Juventus regression a decade in the making

By Sports Desk May 14, 2022

Following Wednesday's Coppa Italia final defeat to Inter, it was confirmed Juventus will finish the 2021-22 season without a trophy for the first time since 2011.

Last season under Andrea Pirlo, Juventus not winning Serie A was in itself shocking, but this season has only shown further regression.

Massimiliano Allegri returning to replace Pirlo after his single season in charge was viewed as a means to halt that slide, but Juve will not just likely finish 10 points off the Serie A title winners and without a trophy this term; the Bianconeri are set to finish with a double-digit deficit in a season where the champions will likely will not break the 85-point barrier.

How much the Turin club spend relative to the rest in Italian football must be brought into context. Granted, the financial impact of COVID-19 caused significant restructuring, but they are still the only club in Italy to have a gross annual payroll in excess of €150million and are joined by Inter as one of only two over €100m. Meanwhile, seven Juventus players make up the top 10 salaries in Serie A this season.

Given that comparatively gaudy expenditure, that represents a spectacular failure – especially in comparison to the likes of the notoriously thrifty Atalanta or this Milan project that has sought to maximise value on the pitch and cut unnecessary spending. The major issue with Juve over the past four seasons has been a dramatically diminishing return on investment, but how has it manifested on the pitch?

Juventus had this inevitable capacity to find a way to win games in Allegri's first stint, but they were still volatile. It would be misguided to look at this season in isolation when in a continuum. Cristiano Ronaldo's arrival for the 2018-19 season – which was viewed as the key signing to propel them to long-awaited Champions League glory – arguably accelerated the regression.

Real Madrid's midfield and Karim Benzema allowed Ronaldo to have a largely singular role as the end point to the team's actions in possession. At Juventus, a player who was largely a finisher and was not going to force defensive collapses between the lines by that point had to take on greater responsibility in the team's build-up. Despite the Portuguese star's stature in the game, he was effectively signed for a task on the pitch he was not capable of fulfilling.

Consider that in his last season at Madrid, Ronaldo was averaging 46.87 touches per 90, and 10.02 were in the opposition's penalty area. The next two seasons at Juventus saw a dramatic shift, where for touches per 90 he averages 54.5 and 56.26 respectively. Touches in the penalty area actually decreased, however, at 6.64 and 6.92 respectively per 90.

With Paulo Dybala as the team's attacking focal point, Miralem Pjanic had previously mitigated the deeply conservative nature of Juve's midfield, but with Ronaldo it became a bridge too far. Ronaldo might have sustained his goal involvements, but it came at the expense of the collective. The Bianconeri came no closer to winning the continental silverware he was brought to Turin to secure but, more importantly, declined domestically and were suddenly challenged for what had become a fait accompli that decade in Serie A.

Pjanic's departure at the end of 2019-20 further accelerates that regression, despite the arrivals of Arthur, Alvaro Morata, Federico Chiesa and Weston McKennie that off-season, as well as Adrien Rabiot, Mathijs de Ligt and Dejan Kulusevski the previous off-season.

Arguably, the additions of Rabiot, McKennie and Arthur have only further reinforced the rigidity of Juve's midfield over the years. Pjanic's final season saw him average 1.21 chances from open play per 90, along with 10.34 passes into the final third and 0.13 for expected assists at 92.66 touches. Not one Juventus midfielder since has been able to match all of those averages individually, and trying to replace them in an aggregate creates different requirements elsewhere.

 

Amid Dybala's increasingly marginalised status upon Ronaldo's arrival, it necessitated someone like Morata, whose fantastic movement and ability to incorporate the players around him is paired with erratic finishing in front of goal. It represents a sizeable trade-off. Still, Morata leads the Bianconeri for chances created (1.63) in open play per 90 in all competitions this season.

That provides some context for this season and Dusan Vlahovic's arrival, because he is almost the opposite to Morata – cold-blooded in front of goal, but much less flexible in build-up play and movement off the ball. Yet, while he creates fewer chances in open play (0.81) than Morata, the quality of his shots (0.13 xG per shot) is still lower than Morata's average of 0.16.

 

 

It all matters because, with the exception of Inter and Lazio, the Bianconeri still keep more of the ball than anyone else in Serie A. They both can and cannot afford for their midfield to be so palpably one-dimensional. While Juventus rank 19th across the top five leagues in Europe for touches per 90 (678.46) in all competitions, they rank 32nd for big chances created per 90 (1.56), and 50th for passes into the final third (53.02), calling into question the nature of their possession and how they actually generate their chances.

With that all in context, it can be difficult to definitively assess someone like Fabio Miretti or where he best suits in a system of play, because it is akin to developing an emotional attachment to a captor.

Yet Dybala's forthcoming departure from Turin at the end of this season is symbolic, let alone if he ends up somewhere else in Serie A.

His career trajectory over the past four years, coinciding with Juve's regression and eventual embarrassment of this season, represents how badly the club have managed squad composition and, to reference Jose Mourinho's famous quote, their Champions League dream that became an obsession. As such, they have lacked anything resembling a plan or clarity, and have been blindly led by ambition to this empty-handed season.

