Serie A Preview – The Resurrection of Juventus
Mention the 2009-2010 season to Juventus’ 170 million fans and they will shake their head in disgust. Italy’s most successful and beloved soccer team was a shell of itself, missing out on a European tournament spot due to poor play and aging players. It is not a coincidence that the Italian national team also failed to live up to expectations in the World Cup, as Juve players made up a large contingent of the team. Overall, it was a season to forget in Stadio Olimpico and the club wasted no time in cleaning house, replacing individuals from the team president down. The new Juventus still has many familiar names, but has strengthened its weaknesses to make a run at the top four.
Management: Jean-Claude Blanc, the brainchild behind the new Juventus stadium, was forced out in May 2010 and replaced with Andrea Agnelli, the fourth member of his family to run Juventus. Similar to Blanc, he has a business background and is tasked with maintaining the profitability of the club. No doubt part of his financial plan includes UEFA tournament money.
His first task upon being hired was to grab Luigi Del Neri from Sampdoria as a permanent replacement for Ciro Ferrara. Del Neri guided Sampdoria to a top four finish and was in demand this offseason. His 4-4-2 style will be a good fit for Juventus, and look for the team to focus a bit more on defense this season. Del Neri could, however, actually play more of a 4-2-2-2 if he extends the wings and moves them forward in the attack. Juventus in their matches this month have also played a 4-3-3 at times. He’s seen success at Atalanta before guiding Sampdoria to the Champions League, and he was the best person available for the job.
The Transfer Market: Juventus was active in the transfer market, as to be expected, sending out older and more expensive players and bringing in both quality starters and key backups. Maybe the biggest name to come to Juventus was Pepe, acquired on loan from Udinese with an option to buy. Del Neri knows Pepe from his time in Palermo, and has added him as an attack option on the right side. The club also beefed up its defense, which is discussed in depth below.
The continuing story of this offseason is the departures from the club, or a house cleaning if you prefer. Italian national and rapidly aging defender Fabio Cannavaro has left for the UAE soccer league and a hefty contract. Christian Poulsen was transferred to Liverpool for about €5.5 million to free up some salary and space after a disappointing stint with the club. The biggest loss long-term, however, may be the loss of Sebastian Giovinco to Parma. The young playmaker had been tabbed by fans as the next Juve star, but he grew tired of waiting to break into the starting XI.
Key Players: Starting in the back of the 4-4-2, vice-captain and all-world keeper Gigi Buffon begins the season on the injured list, leaving AC Milan acquisition Marco Storari as the starter. Storari will never cause people to forget Buffon, but he is experienced and talented enough to hold down the position until Buffon is healthy.
Coming into the new season, Del Neri knew he needed to revamp the defense after Juventus allowed 55 goals last season. He acquired rising star Leonardo Bonucci from Bari and Marco Motta from Roma to partner with stalwarts Giorgio Chiellini and Fabio Grosso, or if Grosso leaves during this transfer window, Paolo De Ceglie. The two new additions will strengthen the backline and makes defense a team strength. Look for Bonucci to become the next Fabio Grosso in his time at Juventus.
If Del Neri continues his traditional formation, the midfield will see two holding and two attacking wingers. As mentioned, Pepe will man the right wing and replace Mauro Camoranesi, who regardless of his transfer status should be replaced by a younger player. Claudio Marchisio, one of the players who actually looked good in last season’s debacle, could start on the other wing, with Mohammed Sissoko in the middle. UPDATE – Juventus added another potential starter to the midfield with CSKA Moscow winger Milos Krasic.
Up front, Del Neri against Shamrock moved Pepe and attacking midfielder Davide Lanzafame (Parma) to the forward position with Amauri. While this could be an attacking option, I can see a rotation (assuming a 4-4-2) of Amauri, Trezeguet, and Del Piero as a potent attack.
This is, of course, assuming Diego is sent to a Bundesliga club, where he has been rumored to be going (or not going). If Diego stays, the forward position has the potential to be one of the deepest in Serie A.
Outlook: This preview could change if Juventus makes any more changes on the transfer market, which is possible. But as their club stands, Juventus is definitely a favorite to finish in the top four. Even without a healthy Buffon to begin the season, the defense is improved from last season and will be a strength. The attack will be more “exciting” than last season with a good variety of scorers that Del Neri can turn to for goals. Under new management and with Del Neri’s vision revitalizing the club, there is no reason this club will not move higher in the standings. Whether they can challenge for a scudetto will depend on if they can improve on their record against the top clubs.