Juve’s 2018 Crossroads – Part two

Looking ahead to an important summer in Turin

We’ve looked at the past and present, now to focus on the future, starting with the Mister himself. It’s widely assumed Allegri’s job is safe after all his trophy record speaks for itself, especially when you look at the calibre of players who have left the club over the last few years. It is widely considered that Juve’s Champions League success is almost more important than our Serie A record in order to increase our stature among our European rivals. Even a simple look at Juve’s Champions League record this season shows they have only marginally progressed; making the Quarter Final after beating Spurs, away, and then taking the holders to injury time in the second leg should be regarded as such. Looking at it more closely, apart from the 30-minute spell against Spurs and the nothing-to-lose game in the Bernabeau Juve haven’t demonstrated any ability to control games, to make teams fear them, and this could ultimately lead to Allegri’s downfall.

Allegri would argue that Juve, given those departures of key players, have been punching above their weight in Europe over the last couple of seasons and while that may be true it is clear the attention and momentum this generated hasn’t been used to their advantage. His persistence in using impractical tactics and personnel in Europe is hampering Juve’s progress. Given they have made the Final in two of the past three seasons it can be said this is progress enough and turning a squad capable of winning the trophy doesn’t happen overnight unless your team is bankrolled by the Middle East or Russia, but there haven’t been any significant signs of progress this year. In fact, the word regression springs to mind and the end of game antics in Madrid shouldn’t be allowed to cloud this view.

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Despite the tone of this article I am pro-Allegri but if Juve are to look elsewhere for a new manager, they have to weigh up whether Allegri can deliver them the Champions League trophy sooner rather than later. If they don’t think he’s up to it, they may only have to look as far as the opposing dugout at the Bernabeu. As a former player Zinedine Zidane could be a perfect fit for the BIanconceri, most importantly he has a proven record of delivering European trophies at a major club. During a recent post-game interview upon being asked whether he would be Juve manager one day he replied “never say never”, he also said “Juve is close to my heart”; certainly not a straight up refusal by any means. If he doesn’t retain the Champions League this year and given Real’s relatively poor domestic season he could well be looking elsewhere for employment. Italian coaches, Eusebio Di Francesco, Simone Inzaghi and Maurizio Sarri have all had impressive seasons, however the first two are still somewhat untested with a major club and Sarri is too inflexible to take a team to the highest level.

The summer will be very important as Allegri will surely be given opportunity to strengthen a team which desperately needs it. Juve have a ready-made replacement for Gigi Buffon in Wojciech Szczesny and now is the time for him to step up and be Buffon’s long term successor. As much as it pains Juventini to admit it, it is time for Buffon to keep his word and retire while he can still perform at the highest level, he may not have (potentially) ended his Champions League career the way he would’ve wanted to but his legacy as one of the best goalkeepers ever to play the game is one which remains untarnished. Juve have done well to bring Szczesny in for what should be his warm up season to help fully integrate himself and now is his time to take over the number one shirt.

The return from loan of Mattia Caldara will help bolster the defence after an impressive two season stint at Atalanta and it wouldn’t be surprising to see one or both of Andrea Barzagli and Daniele Rugani make way. Rugani is still yet to consistently play under Allegri, other than a run of games at the start of the season, and while he has the ability to play at a high level, he doesn’t seem to have the trust of his manager after being overlooked for the Real Madrid home leg. Another loan spell for Rugani would be wise from Juve’s point of view, however the player himself may prefer to cut his losses and start elsewhere after being out of favour for so long. As far as Barzagli is concerned his form has still been above average but the first team starts are becoming less frequent, there aren’t many Juve fans who have a negative opinion of him, it is just a case of being the right time to pass the defensive responsibilities to someone else and given Caldara’s return this seems quite likely.  There aren’t many players Juve could conceivably bring in, especially with the return of Caldara, however Benedikt Howedes, has shown some promise in his (very) limited first team action and there was obviously something about his play to make Allegri and co want to bring him to Juve in the first place; he may well be tempted to make a second stab at his Juve career.

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As for the full backs it appears Stephan Lichtsteiner and (or) Kwadwo Asamoah will leave at the end of the season, Mattia De Sciglio seems to be settled in the right back role and it has been suggested another Atalanta loanee, Leonardo Spinazzola, will deputise where necessary next season. Like Barzagli, Lichtsteiner’s time is almost over in Turin and despite his long-term commitment to Juve a move would probably benefit both parties. In preparation for the departures at full back Juve have been heavily linked with Matteo Darmian, his signing would be welcomed as he has appeared to become a more stable and well-rounded defender since moving to England; definitely an upgrade on who is available at the moment. Alex Sandro, improved from his uncharacteristic form at the beginning of the season, could again be a prime target for the Premier League. However, Juve should fight to keep him as top class attacking full backs are at a premium and it’s a doubt whether Spinazzola or, if he stays, Asamoah could fill his boots.

If Sandro does move on the profit of his transfer could be used in midfield. There has been constant speculation surrounding the futures of Sami Khedira and Claudio Marchisio, both for different reasons have been linked with moves away from the Allianz Stadium. For Khedira he has more often than not been too inconsistent and absent during games to justify wearing the black and white beyond the end of next season, despite this he is Allegri’s preferred choice for supporting Pjanic and no matter what Juventini think of his inclusion they need to get beyond the constant scolding of the German and realise his experience is vital, for the time being at least. Marchisio has suffered as a result of Khedira’s continued inclusion and must be wondering, as his career reaches its twilight, whether a gut-wrenching move away from his boyhood club would be best for him. It’s obvious he hasn’t reached the heights of his pre-knee injury form and he is no more than a squad player now so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him move. Although seeing both Buffon and Marchisio leave in the same mercato could be too much for some fans.

The signing of Blaise Matuidi was supposed to be the missing piece in Juve’s midfield and although he has performed well this season it is apparent his signing isn’t enough to help Juve progress to the next level. He brings a lot of energy and determination but as highlighted in the first leg defeat to Real Madrid, cover for Miralem Pjanic is desperately needed. Pjanic himself has been better than his debut season in 2016/17, but he, like Khedira, goes missing too often or is being asked to play the bruiser role, which really doesn’t suit him.

