Wednesday’s Supercoppa Italiana ended in high drama, with Inter Milan beating Juventus 2-1 after extra time with the winning goal coming in the 120th minute (well, 121st minute) from veteran forward Alexis Sanchez. It’s been another difficult season for the club; after winning nine straight Serie A titles from 2011-12 to 2019-20, they’re mired outside the title race for a second straight season, sitting fifth in the league 11 points behind leaders Inter.
While Juve will invariably need time to get over the painful manner in which they lost to their rivals on Wednesday night, Gab Marcotti points out some things the struggling superclub should do to reclaim their status as Serie A’s top team.
1. Figure out who you are…
In part, they’ve already answered this. They are a blue-collar team that’s willing to work and fight for Max Allegri. The uptick in results since late-November — six wins, two draws and the only defeat coming on Wednesday night against Inter in the Supercoppa Italiana — is a testament to this.
Over the past seven Serie A games, they’ve averaged 1.36 xG and conceded 0.62 xG. Hardly earth-shattering, but a distinct improvement over their first 14 league matches, when they were registering 1.14 xG and giving up 0.89 xG. They tightened up defensively, found some sort of balance and stuck to what they’re good — or if not good, better — at. Right now, that means a side with a midfield that protects the back four, that doesn’t give up and that punishes opposition errors.
You can’t expect Max Allegri to fight fires and build another superteam at the same time. For now, that’s fine. Embrace it.
2. … and who you want to be…
It made sense to go all-in with pricey experienced free agents after committing some €350 million over four years to Cristiano Ronaldo. (Though, with hindsight, not the ones they did get, like Emre Can, Douglas Costa, Aaron Ramsey and so on.) If you bring in 33-year-old Ronaldo, you’re not going to make him part of a rebuilding project; you’re going to try to win straight away.
But Ronaldo is gone, and a cycle of success that yielded nine straight Serie A crowns is over. You need to move towards a new identity, and the good news is that you have plenty of scope to do so.
By my count, there are eight first-team players whose deals expire in the next 18 months. Think of it as a chance to shape your new footballing identity.
3. … and who will take you there
Yes, it may well be Allegri. After leaving in 2019, he spent two years on sabbatical waiting for calls that never came from Europe’s big clubs. And he chose to come back, knowing the situation was what it was: massive losses, older players on big contracts, Ronaldo with one foot out the door.
Sure, he took over a “plug-and-play” team from Antonio Conte in 2014, and won five straight Serie A titles on the strength of his man-management more than his patient rebuilding or innovative footballing philosophy. He can win with a big budget, we know that. But he made his name elsewhere, in places like Cagliari and Sassuolo, with far more limited resources.
If you haven’t already, have an honest conversation with him. If he’s on board, great. If he’s not, then “Ciao, Max!”
4. Speak honestly and directly, and don’t rub others the wrong way
In that sense, perhaps the key newcomer to Juve’s ranks is chief executive Maurizio Arrivabene, who came over from Ferrari. The man speaks clearly and directly. Paulo Dybala wants a new deal? “Everybody needs to earn their place first.” Federico Chiesa’s season is over? “We already have a group of very good players.”
Contrast this with the past couple of years at Juve. From the European Super League debacle to Luis Suarez’s bogus Italian test to the false accounting raids to the Ultras ticketing scandal, Juve have attracted more than their fair share of negative publicity. It has even overshadowed a lot of the very positive work the club has done in the fight against racism and homophobia as well as to promote women’s football.
It doesn’t need to be that way and the impression is that Arrivabene, for one, gets it. If he’s the face of the club for a while, it’s not a bad thing.
Julien Laurens feels Inter Milan deserved their last-gasp win vs. Juventus in the Supercoppa Italiana.
5. Call Dybala’s bluff
The Argentine striker has offered glimpses of what he can be: witness Sunday’s goal against Roma. That’s great, but focus instead on what he is and what he makes. He earned €13.5m last season and reportedly wants a bump to €15m (plus bonuses) through 2026. This is a guy who is 28 and, since 2018, has scored 41 goals in 133 games over three-and-a-half seasons. During that time, he has started less than 50% of Juve’s games.
And now, according to reports in Argentina, after Juve postponed contract talks until next month, his agents are ready to talk to other clubs. Fine. Let them. See how many takers there are out there for a guy that age who is injured or unavailable as often as he is. (Oh, and who doesn’t really have an obvious role on the pitch unless you build the team around him.) There are no more than 10 clubs in Europe who can even afford to pay that much and virtually all of them have better options already in Dybala’s role.
You want to offer a new deal based not on what a player has achieved, but rather what you think he will achieve in the future. Paying Dybala what he’s asking for right now means paying him for what he was supposed to achieve in the past, which is even worse.
There’s a price at which it makes sense to extend him. If he’s willing to commit at that number, great. If not, let him look for new clubs around Europe and save yourself a ton of money.
6. Use Chiesa’s absence as an opportunity
Yes, Chiesa is Juve’s present and future and his ACL injury was a major blow. And yes, Arrivabene was a bit over-the-top when he said they already have plenty of great forwards and rattled off the names of Alvaro Morata (OK…), Dybala (see above), Moise Kean (erm), Dejan Kulusevski (not yet) and Kaio Jorge (ditto). But any Chiesa replacement should either be a short-term deal or a guy who can contribute three, four, five years down the line.
Yes, it’s very important to get back into the Champions League, but that shouldn’t mean mortgaging the future on another high-priced veteran. Resources are limited. Either roll the dice on a kid who may still have some value if things don’t work out, or take a loanee who won’t weigh down your books Ramsey-style over the summer. Or stay put, because…
7 … it’s time to use the “loan army” and Under-23 team
A few years ago, Juventus made a whole song and dance about the importance of “B teams” (essentially, the reserves) getting a chance to play in the Italian football pyramid. New regulations were passed, and, as it turned out, they were so stringent that Juve were the only side to take the opportunity and launch a U23 side. They play in the third division (and are sixth in the table).
How about figuring out whether some of these guys can play? Not just to replace Chiesa but up and down the team.
The same goes for the dozen or so players currently out on loan. Some are young and some were deemed not good enough the first time around, but they’re all warm bodies. Juve have invested enormous resources on their academy and yet, other than some player trading, they’ve gotten very little out of it. Why not use them, rather than serving up the umpteenth helping of Mattia De Sciglio and/or Daniele Rugani?
Nobody is expecting Juve’s youth academy to mirror that of Barcelona, but look at the lift Xavi has gotten from the likes of Nico Gonzalez, Gavi and Ferran Jutgla, three people most didn’t even know existed until a few months ago.
8. Realize that it’s not the end of the world if you don’t finish in the top four
First off, I suspect Juve probably will finish in Serie A’s top four, because they’re trending in the right direction and because they have a knack for doing such things. If they don’t, sure, it would be an economic blow and a blow to your prestige, but it might actually make it easier to rebuild. You will have lanced the boil, so to speak.
Reloading on the fly is extremely difficult, as the past two years have shown us. Sometimes you need to sink before you can rise. Juve were promoted back to Serie A after the Calciopoli scandal in 2006-07, finishing third and second the next two seasons… and then spending two years in seventh place before embarking on their nine consecutive scudetti (and two Champions League finals).
Just five players from the 2008-09 runner-up side were still around when they won their first of the nine title in 2011-12. And no, they didn’t embark on a massive spending spree, they simply got smart, learned from their mistakes, hired the right coach and realized who they were and who they wanted to be. Which kinda brings us back to the first two points.