, when a coach finds his ‘A’ team thrashing his ‘B’ team, he decides to even the competition. Some of the senior players shift to the losing team, while a few young, inexperienced ones are drafted into the stronger one. The idea is to make the match more competitive, things more interesting, but in the end the coach still expects his A-team to prevail.
Juventus might have taken the trick too far. Apparently bored of winning the Scudetto for the past four years, the Bianconeri will feature this season without the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Carlos Tevez and Arturo Vidal. As Maurizio Crosetti of La Repubblica stated, the Old Lady has lost her “brains, right arm and pair of lungs” in the space of one summer.
While the arrival of Sami Khedira and a new-look forward line may have somewhat made up for the absence of Vidal and Tevez respectively, it is the void left by the creative genius of Pirlo which Allegri will find the hardest to fill. The signing of Pirlo in 2011 coincided with the return of Juventus to the top of the Serie A and although Juventus have won the last four Scudetti on the trot, this is the first time they will be defending the crown of Italian champions without ‘Il Architetto’.
Having said that, the Juventus management is known for its efficiency and financial prudence and would have planned in advance for its star players leaving either for more successful clubs in Europe or, in Pirlo’s case, to retire in the USA. How Max Allegri moulds this team for the future now, will provide an insight into the vision of Juve president Andrea Agnelli and potentially offer a model for other Italian clubs to become a force to be reckoned with in Europe.
A changed midfield structure
The Juventus midfield has revolved around Pirlo in the Regista role since his arrival. Whether it was the 3-1-4-2 of Antonio Conte or the midfield diamond of Allegri, Pirlo, complemented by the energy and industry of Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal invariably set the ball rolling, simultaneously underlining the relevance of experience in a footballing world fast forgetting its virtues.
The departure of Pirlo and Vidal, coupled with the signing of Sami Khedira from Real Madrid is a sign of changing dynamics in the Juventus midfield. In the German international and Marchisio, Allegri now has two box-to-box midfielders with attacking instinct and bucket loads of grinta to go with it. While the deep-lying playmaking of Pirlo will be missed, Leonardo Bonucci is more than capable of spraying long balls from defence and might be instructed to move into midfield time and again.
In this respect, Allegri might be tempted to field a 3-5-2 formation to maximize his midfield’s potential. While it is true that the Italian manager preferred a diamond midfield last season, the partnership of Khedira and Marchisio is tailor-made for launching deadly counter-attacks. Lichtsteiner, too, looks far more comfortable in the right wing-back position, if the Supercopa Italia win against Lazio is anything to go by.
The diamond Allegri so covets will still be there, it will only be located slightly deeper on the pitch. More importantly, its role will not be to maintain possession (no longer feasible without Pirlo), but to absorb opposition pressure and attack on the break.
To complete this tactic, however, Allegri needs one final key ingredient- a world-class attacking midfielder. The quest for Oscar, Mario Gotze and Julian Draxler makes sense in this light and signifies, more than any other aspect, Juventus’ change of creative focus. After four years of the number 21 of Pirlo being the playmaker of the Black-and-Whites, it is time for a number 10 to follow into the steps of Michel Platini, Liam Brady, Roberto Baggio, Alessandro del Piero and recently Carlos Tevez to become the creative hub of the team.
This change in focus, from Regista to Trequartista will be crucial to Allegri’s ability to mount a successful title defence without Pirlo. What’s more, the answer probably lies within his own ranks. The name is Pogba, Paul Pogba.
Juventus may have lost Pirlo and Vidal but, almost miraculously, still have Pogba. Retaining the services of arguably the most talented young midfielder on the planet must feel like a new signing for the Bianconeri faithful, especially since he was being courted by almost every other major club in Europe.
Furthermore, Pogba asked for the famous number 10 jersey following the departure of Tevez, a clear indication that he is willing to take up the responsibility of being the heart-beat of the team. Having played last season on the left of midfield, the onus will be on the 22-year old this time around to operate in central attacking areas and score as well as create goals.
For this, he has a team ready to back him- a stable backline, a midfield duo of Marchisio and Khedira to provide support defensively and two strikers upfront to latch onto his passes. Pogba’s own style of play seems suited to the modern trequartista role as well- supreme ball control and dribbling skills, upper body strength to shirk off defenders, the ability to see a pass, a lethal shot from long-range and aerial prowess.
But it is Pogba’s mental toughness and determination which are his most striking qualities. Any other midfielder might consider jumping ship on seeing Pirlo leave and move to Barcelona or Real Madrid while he has the chance. The Frenchman, however, clearly senses an opportunity to become the lynchpin of a rising team in Europe and has the confidence to seize it with both hands. Allegri will be hoping he does.
The loss of talismanic striker Carlos Tevez convinced Allegri he needed more firepower upfront. Three new forwards have been recruited this summer as a result- Mario Mandzukic to offer a target-man upfront, Simone Zaza as a reliable back-up and young Argentine starlet Paolo Dybala as a long-term option.
The arrival of Mandzukic spells trouble for Llorente, whose days in Turin might now be numbered. Morata, meanwhile, will be the first-choice partner to Mandzukic, with Zaza and Dybala providing competition as well as cover.
The signing of strikers has once again showcased the clarity in thinking of the Juventus management. Allegri wanted a strike-partnership of a target-man who works hard defensively (Mandzukic, Zaza) along with a pacy dribbler who can provide assists apart from scoring (Dybala). The fact that the manager now has Dybala as a similar replacement for Morata should the latter’s buy back clause be activated by Real Madrid, is representative of a club making moves with one eye on the future, and only bodes well for Juventus.
Time to move on..
“I believe that the cycle of a successful team lasts maybe four years and then some change is needed.”
Sir Alex Ferguson
Starting from the free transfer of Pirlo from AC Milan, Juventus have consistently laid down the marker in Serie A. Four years on, it is perhaps time to build on the successes of Pirlo, Vidal and Tevez and ensure the continued dominance of The Old Lady in Italy. If the transfer dealings and the current crop of young players (Kingsley Coman, Roberto Pereyra, Stefano Sturaro) are anything to go by, the Bianconeri have a second consecutive formidable team in the making and will remain the team to beat in Italy and even Europe for some time to come.
Here’s hoping the future will be Black and White.
Written by Shubham Ahuja