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There have been plenty of potential midfield signings mentioned and when you’re a club the size of Juve it appears not a day goes by where there isn’t some kind of speculation. Emre Can was apparently a certainty to sign for Juve at the end of his contact with Liverpool however nothing has been finalised yet. He is a very similar player to Khedira, Marchisio and Matuidi and although his talent isn’t in question it is apparent he isn’t the type of player required at the moment. The dream signing for many Juventini would be Sergej Milinkovic-Savic; his mouth-watering, dynamic performances in Lazio’s midfield have attracted the attention of Europe’s elite, however it’s unlikely he’ll join Juve whether it’s because of the hefty price tag or whether it’s down to the working relationship between Juve and Lazio is a matter of opinion. Atalanta’s Bryan Cristiante and Sampdoria’s Dennis Praet are also possibilities, as is Nebil Fekir from Lyon; all have the attacking talent and flair to support Pjanic in the link between midfield and attack.

Anthony Martial has also been mentioned as a Juve target after reported meetings between his agent and Juve representatives after the game against Spurs at Wembley. Martial is a big name and he would be a very important signing in terms of Juve’s stature among their peers and the increased ability to attract big names will turn heads across Europe. However Martial is perhaps not what Juve need either especially when they have Juan Cuadrado, Federico Bernardeschi and Costa already in the squad and Marko Pjaca still to return. If it were to happen one would expect Mario Mandzukic to make way, he has made a name for himself since his 2015 move from Bayern Munich and was successfully transitioned to a left wing role last season, however it is not his natural position and if he isn’t going to play centre forward he is surely being wasted at Juve. He has looked well short of his best at times this season, despite two clinical headed goals against Real Madrid.

If Juve are indeed looking for a replacement striker, then the links with Alvaro Morata would be music to the ears of Juventini. After somewhat reluctantly leaving in 2016 he would be welcomed back like a long lost relative. He proved to be a very capable player in his two years at Juve and hasn’t exactly caught the imagination during his time at Chelsea, given their probable management change in the summer it is possible Morata could be available. He would certainly take some of the goal scoring burden from Gonzalo Higuain and might just propel Juve to the next tier of European teams.

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Of course we have a whole summer to debate the mercato and there are endless possible signings and squad permeations to be debated, but now is the time for Juve to lay the foundations of their reaction to the European disappointment. Changes are required; a change in personnel and a change in attitude. Both are easily attainable and as Max Allegri and Giuseppe Marotta are stood at the crossroads Juventini are praying they take the right path.

 

Which Way Now? – Juve at a crossroads after Madrid KO – Part one

Plenty of questions to be answered as the Bianconeri find themselves in familiar territory

Juventus’ deflated win against relegation fodder, Benevento, was a classic case of art imitating life. Twice they held the lead only to be pegged back by the bottom side, they won, eventually, and a magnificent Douglas Costa goal will have glossed over the performance; a win is a win at this stage of the season. The lethargy and down trodden mood was palpable after Juve’s defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League Quarter Final first leg and it hadn’t shifted by the time they took to the field four days later in Campania. Juve and Napoli have set an incredible pace in Serie A (either club could conceivably not win the league having secured over 90 points) and the game in Turin at the end of this month could well be the title decider. Despite the exciting climax to the domestic season their European adventures haven’t been as encouraging, to be fair they’ve made a dramatic rise in status over recent years with two final appearances, those finals have provided average performances but ultimately two defeats. The defeats have been greeted with a certain amount of optimism for the following season and confidence has been building for a while that Juve are finally within touching distance of their final opponents, Barcelona and Real Madrid, however, this confidence has been built on words and misty-eyed optimism rather than substantial actions and despite the shocking manner in which Juve were knocked out by Real Madrid last week it leaves Juve at a huge crossroads.

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The horror with which Juventini greeted the announcement of the starting line-up for the first leg of the Real Madrid tie must have been almost audible across Europe as they lined up with a two-man midfield, just like the Champions League Final of 2017, Allegri’s focus was on the wings where Alex Sandro was deployed on the left a Costa on the right. Miralem Pjanic and Medhi Benatia were suspended so Rodrigo Bentancur, ahead of Juve stalwart, Claudio Marchisio, and Andrea Barzagli stepped in. One has to question Allegri’s reasoning for playing Barzagli, a man who time and again was beaten by the threatening pace of Son Heung-min in the second leg game of the previous round against Tottenham Hotspur. Against Real he lined up, albeit in a different position, against Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. The only reason apparent reason behind Barzagli’s inclusion is his experience, but that will only get you so far when you’re up against arguably the best attack in Europe.

On the flip side, Bentancur’s fleeting appearances in the first team have given reason for optimism and his first half performance against Real was as composed and mature as one could’ve hoped for; he was willing to track back, make tackles and start Juve’s sporadic attacks. His performance can’t be faulted. Similarly, Sami Khedira’s first half display was at odds with his less than consistent 2017/18 season, in Pjanic’s absence he played a great game just when it was required. Personally it was amusing to see him being the subject of lavish praise at half time only to be lambasted by fickle elements of Juve’s support in the second half, some things never change. His second half display wasn’t up to the standard of the first but he certainly wasn’t Juve’s biggest culprit; he was more a victim of circumstance, of Real’s second goal, that was the killer.

That goal; the product of some more childish defending between Chiellini and Buffon, combined with Juve’s innate ability to be their own worst enemy, was simply one of the finest you’ll ever see and whether you agree with applauding the opposition or not, the ovation from the Juventini inside the stadium was more than justified. As a football fan sometimes you just have to applaud the opposition, it doesn’t happen often and had his effort ended up in row z everyone would’ve laughed, it didn’t and the team’s confidence drained away. Their perceived lack of confidence in big European games has been mentioned by many pundits and it’s hard to argue against that when it is clear the players’ heads drop when they concede in these big games. In the end the match statistics were fairly even; Real had 14 shots to Juve’s 12, 5 shots on target to Juve’s 2 and 56% to 44% possession. However, the overall impression was that Real were in second gear for much of the game, whereas Juve, in order to get anything from the game, had to play at their top level. Juve do not have the luxury of Cristiano Ronaldo, not many teams do, but Juve simply do not have a player of his calibre, a match winner, and it is apparent without Pjanic that Juve lack a dynamic creative presence on the pitch.

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The second leg was supposed to be a foregone conclusion and given their performances against both Barcelona and Real this year it was perhaps even more unbelievable Juve scored three and kept a clean sheet (almost). The team and Allegri deserve a huge amount of credit for not simply preserving energy ahead of the final Serie A games. Allegri finally ditched the two-man midfield and it was obvious to everyone watching that Juve are a much better team when they have support for Pjanic in the shape of Matuidi and Khedira. The focus on the wings and getting crosses into the area paid off and it was a huge reason behind Juve’s success on the night. Special mention must go to Khedira who quietly had one of his best games of the season, if he could sort out the consistency issues he can still play a part for Juve. Mandzukic too, who looked well off the pace versus Benevento, must be praised for his two goals and impressive centre forward play. As for Juve’s sickening exit, the debate around the injury time penalty will continue long after I’m dead and buried and it’s a subject for another time.

