Unfortunately for the Old Lady, it hasn’t been a season to remember. After an offseason that made Tiger Woods look restrained, it appeared that Juventus had spent their way to the Scudetto.
A team that had finished in 2nd place last season added Felipe Melo from Fiorentina and Diego from Werder Bremen. It only seemed natural that they would challenge Inter’s recent Serie A supremacy.
After Ciro Ferrara led them to a hot start, their record turned sour, and now not even the managerial change to Alberto Zaccheroni has worked. They currently sit in 7th place, out of all European competition.
So what has caused Juve to “crumble like a biscuit” as I put it on the Pink Shirt Wise Guys podcast this week?
When I take a look at some of the finer points of Juve’s stats this season, here’s what sticks out.
Diego has been the second biggest focal point of the media scrutiny surrounding Juve this season. When he signed with the Turin club, most people thought he would bring the creativity needed to make their offensive game tick. Unfortunately that hasn’t happened. Juve may have the 7th most goals scored, but Diego has been more of a shooter than a creator. He leads the team with 68 shots on net, but they have only resulted in 5 goals to go along with 6 assists. By comparison, he has as many assists as players like Juan Vargas and Wesley Sneijder. He may not be lighting the league on fire, but he hasn’t been invisible either. Another year may be all he needs, but that might be all the time the Biaconeri faitherful give him to decide.
No Juventus player has more than 7 league goals this year. This may be the team’s biggest offensive problem. They have lacked an elite scorer whom they can depend on through the tough times. Last year, Amauri was that player, but this season he has looked lost. Amauri has the talent, but he needs to rediscover it.
With free kick takers like Del Piero and Diego on the squad, it is important for Juve to ensure that they have players on the pitch who can draw fouls from the opposition defenders. Diego draws 3.29 fouls per game. Del Piero draws 4.14 fouls per game and Sebastian Giovinco draws 4.4 fouls per start but his numbers may be skewed due to so few starts and extra substitute minutes. In this case, it could be very useful to see Diego, Del Piero and possibly Giovinco in the lineup together. I’ve outlined the insanity of Giovinco’s lack of playing time in a previous post.
With the signing of Felipe Melo, it was widely thought (yours truly included) that Juventus would have a steely midfield capable of winning the ball back at will. Unlike what most of us thought, it really hasn’t worked out that way. Both Melo and Mohammed Sissoko have been prone to unleashing brash tackles and racking up the yellow cards. On top of that, they really haven’t been effective in the midfield together as they are too similar and the offense has looked lost without a “regista” type player to distribute the ball.
The lone bright spot in midfield has been young Claudio Marchisio. Marchisio has been an excellent mix of solid tackling, decent shooting and the ability to pass through a defense. For Juventus to be successful, they need to use Marchisio’s talents as he could be a midfield cornerstone for year’s to come.
For a top club like Juventus to be ranked 14th in Serie A for goals against is very poor, especially considering that they house so many well-known names along their back line. Fabio Cannavaro and Nicola Legrottaglie have looked nasty this year with Georgio Chiellini playing his regular role, but needing a partner to do the sweeping behind his aggressive plays on the ball.
The fullbacks have been even worse than the central defense. Fabio Grosso is no longer “The Iceman” that cam up with so many clutch plays for the Azzurri in 2006. Martin Caceres and Zdeno Grygera are decent, but nothing special.
In Juve’s case, it has been a lack of clutch. Juventus has been outscored 24-16 in the final 30 minutes of their league matches this season. Other top teams like Milan and Inter have been able to rescue points late in games, but Juve seems more prone to losing them.
This could just be a string of bad luck, but could very well be a sign of poor mental strength and leadership.
Formations and Tactics
Juventus have toyed with a diamond midfield, a 4-2-3-1, a 4-3-1-2 and even experimented with a 3-man backline.
For Juve to be successful offensively with players like Diego and Giovinco taking on their defenders, I believe they need the threat of attacking fullbacks to keep the attack wide enough. Both Diego and Del Piero like to be central, while Giovinco can play wide or cutting to the middle.
If the fullbacks are to bomb forward, then at least one of the midfield players will need to cover on defense. Melo and Sissoko are both capable of doing this, they just don’t need to be on the field at the same time.
My feeling is that a 4-2-3-1 best suits Juve’s players, provided that Marchisio plays slightly more advanced than Melo/Sissoko as the more offensively gifted midfielder. Both Diego and Giovinco would be expected to drop deep and distribute, giving a 4-1-3-2 shape at times when Del Piero drifts in a Marchisio fills the wider hole.
Transfers this offseason
Despite all the talk about new strikers and midfielders, the Old Lady needs help on defense. They should be looking for a young mobile central defender and another attacking right back to complement Paolo De Ceglie.
Some reasonable signings could be Simon Kjaer from Palermo, Salvatore Bocchetti from Genoa, or Andrea Ranocchia from Bari at central defense. On the right, a player like Stephan Lichsteiner of Lazio could be a big improvement.
If the defense is solid and the manager can harness some of the young talent already on the squad, Juventus will be just fine.