With Juventus heading into another season of potential uncertainty under Max Allegri, Jyotirmoy Halder takes a look at what the upcoming season can hold for the Old Lady.
“Dum, dum, dum…” — can you hear it, the vibrant sound of the drumroll? Oh, it has been a long wait. It has indeed been a long wait for the men in Black and White at Piedmont since they last lifted the coveted Scudetto.
A one-year gap is substantial enough for a club of Juventus’ stature, no? But, people of Turin and beyond, the spell of hanging around and watching the same clips of Cristiano Ronaldo’s goals on the loop is over now as the rod has stuck the head of the drum and Serie A returns with a brand new season of seductive Italian football this weekend.
Enthusiasts of Italy’s top-tier footballing competition will turn their heads and eyes towards their television screens once again — with one hand gripping the remote control and the other hand possibly occupying a glass full of a refreshing beverage — to see their favourite team battling on the field for a contest enveloping ninety minutes of sheer action.
From the statistics, we know that it will be Juventus to attract the most attention during the opening weekend for certain reasons — yes, Jose Mourinho’s return to Serie A as the manager of Roma this time would induce some brouhaha — but Juventus’ start to the season following a catastrophic Serie A 2020/21 season is expected to have a far greater impact on the opening matchday of the fast-approaching campaign.
Sacking Maurizio Sarri for not showing any sign of improvements in the club’s quest for Champions League glory, Juventus promoted Andrea Pirlo to the managerial throne of Bianconeri’s senior side last summer. The drastic event of hiring and sacking a manager took place one week after the former regista had initially joined the club’s under-23s.
The change was so sudden and swift that it took the entire footballing world by utter awe. Following the breakout of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Juventus team led by Andrea Pirlo didn’t get too much time to prepare themselves for a new campaign.
The ramifications of a poor pre-season soon crept into Juve’s performance as they began their 2020/21 season by winning just two games from six in all competitions. Following that hideous spell, when they eventually started earning points and productive results regularly, Juve’s talismanic figure in Paulo Dybala succumbed to a knee injury, which went on to keep him out of the action for almost the entire campaign.
Amid several dilemmas likewise, Cristiano Ronaldo stepped up as the team’s saviour, scoring for Pirlo’s men week in, week out. However, he was not alone in the mission of reviving Juventus’ hope after such a miserable start to the season, with the likes Federico Chiesa — signed on a initial two-year loan in the previous summer transfer window from Fiorentina and Alvaro Morata — another loan summer signing from Atletico Madrid and Juan Cuadrado all starring collectively for the Old Lady.
Beating Napoli 2-0, Juventus won the Supercoppa Italiana but got knocked out of the concurrent UEFA Champions League campaign, once again at the round of 16 (the first knock-out stage) of the competition.
First against Lyon under Sarri and now against Porto under Pirlo — Juventus suffered disqualification from Europe’s major competition at the first knock-out stage for the second time in consecutive seasons.
Juventus fans and the Italian media went ballistic, asking for Pirlo’s head right away. But the board decided to keep faith in Pirlo’s long-term vision and stuck with him this time. Nonetheless, the dark shadow over Pirlo’s future at Juventus began to loom.
Ignoring the travesty and the public criticism, Pirlo held his head high and kept working hard with his team. In the end, he succeeded in delivering the club the Coppa Italia title and a top-four finish, which was looking impossible from Juve’s perspective at a time.
On the final matchday of Serie A 2020/21, Juventus logged a 4-1 triumph against Bologna, but it would not have been possible for Bianconeri to qualify for next season’s Champions League via a top-four finish in the league if Napoli hadn’t endured a draw against Hellas Verona at the eleventh hour of the season. Perhaps Juventus were destined to go through.
For Juventus, the 2020/21 season marked the end of rampant displays from Cristiano Ronaldo (who garnered 29 goals from 33 league games and consequently secured Capocannoniere), Alvaro Morata (the second leading goalscorer and assister for Juve in all competitions), Federico Chiesa (a future prospect), Juan Cuadrado (a veteran proving his mettle with the most number of assists in the team), and lastly an inconsistent and incompetent bunch of midfielders.
New additions needed for the Bianconeri
Coming into another new season, Juventus management not only felt the need to add new faces to the usual roster but also sensed the necessity for change at the top. With some hesitation, the club hierarchy ran the time back and re-hired Massimiliano Allegri to replace Pirlo at the helm. Some heaved a sigh of relief, while others came forward to demand their lost two years. In the wake of the appointment of Allegri, Fabio Paratici stepped down from his role as Juventus’ Chief Football Officer.
From the 2020/21 season, one aspect was clearer than others that Juventus needed to sign a midfielder. However, in the beginning, the business started with renewing Alvaro Morata’s loan deal with Atletico Madrid on top of triggering the option of Weston McKennie’s permanent purchase from Schalke.
A midfielder was atop the transfer priority list, with names such as Manuel Locatelli and Miralem Pjanic getting extensively linked with a summer move to the Turin-based side.
Juventus completed their pre-season, with the 3-0 defeat to Barcelona becoming their only setback in Allegri’s rejuvenated regime. The good news for Juventus devotees eventually arrived as late as five days ahead of the club’s first game in Serie A 2021/22 season, with Bianconeri agreeing on a deal with Sassuolo for their top summer transfer target in Manuel Locatelli. With the signing of Locatelli, it is believed that the vulnerable voids in Juve’s midfield would get filled.