Allegri has to take the blame for the exit after playing the two-man midfield when it has been proven time and again to be ineffective against quality opposition and they had to go all out in Madrid after the poor showing in the first leg. The inclusion of Bentancur in the first leg, despite his encouraging performance, over Matuidi or even Marchisio, is puzzling, especially when he was facing Kroos, Modric and Isco. Playing Alex Sandro on the left may work domestically and it has to be acknowledged that injuries and suspensions have forced Allegri’s hand somewhat, however it clearly didn’t work and Asamoah was left exposed to Real’s counter more often than not. Last season’s Champions League Final saw Juve play Dani Alves on the right, Mario Mandzukic on the left and the ill-fated two-man midfield. Same tactic, same outcome. It is both bizarre and frustrating to expect a different outcome by using the same tactic against the same team.

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So the European campaign ends in disappointment and Juve’s response will be crucial. It is easy to point the finger at a lack of domestic competition given they’ve won six titles in succession, this is partly true as the Serie A title isn’t wrapped up yet and although it is within reach Napoli have pushed them all the way. The Coppa Italia final versus Milan next month would seal Juve’s fourth successive domestic double. Domestic dominance is becoming almost given for Juve and glancing at the table after the Real defeat would show a team who has dropped only 12 points all season. They are the cream of Italian football and Real Madrid, as in the Final last June, simply swept them aside in the first leg. It can be argued of the two knockout ties this year Juve have only played well for one game and a 20-minute period versus Spurs, it isn’t an exaggeration to say they were outplayed for the rest of those ties.

It is mildly embarrassing for a team to be revered and feared in their homeland only to be made to look inferior against quality continental opposition. Remember Italy is one of Europe’s flagship leagues and although competition from Napoli, Roma, Lazio and Inter have increased the pressure and improved the league as a whole, it can be said barring a few other teams (Milan, Fiorentina and Atalanta) the rest are very poor, with the bottom six or seven extremely so. Although this example is probably comparable with England or Germany, their top teams are still producing quality performances in Europe and there isn’t a real question over the lack of competition in those leagues.

If Juve aren’t careful they could fall in to a similar trap to Celtic in Scotland, they are by far and away the best team in the Scottish Premier League but are out of their depth in top European competition. A slight exaggeration when compared to Juve but it’s a little too close to the truth for some. Juve were mostly unconvincing in the group stage, they almost certainly stole the aggregate win over Spurs in the Knockout Round and were not so much outplayed by Real but always somewhat inferior, a step behind, and gave themselves too much to do despite their heroic efforts in Madrid. Unfortunately, it isn’t it isn’t the first time Juve have simply looked miles behind Europe’s elite teams.

The time for reflection, finger pointing and dissection is over, with the post mortem out of the way the second part will focus on the way forward.

 

 

How Deep is Your Squad? – Injuries Stretch Juve to the Limit…

The limping trail of pain towards the Vinovo treatment room has been growing since the start of the season and those with good memories will remember Benedikt Howedes playing for us?!

Although it isn’t quite the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan it seems a game doesn’t go by without Juve reporting a new injury. It certainly has demonstrated the importance of a quality squad as Juve continue to seek the treble.

The latest injury added to the list was Andrea Barzagli who was injured in the warm up before the game against Sassuolo, he was replaced by Daniele Rugani in the starting line up. Rugani, along with Sami Khedira and Blaise Matuidi, were substituted before the crowd had returned to their seats for the second half. Max Allegri confirmed later that Rugani, Khedira and Barzagli were okay, however Matuidi would miss significant time and thus is added to the growing list of absentees.

 The limping trail of pain towards the Vinovo treatment room has been growing for a while, since the start of the season actually. Those with good memories will remember Benedikt Howedes, the home game against Crotone in November is his only appearance, maybe it was an initiative to play someone from the crowd in an attempt to try and even up the teams a little, who knows?! Joking aside, while he’s been absent for all but one game he’s hardly been missed due the return to form of Medhi Benatia, but the 25 game clause where his loan move becomes permanent is already looking to be unbelievably optimistic at best. Fellow defender, Mattia de Sciglio, missed five games during December after impressing during his limited playing time previously, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Barzagli were able to fill in for him although neither were an ideal replacement in terms of ability or consistency.

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Juve’s wingers haven’t escaped the curse either. Last season, after Marko Pjaca tore his cruciate ligament, Juve had one natural attacking wide player, Juan Cuadrado. Despite inconsistent form Cuadrado has been a regular starter this season but has missed all of January and will miss all of February too after undergoing an operation on a sports hernia. The summer saw Juve focus on improving the quality of their attacking, flair players. The arrivals of Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi greatly enhanced Allegri’s attacking options, but have both struggled with injury recently. Bernardeschi only just managed to recover from injury and play a huge part of Juve’s pounding of Sassuolo the week before last. Costa was recently injured during the Coppa Italia win over Atalanta and has missed the last two games. According to reports he should be fully fit for the Champions League game against Tottenham Hotspur. The injuries to attacking players hasn’t really been noticed such is the array of attacking talent at Juve’s disposal and the creative spark has been coming from others during this spate of injuries.

The focus of the most recent serious injury news has been in midfield; Blaise Matuidi will miss a month with a thigh injury sustained against Sassuolo. Matuidi has quietly become a vital part of the midfield since his summer arrival; protecting the back line with an infectious energy he has proved to be a very shrewd signing. There is a case to be argued that his loss, for at least the first leg of the Tottenham tie, will be felt more than the absence of Paulo Dybala. Claudio Marchisio, a man who has also missed time either side of New Year, would be an ideal replacement. His energy reserves might not be comparable to that of Matuidi, but he is a very capable midfielder who, like the Frenchman, quietly goes about his job and allows Miralem Pjanic, Costa, Bernardeschi (or whoever isn’t injured!) to provide the attacking flair.