Related items

  • “We knew it would be a difficult match”- Hallgrimsson pleased after hard-fought 2-2 draw with Mexico at the Azteca “We knew it would be a difficult match”- Hallgrimsson pleased after hard-fought 2-2 draw with Mexico at the Azteca

    Reggae Boyz Head Coach Heimir Hallgrimsson is happy that his team came away with a point in their CONCACAF Nations League fixture against powerhouses Mexico at the Azteca Stadium on Sunday.

    The Reggae Boyz took the lead in the seventh minute through a spectacular right-footed volley from outside the box by Fulham midfielder Bobby Reid.

    Mexico capitalised on a defensive lapse by the Jamaicans to make in 1-1 10 minutes later before the away team, once again, took the lead when Edson Alvarez scored an own-goal in the 32nd minute.

    Napoli star Hirving Lozano then converted a 47th minute penalty to complete the scoring on the day with both teams settling for a 2-2 draw.

    “It is a difficult place to come,” said Hallgrimsson to reporters after the game.

    “They are one of the powerhouses in CONCACAF so we knew it was going to be a difficult match. I think we did some good things but we are starting a journey together,” he added.

    While acknowledging that the team has a lot of improvements to make, the Iceland native was encouraged by the fact that the team can get something out of a game in hostile territory.

    “I know we need to improve a lot of things still but, the good thing about this game for us is that it shows even though we go away and play in a difficult stadium like the Azteca, we can still get something from the game,” he said.

     

  • Mead needs 'a miracle' as England boss Wiegman plans for Women's World Cup without Arsenal forward Mead needs 'a miracle' as England boss Wiegman plans for Women's World Cup without Arsenal forward

    Beth Mead will miss the Women's World Cup unless "a miracle happens", according to England head coach Sarina Wiegman.

    The Arsenal forward suffered an anterior cruciate ligament knee injury in November and has not played since.

    Such injuries are long-term setbacks, and it was the cruellest of blows for Mead, coming so soon after she played a starring role in England's Euro 2022 triumph.

    Mead won the Player of the Tournament award and the Golden Boot as hosts England swept to glory, edging out Germany 2-1 in the Wembley Stadium final on July 31.

    The 27-year-old former Sunderland striker would have been central to England's plans for this year's global tournament, which is being co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand in July and August.

    Wiegman believes there is next to no chance of Mead being fit to feature for the Lionesses, however.

    Speaking in a press conference on Tuesday, Wiegman said of Mead: "I had a conversation with her. She's doing well. She's in rehab and she's doing good.

    "But the World Cup is actually too early, so what we said now is she's not in our plans now.

    "[She should] just really take the time to get back well, but if a miracle happens and she goes so fast we will reconsider it, but at this moment I don't expect that."

    England have home friendlies against Australia and Brazil in April as they build towards the focal point of the year.

    There are also worries over Chelsea forward Fran Kirby, who is sidelined with a knee injury of her own, albeit not one as serious as the one Mead sustained.

    "Of course I'm concerned because she's been out for a while now," Wiegman said. "But I want to keep this opportunity open, and she'll be treated as we treat anyone else.

    "Hopefully she gets fit, gets on the pitch, gets playing, and then you need to show performance and fitness. It's a little concern, but also don't think too much forward, just see how she progresses."

  • Spurs players support Conte sacking but Kulusevski 'sad' to see him go Spurs players support Conte sacking but Kulusevski 'sad' to see him go

    Tottenham winger Dejan Kulusevski was "sad" to see Antonio Conte fired by the club but claimed Spurs players support the decision to remove him from his post.

    Conte and Spurs parted company on Sunday after a week of intense speculation suggesting he had already taken charge of his final game.

    The Italian made headlines last Saturday when he went on a remarkable rant in his post-match press conference after Spurs threw away a two-goal lead at Southampton to draw 3-3.

    He called his players "selfish" and extraordinarily suggested the club's lack of tangible success in recent years was ingrained, saying: "Tottenham's story is this – 20 years and they never won something. Why?"

    Conte was reportedly asked by club chiefs to clarify those comments and he was said to have insisted they were aimed at the players rather than hierarchy, though seemingly that was not enough to save his job.

    Since Conte's exit was confirmed, media reports have brought to light apparent frustrations with Conte from the squad, though Kulusevski – who was signed during the former Inter boss' tenure – appeared disappointed.

    He told Fotballskanalen: "It's always sad when a person you work with and have grown close to has to leave.

    "But life goes on and you just have to move on. We have ten games left now and we have to do our best to reach the top four."

    Kulusevski added: "He has been very important [to me]. I have learned a lot from him and I will always remember him, but now we have his assistant [Cristian Stellini], who I know very well.

    "Then we'll see who comes in next season, but I enjoy the city and the club very much."

    Nevertheless, Sweden international Kulusevski clarified that, while he seemed somewhat disheartened by the change, collectively the Spurs squad does not have an issue with the action taken by decision makers.

    "It's not me who decides. Whoever is the coach, we players will always accept and play for him and for everyone else," he said.

    "Now the club made this decision because they think it is the best, and we players stand behind that."

    Spurs are back in Premier League action on Monday when they go to Everton – at that point, Newcastle United, who have two games in hand, could have replaced them in fourth.

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.