Why Juventus fans should (or should not) be worried about their team’s start


As per usual, we head into this weekend’s match between Juventus and Chievo Verona with one side dominating the top of the standings, the other perilously close to the relegation spots. Except this time it’s Chievo that’s firmly out in front, while Juventus are at the bottom, surrounded by Serie A’s freshly-promoted sides. This is more than the table being turned upside down; it’s as though the entire world has tilted on its axis.

Or at least, that’s how some supporters are feeling. But even the normally hyperbolic Italian press failed to bury the bianconeri after their loss to Roma in the last round. Mention was made of the fact that it was Juventus’s worst start since 1912, but the majority of the daily sports journals merely noted that Juve were still planning to use the final days of the transfer market to bring in a few more signings.

SEE MORE: Two red cards cost Juventus against Roma.

The papers were stating the obvious. Over the summer, Juventus had lost Carlos Tevez, their top goalscorer over the last two seasons; Andrea Pirlo, their midfield maestro; and Arturo Vidal, who provided much needed grit in the center of the pitch. While most felt that newcomers Mario Mandžukić, Italian international Simone Zaza and Argentine wonderkid Paulo Dybala could compensate for the loss of Tevez, the midfield situation looked worrying, particularly when Sami Khedira got injured before he’d played a competitive game for his new team.

Sure enough, it was the midfield that caused Juventus problems right from the start. Roberto Pereyra and Simone Padoin both looked to be in over their heads against Udinese, and despite the latter’s obvious lack of quality, he again started in the center of the pitch against Roma. He and Stefano Sturaro were unable to cope with Roma’s constant pressure, and when Juventus did have possession, the lack of proper distribution meant the attack would often break down before it properly began.

Juventus had already realized they had a problem, one that the recovery of Claudio Marchisio in and of itself wouldn’t solve — that much was obvious from the loan of Juan Cuadrado from Chelsea. But the Roma game made it clear Cuadrado wouldn’t be enough, and in came Mario Lemina and Hernanes, both signed on deadline day. Along with Khedira, who should return at the beginning of September, Juve have four new midfielders to replace the two that got away.

SEE MORE: Hernanes completes move from Inter Milan to Juventus.

Quantity over quality, perhaps. There’s nothing truly world class about this assemblage of players (except Paul Pogba, who the bianconeri did manage to hold on to), a fact that’s all the more surprising considering Juventus used to have one of the best midfields in the world. But what’s hoped for is that they’ll come together as a unit. Khedira will do well at screening the defense, a necessity given it looked vulnerable at times last season. Pogba and Marchisio, who’s once again fit, will be able to get forward more freely now that they don’t need to protect Pirlo. Cuadrado adds both speed and versatility, which will help as Juventus adjust tactics and search for ways to break down teams. Hernanes, meanwhile, is meant to be the lynchpin, the trequartista, the one tying everything together and providing opportunities for the forwards.

In theory, this midfield should work out fine, shielding the still mostly excellent defense, helping to ensure Gigi Buffon doesn’t need to make too many amazing saves, and efficiently funneling the ball to a strikeforce that should be able to score handily. In practice, it means relying on a healthy Khedira, on Pogba not letting his form slip, on Hernanes seeing age 30 as a chance to get back to his best. Taking such a gamble might be dangerous.

“Our season starts this week,” said Max Allegri, consigning the losses to Roma and Udinese to the dark annals of history. If only it were that simple. Over the past four seasons, the closest Juventus have come to being challenged for the title was in 2011-12, when they beat Milan by a mere four points. For the past two years, second-placed Roma finished 17 points back, presenting no real obstacle for the rampant bianconeri.

SEE MORE: Chelsea bust Cuadrado makes loan move to Juve.

This season looks like it’ll be different. While Roma looked as though they’d yet to come back from summer vacation in their first outing, a listless 1-1 draw with Hellas Verona, the victory over Juventus made it clear the giallorossi are tired of finishing runners-up. Their defense, which featured midfielders Daniele De Rossi and Alessandro Florenzi against Juventus, may still be lacking, but their relentless attack is likely to make up for it. Then there’s Inter, who’ve somehow managed to grind out wins in their first two games despite having absolutely no creativity in the side. They’ve spent an impressive amount adding attackers, however, and while it won’t be pretty, they’re going to be in the title conversation.

Even those teams not included as serious scudetto challengers look poised to take points from Juventus. Torino’s strike force, which includes Maxi Lopez, Amauri, and Fabio Quagliarella, seems laughable, but Giampiero Ventura continues to demonstrate that he knows what he’s doing,. His side’s collective control allowed them to come back to beat Fiorentina, 3-1, last time out. Chievo are unlikely to sustain their fantastic start, but they finally look poised to not simply sit back and grind out a tie, and if Alberto Paloschi has finally found consistency in front of goal they’ll stay dangerous. Sassuolo remain unfazed by big sides, Palermo look surprisingly disciplined, and Sampdoria may be just fine without Siniša Mihajlović on the sidelines.

SEE MORE: Italy’s richest clubs have a new way of screwing over the rest of Serie A.

Many of these sides made life difficult for the champions last season, yet the bianconeri still strolled to the title. But this season, Juventus might not be able to afford letting her guard down. If Inter keeps grinding out wins against the smaller teams, if Roma continues with the sort of energy they found against Juventus, we could see a real title race for the first time in four years. Worry over the first two results was probably premature, but if the midfield doesn’t click into place against Chievo, there could be legitimate cause for concern.

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