The majority of the English media are not known for their quality investigative journalism (although I suppose that goes for most of the world’s media, but I digress) and the injury to Matuidi has given rise to some hysterical reports of an injury crisis, moreover some have also claimed his injury is a boost to Tottenham’s chances of emerging victorious. That is open to debate and if I’m being honest probably not that far from the truth, but I’m happy to allow them to fill their readers’ heads with false hope that a few injuries have all but guaranteed their passage to the Quarter Final, this while I’m safe in the knowledge that our squad is more than equipped to cope with Matuidi’s absence.

 

As briefly mentioned above, Paulo Dybala is currently close to returning to the side. He left the pitch in Cagliari in tears after injuring his thigh, this, ironically, during the first game after the winter break which was supposed to allow players to rest and relax for two weeks. The injury has kept him out for a month which has meant a race against time for him to be fit for the Tottenham game (cue more joyful outbursts from the English media). When his injury first occurred it was feared Juve’s form would dip without him as Gonzalo Higuain was going through a dry spell in front of goal at the time, however as mentioned before there are a lot of potential goal scorers in Juve’s ranks and there are others who are more than capable to chip in with goals. Mario Mandzukic has seven, Sami Khedira, six and Bernardeschi and Pjanic, have five.

 

Gigi Buffon made a return away to Atalanta in the Coppa Italia recently, he gave a real man of the match performance as he saved a penalty and kept Juve’s slender lead intact with a couple of fine second half stops. This is after being out for nine games and just days after turning 40. His injury thrust Wojciech Szczeny into the spotlight; bought as a potential replacement from Serie A rivals, Roma, he has firmly grasped the opportunity and has produced some confident displays recently. In fact it can be argued he has been the signing of the season and for a bargain price of £10 million, he has more than played his part in maintaining Juve’s recent imperious form.

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Juve’s current run of 14 wins and two draws in the last 16 games, coupled with a magnificent defensive record of one goal conceded during that run is only possible because of the depth of the squad and rotating tired legs where possible. Most games Juve’s bench can boast players like Bernardeschi, Marchisio and Rugani; players who would easily get into the majority of other Sere A team’s starting line ups. The signings made in the summer to bolster the squad depth have, in such a short space of time, proven to be worth a huge amount to Juve’s domestic and European challenges. Imagine for a minute having to play Tomas Rincon and Stefano Sturaro in midfield to replace Pjanic and Matuidi? This is exactly the kind of scenario Juve faced last season and while the summer signings were not on the scale of Neymar joining Paris Saint Germain, they have increased Juve’s chances of success immeasurably by giving extra options all over the pitch.

If we look at Inter Milan, their squad, not their starting eleven I hasten to add, is painfully short on genuine quality. In December, before their trip to Turin to play Juve, they were in amongst the pace setters for the title. Since then they’ve failed to win a game in nine attempts before the weekend win against Bologna. It can be argued with a greater quality among their squad they would be able to rotate more effectively and relieve some of the burden from Ivan Perisic, Mauro Icardi and company.

Last season’s Scudetto runners up, Roma, had only won one game in eight before last weekend’s win away to Hellas Verona. It’s fair to say they’re experiencing similar problems to Inter, where an over-reliance on oft-reprimanded, Radja Nainggolan, Stephan El Shaarawy, Edin Dzeko and youngster, Patrik Schick, among others, has seen them struggle recently. Without much substance in their squad they appear to be running out of steam in the Champions League chase. The very fact Schick is mentioned in the same sentence as his more experienced peers highlights the lack of depth in the Giallorossi squad. It’s hard to imagine Bernardeschi, a similar player in terms of squad status, being given such an extended run in the Juve first team if it wasn’t for injuries.

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 With spring in sight Juve’s recent form hasn’t shown any signs of ending and we must credit Allegri and his staff for boosting the squad and making Juve a very well balanced outfit, especially when compared to their domestic rivals. The treble is still within reach and the squad as a whole will play a huge part in the fight between now and May, injuries notwithstanding.

The New Ministry of Defence….

Juve’s defence rises from the ashes of the Bonucci bombshell

On 14th July last year the football world stood open mouthed as Leonardo Bonucci stood in front of a huge Champions League trophy with various AC Milan suits close by, for him he had completed a move to Milan after an apparent deterioration of relations between him and management in Turin. For Juventus it meant a re-build of sorts, the famous BBC trio of Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini was finished and nervous glances were made towards the upcoming season, simply put, how do you replace arguably the world’s best defender? Juve didn’t do anything, while not many outside of the club’s Vinovo training ground thought the current crop of defenders could live up to last season’s exceptional defence, the coaching staff at Juve clearly did. Either way it was an uneasy defensive group which started the season and it was clear to see they were not on the same wavelength. Despite this good early season team form hid the defensive frailties but they were exposed during defeats to Barcelona in September and away to Sampdoria, later in November. The Sampdoria game was arguably the latest turning point during the 2017/2018 season.

Juve stumbled and limped towards that game by turning out below par performances which were masked by wins over Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League and Fiorentina, Udinese and Benevento in Serie A. It is common knowledge Max Allegri’s Juve teams start slowly and peaks around Christmas, but they looked tired and unorganised at times. All this while Napoli, Inter Milan and to a lesser extent, Roma and Lazio were all effortlessly striding through the season. Allegri made a number of changes to the starting line up for the Sampdoria game which in the end really came back to haunt him as Juve were outclassed; the 3-2 score doesn’t reflect how pathetic Juve were on that autumnal afternoon. Since then Juve have played, amongst others, Barcelona, Napoli, Inter and Roma. They have also encountered tricky games away to Bologna, Hellas Verona and Cagliari, not forgetting a home a Derby della Mole cup tie against Torino. During that time Lionel Messi, Dries Mertens, Mauro Icardi and Eden Dzeko have all failed to score against Juve as they stretched an impressive clean sheet run to eight games.

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Considering the uncertainty after Bonucci left, the below par performances and early defeats to Barcelona, Lazio (twice) and Sampdoria, it is refreshing and extremely satisfying to see such a commanding defence week after week. There is an air of inevitability to Juve’s recent play, their rivals have experienced indifferent form to a greater or lesser extent and it’s as if all the early misgivings have been part of Allegri’s plan and we’re now seeing the real, confident Juve. Should an expected return to the top of the league materialise before too long, their rivals’ confidence will sink further.

Obviously eight successive clean sheets would certainly point to a much improved defence, to cement this fact, if you compare before and after the Sampdoria game, the first 18 games Juve conceded 19 goals, whereas the last 11 have only found the opposition celebrate once.

There is a case to be argued that had the defence still included Leo Bonucci and a healthy Buffon, it would’ve been given much more credit than it has and it seems as though Juve’s recent defensive improvements have gone under the radar somewhat.

Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli have been as dependable as ever, while Mattia de Sciglio and Wojciech Szczesny have both slotted in to the first team very well, the former has been affected by injury recently but has proven to be very reliable in a problem position. Once the injury problems fade he should feature regularly. The latter has turned out to arguably be the signing of the season for Juve. He has gelled well with the four in front of him; this hasn’t been a settled defensive group by any means, partly due to rotation and partly due to injury, and it’s very obvious his performances have lead to an increased confidence for him and those directly in front of him. In fact it can be said if it wasn’t for his saves against Roma and in particular, Cagliari, Juve would’ve dropped points in those games and not maintained their recent impressive run. On current form Juve definitely have a great replacement for Buffon.

Kwadwo Asamoah continues to deputise for the inconsistent, Alex Sandro. The Ghanian is very much a polarizing player but he is one of those vital cogs in the machine; a squad player of limited ability but great desire, he has done everything which has been asked of him and Juve could do a lot worse than to keep hold of him, as interest from abroad continues to periodically rear its head. He could certainly be needed as there has been some speculation about Sandro’s relationship with management at Juve. If he leaves in January we could see Leonardo Spinazzola return from loan at Atalanta sooner than expected to help Asamoah at left back.

The biggest improvement is from Medhi Benatia, since his full time re-introduction to the side he looks a different player and has been rejuvenated by an increased stability and confidence. The differences between the player we saw looking intimidated against Barcelona in September to the one who put in a commanding performance and scored the winner against his former employers from Rome in December are vast. Casting an eye to the future, if Benatia continues this upward trend it now seems Daniele Rugani is the odd one out, with Mattia Caldara returning in the summer it remains to be seen whether we’ve seen the last of Rugani in a Juve shirt.

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Again Juve have proven to be very able to grind out wins, the recent away games against Cagliari and Hellas Verona prove their ability to win while not at their best, indeed both teams played above their level and both pushed Juve hard in the second half, but the Bianconceri do what they do best, win. It may not be pretty at times, but the statistics tell all we need to know of Juve’s recent form. Since the 18 November defeat to Sampdoria there have been 11 games in all competitions, nine victories, two draws and just one goal conceded. Italian football, the birthplace of the catenaccio style of defending, historically loves a good defence and this Juventus back line is shaping up for a memorable season.

Born of Frustration – Allegri’s Adjustment Revolution…

This was Allegri’s plan D in a whole alphabet of tactical adjustments, quite simply he is gifted in the art of playing to stifle the opposition and once again the players played their part in executing his plan.

Firstly, I apologise for the delay since my last article, it isn’t down to simple laziness I can assure you of that. If we’re pointing the bony finger of blame it should be in the direction of Juventus and Max Allegri as I have deliberately held off writing this article to see how we fared in during our most important stretch of games this season. The problem is where do I draw the line, do I wait until Christmas? Easter?! Because the question is when does an ‘important stretch’ begin and end? For Mister Allegri it is never, Juve are a constant work in progress for him and his staff.

I have previously written about Juve’s traditional slow starts to the season and although we’re nearly halfway through the season our performances still have a feel of ‘2016 Juventus’ in that we haven’t reached our potential yet. I would attribute this to Allegri’s patient approach to new signings and the season in general; preferring to allow the team to settle into a new season rather than trying to force new players into a new team and new style and ending up with bad results. In the five games since Juve lost to Sampdoria we haven’t conceded a goal; a great return considering our defence had been as leaky as a knackered old bath earlier in the season. This is partly down to a very welcome and slightly surprising increase in Medhi Benatia’s form. He has looked a different player since coming back into the starting line up for the Barcelona game. He’s shown all of the qualities which were prominent during his time at Bayern Munich (and inconsistently while at Juve), he’s been strong and quick, two attributes I never thought I would see in Medhi again having seemingly lost his way at Juve. Most importantly over the last few games he has been playing with confidence and consistency, to the point where Daniele Rugani’s disappearance from the starting line up has almost gone unnoticed. Although his early season run in the first team will have mostly impressed Juve fans it still seems Allegri has his doubts over Daniele. Benatia’s form has coincided with a greater stability in defence which had been severely lacking thus far, one hopes it can continue and grow as the season progresses.

Allegri has also integrated Douglas Costa into the starting line up, with great success. Having only made fleeting appearances early on in the season he has been a revelation over recent weeks with a full array of quick feet, quick mind, devastating pace and crossing ability. In fairness we should have seen this coming, after all this is the reason why we’ve lined up a full signing after his season-long loan finishes. October’s Champions League home game with Sporting provided a wonderful fan-made video of him coming on as substitute; the video followed him as he jogged on to the pitch, made his way down the wing before receiving the ball and crossing with great accuracy to the waiting Mario Mandzukic who headed home the winner. 15 seconds of gratifying, cinematic gold! His arrival in the team has mostly been at the expense of the aforementioned Croatian, partly due to injury and suspension and partly due to tactical changes, but while Juve fans would agree Mandzukic brings a lot of physicality, determination and goal scoring instinct to the team, Costa would be chosen over him nine times out of ten, especially on current form. It is down to Allegri’s patience that we have seen a more determined and mentally aware Costa over the last month. Again, while some of Juve’s performances have been below par most fans have been itching to see Costa start more regularly, one can see why Allegri has taken his time; Serie A and Juve’s style of play differ from the Bundesliga and Bayern, maybe Allegri has learned from playing egotistical compatriot, Dani Alves, too often early in his brief Juve career last season; Alves took several months to fully adjust and had already delivered a couple of dozen inconsistent performances before reaching his peak towards the end of the season. Not only has he gelled with the team and adjusted to the style of the league he has also been consistent when asked to defend, against Napoli last Friday he successfully tracked back on numerous occasions to help extinguish their attacking threat, it was his tackle, run and ball to Dybala which helped produce Juve’s winner. It is a testament to Costa’s work rate and desire and to Allegri’s patience and man-management skills that have helped Costa to settle in and produce consistent team performances.