Since the commencement of Juventus’ pre-season campaign. we have witnessed Aaron Ramsey, who was once considered a wantaway outlet in Juve’s ranks, playing in the role of a regista.
While the Welshman is known for his natural traits as a box-to-box midfielder, operating as a deep-lying playmaker is surely not his cup of tea. If anything, he is built for attacking opponents’ boxes and helping the team in defence to some extent. But shielding the defence is not what he does the best, as shown several times by his perplexed performances in the pre-season this term.
Bringing in Locatelli would see Ramsey relieved of his primary duties as a regista. Allegri wants to sign Pjanic as well this summer. But, to do so, Aaron Ramsey needs to be sold first, which doesn’t look likely an easy task at this latter stage of the summer transfer market.
That said, we don’t guarantee that the circumstances will remain the same as that of today, after observing the drastic case of Lionel Messi leaving Barcelona after coming to an agreement to sign an extension with the club.
While the sky over Messi’s future is now clear, Ronaldo’s future is still up in the air, with reports claiming that the Portuguese phenomenon is interested in switching sides this summer. But the lack of interest from suitors may lead to Ronaldo staying put in Turin until next summer when his contract with Juventus finally reaches its expiration.
Other than these two, there are talks of keeping one between Mattia De Sciglio and Luca Pellegrini beyond the summer transfer window. Several reports claim that De Sciglio, having returned from his one-year loan spell at Lyon, is likely to continue under the returning Max, Pellegrini is understood to be joining the likes of Merih Demiral, Gianluca Frabrotta, Stefano Gori, Marko Pjaca and several others in the list of season-long loanees.
Fans have already embraced the signing of Kaio Jorge, a €3 million capture from Santos. The 19-year-old will reportedly embark on his journey at Juventus as a senior here but is expected to be behind Ronaldo and Morata in the pecking order.
Juventus travel to Udinese to play their first league game of a brand new season. Other than Arthur Melo, who recently undertook surgery on his right leg and will be out for around three months, everyone should be fit for the opening matchday at Stadio Friuli. Merih Demiral’s departure, albeit on a loan deal, to Atalanta has summoned unfavourable reviews from Juve fans.
If Juventus don’t buy any new centre-back before the end of the ongoing summer transfer window, they will survive with five senior centre-backs in Matthijs de Ligt, Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Daniele Rugani, and a 19-year-old in Koni De Winter (considering Radu Drăgușin will leave Juventus on loan soon) up until the forthcoming January transfer window at least.
Chiellini and Bonucci have had their issues with injuries in the past, and Rugani, on the other hand, has failed to satisfy the spectators with his defending of late. Therefore, the heart of Juventus’ defence seems worrying going into the new campaign. Allegri and his management maybe know that and will be watchful of any concern or knock within the group.
Key season for Chiesa and Kulusevski?
When there, of course, are disturbing symptoms, several things also persist to be positive about. Federico Chiesa is amongst one of those things.
The recent European champion with Italy was the third-highest goalscorer and assist-provider for Juventus last season. Liverpool came seeking his signature, only for Juve to rebuff their request earlier this summer. Dejan Kulusevski, who has recently been seen elevating his defensive qualities, could be given a new role. His juvenile attitude would be something to look forward to this season.
On the back of a decent time with the Italian national team and in the pre-season, Federico Bernardeschi will be hoping to prove his doubters wrong and get his Juventus career back on track under the guidance of Allegri.
There is also the tandem of Ronaldo and Dybala, with the latter scoring a goal on his return from injury against Atalanta in the pre-season.
The fans should keep an eye on De Ligt and assess whether he is ready to accept the responsibility of Juve’s defence after Chiellini and Bonucci hang their prestigious boots. But, above all, there is Max Allegri, the winner of five Scudetti with the Bianconeri in his previous stint. Juventus should be hoping to rerun the success this time.
Juventus’ best possible eleven: Szczęsny, Alex Sandro, De Ligt, Bonucci, Cuadrado, Kulusevski, Locatelli, Bentancur, Chiesa, Ronaldo, Dybala.
Clear possibility of silverware?
With Antonio Conte leaving Inter Milan, Allegri has predictably got a free passage at the Scudetto. If they could avoid unforced mishaps, they should be running away with the domestic title this season. As far as the Supercoppa Italiana is concerned, Juventus will lock horns with defending Serie A champions Inter. It will be a one-off final. So, Juventus’ fate will be in their hands.
The Coppa Italia will be a tough place this year, with Roma, Inter, Milan, Lazio, Napoli, and Atalanta all having strengthened their team in one way or another during the summer. Juventus should target to lift the trophy again in back-to-back seasons. But if they fail, they mustn’t fail their supporters when it comes to recapturing the Scudetto.
As previously hinted, this could be Cristiano Ronaldo’s last year at Juventus. He, alongside all his followers, would welcome the prospect of winning the Champions League with open arms. But, in reality, there are more chances of Sebastian Vettel winning a Grand Prix in 2021 than Juventus getting their hands on the UCL trophy this season.
Juventus have several good youngsters and experienced campaigners under their wings. Yet, given the money that the English clubs and Paris Saint-Germain have spent and the signing that they have made this summer, finishing above the rest in Europe would be too much to ask from the Piedmontese club. As a result, a semi-final finish could be considered a reasonable end to Juventus’ Champions League campaign.
Don’t lose hope, good people, as we know how quickly things change and predictions could go wrong, especially in football. Don’t let the thoughts of tomorrow disturb your present as we dive into another gruelling marathon of 38 matchdays in search of the next ruler of the Italian footballing landscape.