Juventus find themselves at second in the Serie A table currently. Some months ago that would have sounded strange. The club has hardly been used to being second-best over the years. While that is certainly true, it is no surprise that they are there. This was meant to be how it is.
That is why the recent rumours linking Maurizio Sarri with a Juve exit and a return for Massimiliano Allegri were strange. Juve can’t afford to let Sarri go after just one season and there is hardly a point in bringing Allegri back. It is faulty from two angles, but getting rid of Sarri is one of the worst things Juve can possibly do.
It is true that Sarri’s Juve have been playing a lot like Allegri’s Juve this season. It just gives a bit of a throwback to the former Milan boss’ last season in charge. It is drab, it is dull and it hardly lifts fans off their seats. But if anyone expected Sarri’s side to play like peak Napoli in his very first season, they were very mistaken.
There seems to be a lack of creativity with how Juve play. It is a whole load of possession but no end product. He’s had to change from his 4-3-3 shape to a 4-3-1-2 shape for probably the first time in his career. For a side that was only settling into the Sarri style with a 4-3-3 shape early on, the 4-3-1-2 switch presented another transition in a short time.
It is also crucial to remember that Juve’s situation is a lot like what Chelsea were when Sarri took over at Stamford Bridge. Under Jose Mourinho, Roberto di Matteo and Antonio Conte, Chelsea would play a pragmatic brand of football and won trophies with it. At Juve, Conte and Allegri also played a more conservative style and won trophies regularly.
Both these teams almost had that sort of a DNA in them. The fans too were just too accustomed to seeing them win a certain way.
What Sarri brings is completely different. It is a brand of football in which the team has to get on the ball instead of working hard off it. There needs to be technical ability in players to play that way and make the system work. Juve players were known for that.
In the summer, Juve were keen on letting many of their players go. But they failed to do that and that did leave them a lurch. And it wasn’t of help to Sarri, who has seen how the team lacks technical ability.
Sami Khedira (before injury) and Blaise Matuidi have taken criticism. That is largely because of their creative issues and how they aren’t technical enough to play in the Sarri system. Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey have been constantly facing fitness issues, making their integration into the side tougher.
Rodrigo Bentancur has grown into a creative role, growing in stature too. Miralem Pjanic has settled into the anchor-man role, but there is a feeling Sarri still needs a Jorginho-esque midfielder.
It has been a lack of suitability and a lack of options in that part of the pitch that has let Juve down. It does show how poor a market they had, but there is a need to move players on too.
Matthijs de Ligt has struggled in parts. He has had some very good games too. But just when Merih Demiral was growing in stature, he sustained an ACL injury. Giorgio Chiellini had the same issue, meaning Leonardo Bonucci has been their best defender this season.
The front-three in a 4-3-1-2 has usually been Paulo Dybala, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain. And while they’ve constantly dug Juve out of holes, Douglas Costa’s injury and Federico Bernardeschi’s struggles show a lack of depth there too. Costa has come up with a couple of match-winning moments but his fitness has always been an issue.
In a way, it can be said that the underperformance of other teams is why Juve won the Scudetto in his last season. If others were playing well, Juve may not have won the title. This transition under Sarri has seen them be at second because the closest competitors have stepped up a gear.
Juve are fifth in the Expected Points tally this season, showing that they are overperforming of 12.05. That is the highest overperformance in Serie A. It suggests that perhaps, Juve don’t really deserve to be higher than second and they should be happy with where they are.
In what has become a rather reactionary sport, Juve need to remain rational. They need to trust the process and know that the real blame lies with Fabio Paratici and Pavel Nedved for failing to get Sarri the right players. Once they do get him the right players, this transition will shore up.