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The often criticised, Mattia De Sciglio, has quietly put in some quality, mature and composed performances since his return to the team in mid-November. The subject of debate since his summer signing from AC Milan he has maybe found a manager, playing style and most importantly a positive team atmosphere where he can develop to his potential. I’m not sure where the criticism comes from though, he’s been a regular at international level and been playing in a top (albeit dysfunctional) team for most of his career. He as maybe been a little inconsistent, but the scathing attacks on him upon his transfer from Milan were cringeworthy and childish. His recent starts included a beautiful strike against Crotone for his first career goal (rather adorably he said after the game he genuinely didn’t know what to do when he scored!). Again he has steadily produced some mature and composed performances recently, not least against Lorenzo Insigne on the Napoli left wing where his youth was favoured over Barzagli’s or Lichtsteiner’s experience; a bold move from Mister Allegri. In doing so he may well have solved the right back issue at Juve, clearly the aforementioned right backs are reaching the twilight of their careers and Mattia should surely be favourite to fill the position permanently. I for one have always liked him, he certainly isn’t a Dani Alves or Alex Sandro (or at least a pre-2017 Sandro), but his qualities lie defensively, if he maintains this progression he will definitely be a fixture in the Juve squad for years to come.

I have mentioned previously Gonzalo Higuain’s willingness to run, hold up play and chase lost causes for the team. This has been more and more evident since his ‘tactical rest’ at the end of September. Since then his goalscoring record has been impressive (nine in 14, including winning goals in Naples and Milan), however I want to mention his work rate again, Gigi Buffon said after the win over Udinese;

“What I really loved was the attitude of Higuain, whose performance was worthy of praise. The Coach should make the others watch videos of Higuain and how he played today to motivate players.”

Gonzalo’s attitude and determination are exemplary and very much underrated by people who only judge him on goals alone. Even in the face of extreme hostility in Naples he looked confident and relaxed ahead of the game, a Gonzalo playing with this determination and coolness is dangerous to any team. Tactically he has been asked to track back and drop into midfield only to then break forward and attack when the midfield is in possession. Higuain, for such a big guy (I mean well built, before anyone complains!), is very fast and physical when at full speed and his anticipation and off the ball movement are key to many of his goals (have a look for the videos of his goals versus Milan, Olympiakos and Atalanta for examples of his deadliness in attack). With help from Paulo Dybala and Miralem Pjanic, Higuain is able to run at defences with great effect, he also pulls the centre halves out of position and creates space for others. His benefit to the team in general cannot be understated. I believe his rest for the Turin derby and most of the Olympiakos games have really helped him take a step back and rest a little. I won’t say he’s been a different player since then but we are now seeing a more complete forward now. Once again Allegri should take some credit for the calculated risk of dropping his most natural goalscorer.

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Of course it isn’t all good news and back slapping, this is Allegri’s Juventus, after all. As I’ve mentioned, Allegri, like a demanding trophy-wife, can seemingly induce both joy and immense frustration with every squad announcement. His rotation may keep most players happy because of the minutes on the pitch and actually being involved in the action, however it doesn’t apply to everyone. His apparent reluctance to play Federico Bernardeschi is still troubling, especially as Juan Caudrado’s brief return to form has abated somewhat. One can see why this is happening as there are more risks and more at stake at Juve than there was at Fiorentina and his sparse use so far is understandable. He is certainly a great talent, and a great goalscorer (his two most recent goals, versus SPAL and Olympiakos, deserve to be watched again and again). He finally got a start, away to Sampdoria, last month, unfortunately he was one of a number of players (in fact I can’t think of one who covered himself in glory that afternoon). During that disastrous display he was wasteful in possession, his determination was lacking and he started to display those petulant, argumentative traits which have been evident since his days in Florence. It certainly didn’t do his campaign to start any good at all.

Since his successive penalty misses we seem to have been talking less about Paulo Dybala’s goals and more about a lack of them, Allegri’s change of formation to 4-3-3 has meant Paulo has been dropping deeper to receive the ball, almost playing as an extra midfielder at times. It cannot be good for his confidence to have to repeatedly influence the game from the midfield rather than the penalty area which we would all like to see him do more often. Dybala’s deeper role has meant Gonzalo Higuain has been more isolated up front. A player who thrives, almost lives off, service from his attacking partner and he cuts a lonely figure when he is forced to create something out of nothing with no help.

Sami Khedira remains in the side despite some very inept performances, apart from his hatrick in the bizarre win against Udinese, he has looked tired and lost on occasions. There seems to be little hope for his future with Juve but while Allegri insists on wringing every ounce out of him he will remain a starter. Claudio Marchisio, who incidentally has performed well during his appearances this season, should be starting in Khedira’s stead. Marchisio isn’t at the pre-knee injury form, but he brings a certain intelligence, calmness and determination to Juve’s midfield. Everyone seems to play better when Claudio is in the team.

Now, I’m sorry but I have to mention the nausea-inducing defeat away to Sampdoria not more than a month ago. This came after an uninspiring away draw to Sporting in the Champions League and a very frustrating home win versus loveable, circus act, Benevento. As I mentioned earlier, Bernardeschi started over Dybala. In addition, Buffon was rested and Sandro’s poor form had finally caught up with him with Asamoah replacing him. On this occasion it can be argued Allegri underestimated a resilient Sampdoria side who have made a good start to the season. This performance was probably the most lifeless and depressingly bland I have seen under Allegri and was the pinnacle of a mountain of despair which had been building for around a month. Even the two goals scored after Blaise Matuidi came on as a late substitute didn’t bring any respectability to the score. Juve were dreadful, beyond embarrasing, but this is the type of performance we risk when Allegri makes several changes to the team.

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During this period only the fantastic performance, away to Milan, offered a glimmer of what we can achieve when everyone is settled and playing as a cohesive unit. Allegri named a very familiar line up however we saw Pjanic drop deeper to help flood the midfield, when he does this Dybala needs to be on form to fill in the link between midfield and attack. In Milan it was no coincidence Juve scored two with the help of those two players, Dybala in particular sacrificed a lot of his attacking prowess to drop back, this doesn’t always work as I mentioned earlier, but it did that night to devastating effect. This game still stands out for me. Pantomime villain, Leonardo Bonucci, was suspended, but this was Juve’s biggest test of a fairly new season, the perennial title-winners versus the money-bloated Milan. Looking at this period as a whole, unfortunately, this performance was the exception rather than the rule and we could almost start to believe some of the negative comments and analysis coming from the media.

