New Coach Alberto Zaccheroni saw his first game in charge end in an unflattering 1-1 draw with Lazio. Just like in previous games, the Bianconeri conceded late in the match. Against Roma (in Serie A) and Inter (in Coppa Italia), the Old Lady lost both games after taking a 1-0 lead. It is clear the club cannot hold on to a slender leader while also struggling to keep opponents at bay.
It is too early to judge Zaccheroni and whether he will be able to guide the Bianconeri to a top four finish to make the Champions League. In two days no man can make drastic changes to a team’s formation and tactics, but Zaccheroni will gradually try to stamp his authority and perhaps in 10 games he can be better judged in terms of what he has done or failed to do. Even the firing of Coach Ciro Ferrara will not suffice to lift the gloom at Vinovo as shown by the players during the match against Lazio and as confirmed by goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon who admitted the squad must perform to achieve positive results.
Buffon is one of the very few players not at fault for Juve’s dismal season. The whole defensive line (with the exception of Giorgio Chiellini who has often saved Juve from heavier defeats) needs to be replaced with new, younger and more capable players. As mentioned on several occasions, Fabio Grosso has not been the solution to the team’s problems at left-back while the club did not bring in a solid right-back as Martin Caceres (who is on loan from Barcelona) is quite inconsistent.
The match against Lazio showed Zdenek Grygera is not much better than Caceres while Paolo De Ceglie (at left-back) brought in much enthusiasm and fight on the left flank but not much in terms of efficiency and threat to the Lazio defense. He is probably not the answer to the full-back dilemma unless his performances improve dramatically. Moving to the midfield area, Mohamed Sissoko provided the muscle with his running and tackling, but he cannot string a few passes together. His midfield partner Felipe Melo was not awful during this match but he appears to be like a primitive version of Sissoko. Melo cannot tackle as well nor can he cover the pitch as much as Sissoko does. Clearly one of the two players must be sacrificed because having both players on the pitch will cost Juve dearly in terms of points as stray passes will likely be converted to goals by opponents while some of the Bianconeri’s attacks will come to a sudden halt as a result of the midfield duo’s poor passing. In this case, Sissoko ought to get the nod and Melo should act as cover or perhaps as a substitute to strengthen the midfield when the Bianconeri are trying to keep a lead. This is another proof of how flawed the Bianconeri transfer market has been the past couple of season as Juve did not need Melo.
As for the loan signing Antonio Candreva, it must be noted he provided decent contribution and performed better than Melo with his pass leading to the penalty which was converted by Alessandro Del Piero. Candreva can pass, run, dribble but he definitely needs to work on his shooting. The loan signing is a work-in-progress but is showing he has potential to deliver once he gets accustomed to his new teammates. Juve definitely need Mauro Camoranesi and Claudio Marchisio to return and start performing at their best. The Bianconeri have sorely missed both players who bring a lot to the table in terms of passing, shooting and scoring.
Brazilian Diego, the other major signing of the season, has been performing inconsistently but he was orchestrating most of Juve’s attacks against Lazio so things could have been a lot worse without him. The problem is not Diego himself but rather the players around him who are not as gifted technically and who are incapable of providing the ideal stage for his skills. Amauri has been nothing short of a disaster and his price must be decreasing with every match as he continues to struggle. He did not have a single shot on target against Lazio and he certainly does not appear to be comfortable playing upfront. When Diego was with Werder Bremen he was quite successful and threatening because the players around him complimented his talent but in Turin the case is totally different. Diego is still the same player but he cannot deliver with the current system and the forwards being used.
Early in the season Juve were grinding results thanks to Buffon and Chiellini but also Diego and the injured Vincenzo Iaquinta. Who can forget how Diego single handedly led Juve to winning against Roma and Lazio which had the media prematurely hailing him as the new super star in Serie A. With Camoranesi, Marchisio and Iaquinta all sidelined, Diego has struggled to cope with their absence as the alternatives are not on the same level. Amauri must be benched or else Juve will continue to squander points as they appear to be playing without any strikers while the Brazilian toils upfront.
Alessandro Del Piero did create and convert the penalty but he frankly is no longer the same player. He is and will always be a Juve legend but time is close to setting on his glorious career and it is hard to defy the natural course. Del Piero can serve as a valuable substitute often coming in during the last 25 to 30 minutes of a match but having him play the full 90 minutes will hurt the team on the long run. He must remain because he has the right work ethic which will hopefully become contagious and transfer to the other squad members (Exactly why in previous articles one major point highlighted was the damaging retirement of Pavel Nedved- the Czech star should have been convinced to play one more season).
Zaccheroni will have the ability to choose the team’s starting lineup and formation just like a chess player does, but the question is whether he can succeed where Ferrara failed! The players at his disposal are a mix of expensive yet unnecessary signings as well as old veterans on their last legs and a few inexperienced yet promising youngsters (Candreva & Sebastian Giovinco). Can Zaccheroni blend them into a cohesive unit? There are plenty of matches in Serie A and a potential run in the Europa League which can help answer this. Once again the players must hold responsibility for their efforts but the club’s management needs to be restructured as well (Alessio Secco ought to be released from his duties).
There are 16 rounds left in Serie A for the Bianconeri to regroup under Zaccheroni and make the Champions League plus perhaps put a positive spin on an otherwise disastrous season by winning the Europa League.