At home to Barcelona in the Champions League, the game after the Sampdoria debacle, Allegri started Benatia and Costa, it was this game which started their respective recent good form. However despite Lionel Messi starting on the bench and even though both sides had chances, the minute Pjanic was substituted for Rodrigo Bentancur (the 66th minute to be precise) it was obvious we were playing for a draw. Now a point against a much improved Barca side isn’t to be shunned and pushed to the side like a slightly wizened sprout on your Christmas dinner plate, but I felt we didn’t show enough desire to go forward and challenge a team we knocked out so comprehensively last season. Allegri, yet again, is a step ahead of us. He saw we had a game remaining in the Champions League to seal qualification. You’ll remember the team mailing in a defeat to Roma towards the end of last year when we had Monaco in the Champions League semi final a few days later. The theory being that we had enough games to spare to secure the Scudetto and the immediate focus was on Champions League success. It worked, as it usually does. The draw with Barca was a viewed as a point gained against the group winners and set us up nicely to visit already eliminated Olympiakos and complete our first goal of the season.

On Saturday night we saw this worrying trait in evidence again as Allegri dropped Dybala and Costa ahead of our clash with league leaders, Inter. We were left with a bizarre formation and lacking in balance with only Cuadrado as a natural winger and Asamoah and Matuidi (again), filling in on the left wing. If you are going to play two strikers as part of a three man attack surely it makes sense to have two natural wingers? Nonetheless Juve created more than enough chances to win and Inter were non-existent all game. When it became apparent Inter were only playing for a draw, Dybala or Costa, or both, should’ve been brought on. The cherry on top of the defensive-minded cake came when Pjanic was brought off with just under 20 minutes left. A poor end to a frustrating evening for Mister Allegri and Juve. Like Barca at home, Allegri lacked the desire to really go after the win from the start and it’s surely a case of two points dropped, rather than one gained. Allegri pointed to the fact that his players are tired, fair enough, we have been playing at a very high level for a couple of weeks, but in a game against our nearest and most hated rivals and where three points were on a plate for us it isn’t acceptable to play the tiredness card. I am sure both Costa and Dybala, plus Pjanic too, would gladly have played despite any tiredness issues, remember we don’t have a midweek game next week and our next game is against mid-table, Bologna. If tiredness really was an issue then why play Dybala for over an hour versus Olympiakos a few days earlier? Remember we only had to avoid defeat there to be assured of a last 16 Champions League place.

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I mentioned in my Champions League preview earlier in the season we would need to be at our best over this week as the draw had cruelly placed our final Champions League game in the middle of Napoli, away and Inter, at home. I have to say Allegri excelled himself tactically in Naples as we set up in a 4-3-3 which changed to a 4-4-1-1 as Pjanic and Dybala played slightly different roles to cancel out the threat of Jorginho. Both dropped deeper in order to almost create a 4-5-1 formation when Napoli had the ball. He allowed Napoli to dominate the wide areas safe in the knowledge most crosses into our penalty area could be comfortably dealt with by Benatia and co. When Juve attacked, Blaise Matuidi filled in as a left winger to give us some balance on both flanks, his endless energy reserves meant this was an easy, if slightly unorthodox, transition for him.

This was Allegri’s plan D in a whole alphabet of tactical adjustments, quite simply he is gifted in the art of playing to stifle the opposition and once again the players played their part in executing his plan. His opposite number, Maurizio Sarri, was left to bemoan the colour of both teams kits (both teams played in their away kits, apparently for marketing purposes) and bizarrely suggested football players don’t tire when questioned about his resistance to rotate his team and give his star players a rest now and again. Don’t get me wrong here, Napoli are a great team to watch but Sarri badly lacks the tactical instinct to be able to ever really compete at the highest level, it showed last season and will continue to rear its head as the season progresses, his plan A simply isn’t enough to win against the best as those managers are able to counter it fairly easily. One can’t help but think the ‘Scudetto pact’ (a collective agreement made by Napoli’s players in pre-season to stick together and make a concerted push towards Scudetto glory) will be used a stick to beat them with when the trophies are handed out later this season.

You obviously can win in style (See Real Madrid and Barcelona in recent seasons) but Allegri chooses to be functional and very much in that Juve mould of winning over style (actually Juve do have a little flair in their arsenal, find the video of the move which started with Buffon and lead up to Matuidi’s second half chance against Napoli, pure, stylish pass and move football). In what should’ve been Napoli’s statement of intent as they beat their nearest rivals, it was Juve who stole the show and ground out a statement victory of their own. Like the Milan game in October it was Juve who outfoxed their opponent with a magnificent, unselfish team victory. During both games, both away, Allegri has allowed the opposition to play their own game, while the team has been instructed to eradicate a particular opponent’s strength. Both worked magnificently and we have to see this more often if Juve are to fulfill their potential this season.

As I mentioned the games against Napoli and Milan were, domestically, our biggest tests of the season and both were passed with relative ease due to Mister Allegri’s tactical planning. While we can all be frustrated with his methods and squad rotation we cannot argue with the results when it matters and that is what we’re about. Winning. Not intricate passing triangles or beating the league’s lesser lights 6-0 every week. Allegri is a winner, simple, and we absolutely cannot be frustrated by that.

We Need to Talk About Paulo – The Dybala Dilemma

From the dynamic, flair demon to a lifeless and timid shell of the player we know and love.

Saturday 23rd September 2017, Paulo Dybala runs on to a pass from Miralem Pjanic and smashes the ball home from the edge of the area, the first goal of four for Juve in the Derby Della Mole. Cue familiar celebration, but this wasn’t just about beating our cross-city rivals, it was a culmination of excitement and anticipation which had been building since the beginning of the season. Could we be seeing the arrival of a true Juventus great? He had recently been given the famous number ten jersey and it seemed as if he had matured overnight. Del Piero 2.0? Comparisons were not that short of the mark in this case. Interviews with him around that time were positive and bold and acquired an almost captain-like quality by rallying his team mates. He isn’t in the category of bloodied foreheads and tough tackling, like Chiellini, but it was certainly exciting to hear from a normally quiet and unassuming player. A natural in the Trequartista role since his £23.4m move from Palermo in 2015; One always gets the feeling he’s more of a creator of goals rather than a goal scorer, although his goal scoring record is impressive; 20 in his debut season with Juve and 19 last year. The Torino game was the high-water mark of Dybala’s season so far after absolutely thunderous start where he scored 12 goals in eight games, this included hatricks away to Genoa and Sassuolo. His surging start prompted mutterings of intent from the English media about a move to the Premier League. Digressing here, I always find this particularly grating and patronising as these stories always have a hint of the journalist just noticing a player who has scored a few goals and they instantly add two and two together, as if every player dreams of playing in England and playing in England is the only way a player can be really considered to be at the top of his game. The myopic media also presume any English team can sign anyone on a whim. This is partly true with the vast amounts of money in the English game, but again I digress.

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The turning point for Paulo, and if we’re being honest, Juve in general, came away to Atalanta in October. A late summer evening where Juve, with a helping hand from the VAR (video assistant referee), were denied a win. A dubious VAR assisted penalty in the last minute gave Juve a chance to seal the win. Dybala, usually so reliable (although always goes to the goalkeeper’s right) had his penalty saved. The result, a draw after being two goals up and a stumble for Juve ahead of the international break.

Since then he has scored one in nine games and missed another last minute, VAR assisted penalty in the home defeat to Lazio. Now despite what we may believe Paulo actually is human and is prone to the same pressures and stresses of adult life, it was always unlikely he would continue to shred defences at the rate we had seen earlier in the season. However, the question should be asked is why the almighty drop off in form? From the dynamic, flair demon to a lifeless and timid shell of the player we know and love. Last Sunday’s game against Benevento (incidentally, the term ‘home banker’ was coined for this match up) was easily Paulo’s worst of the season as time and again he dropped deeper and deeper into midfield and left to forage for attacking scraps in the absence of Pjanic. The Bosnian is the perfect foil for Dybala as he links the midfield and attack with an effortless style which at times reminds me of Zidane. What we have found when Pjanic doesn’t play is a lack of attacking influence in midfield, the knock-on effect is a disjointed and toothless attack with Higuain isolated as Pjanic’s stand in, usually Khedira, although more recently Marchisio and Matuidi, desperately try to emulate Pjanic. They’re completely different players and it’s often painful to see Juve so lacking in attacking ideas. As the weeks have worn on opposing defences have been increasingly able to cope with Dybala by having a defensive midfielder drop off or by playing an extra man in defence. Simple really, and you get the feeling the very best players will always find a way to lose their marker and make themselves more elusive in the final third. Injuries haven’t helped the stability of the midfield, but a reliable Pjanic-style back up would help.

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It could be argued that, like Alex Sandro, his attention is elsewhere and, Dybala has an advantage over Sandro here as he’s had a strong start to the season, whereas Sandro has been flat out poor. However maybe the enthusiasm about turning out for the Bianconeri is waning. We were finally assured by Giuseppe Marotta in the summer that Dybala wouldn’t be going anywhere when rumours of a move to Barcelona surfaced, he was quoted as saying,

“We did not receive any direct offer from Barcelona for Dybala, but above all we had absolutely no intention of selling him and were certain he’d wear the Juventus jersey. We even gave him more responsibility with the number 10, a shirt that holds a great deal of importance in the tradition of Juventus.”

I say ‘finally’ as he, worryingly, said earlier,

“The player is the one who decides his fate and if he wants to leave, it’ll be impossible to keep him.”

Hardly the resounding ‘hands off’ warning we were looking for. However, the player himself upon being given the number ten shirt for upcoming season said he was concentrating on his future with Juve.

“I’m very happy at Juventus. I extended my contract three months ago, the club asked me to take their No 10 jersey, I thought about it for two days and said, ‘why not?’. I want to grow here. If the President wants me to, I’ll stay here forever.”

I think deep down, no matter how much we like to think otherwise, Dani Alves’ comments in the summer about Dybala needing to leave Juve to further his career, are quite true. That is unless we win the Champions League within the next two years, maybe then Dybala will stay, but such is the demand for success and coupled with the relative short shelf life of the 21st century footballer, means Juve are going to have to deliver big success or risk losing Dybala to one of the filthy rich clubs. Let’s face it any one of Barcelona, Real, the top five in England, Bayern or PSG would instantly be able to afford him.

I am not suggesting we sell him because he’s scored one in nine, however with the January transfer window looming on the horizon would Marotta and co. be tempted to cash in? Unless we have a replacement lined up, and by that, I mean a player of the quality and stature of Alexis Sanchez, it’s difficult to see us letting him go until the summer, especially if we’re still in the Champions League after Christmas. I am of course hysterically over reacting over a lack of form from someone who is still on the youthful side of 25, alas this is the job of a writer. I aim to provoke discussion and reaction among my peers.

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Despite Paulo’s form, the team itself has been quietly, almost begrudgingly, going about their business since the defeat to Lazio. The bonkers goal-fest away to Udinese apart, we have shown all those Allegri tactical hallmarks by grinding out five wins and a draw. Yes folks, we’re undefeated since, according to some, our world fell apart after a home defeat by an impressively organised, up and coming team. It’s hasn’t been pretty at times but it’s very effective. I for one, in pre-season, was hoping for an uptick in entertainment value, given the signings of Costa and Bernardeschi. I’m still hopeful this will become reality as the season evolves. The new signings should’ve been a huge boost to our strikers, Higuain probably more so due to his style of play, but the added element of flair which both Federico Bernardeschi and Douglas Costa have in their respective arsenal should’ve helped to create more for the front two as they take a little pressure off Dybala. This hasn’t happened yet. Allegri’s preference of Mario Mandzukic and Juan Cuadrado; last season’s pairing on the wings, has been productive in terms of goals and assists (three and five for Cuadrado and five and two for Mandzukic so far), but Dybala and Pjanic are still relied upon to create most of chances through the middle.

Juan Cuadrado of Juventus FC during the Serie A football

So where do we go from here? In September, Gonzalo Higuain was rested after an indifferent spell of form, the result since then is an impressive return of seven goals in nine games. The rest allowed him to re-charge the mind and body and I think Dybala would benefit from a substitute appearance or two. Bernardeschi, and to a lesser extent, Costa, purely because of the position he naturally plays, would certainly benefit from more playing time in the centre of the pitch, Bernardeschi has shown to be a capable goal scorer in his handful of appearances, with a no small amount of flair and creativity too.

We have seen Dybala become increasingly frustrated during games, I like a little edge to a player’s style; playing with a chip on the shoulder if you will. However, being caught on camera muttering Spanish insults, reportedly towards Allegri, and throwing your shin pads around after being substituted isn’t good for either player or manager. At best it’s a player aware of his talents and genuinely frustrated he hasn’t been able to impact a game in the way we know he can. At worst it screams petulant, egotistical, unprofessional and selfish. I’m hoping Allegri has spoken with Dybala and is helping him to channel that frustration into positive performances.

A lot depends on how he plays over the next six weeks leading up to Christmas. The longer this goes on, the more difficult the issue becomes. I believe it was Bill Shankly who told us “form is temporary, class is permanent”, Dybala has certainly shown a lot of the latter, we can only hope the former picks up very soon, for everybody’s sake.