Juventus are favourites after winning a record 8th Serie A title in a row, but a lot has changed this summer
They have had a great run, haven’t they? Eight Scudettos on the spin, one of which was won in that impressive 2011/12 campaign where they finished the entire season unbeaten. More profoundly, they have done it with three different managers in those 8 years, meaning it’s not just a result of one gaffer’s magic but perhaps the ageless spirit and wisdom of the Old Lady of Turin. Come to think of it, why were they nicknamed the Old Lady? Legend says it’s an ironic joke for their name Juventus, which means youth in Latin and also for notably sticking to some old players even up to date. Lady comes from how their fans love Juve as they would their better halves. Well, without turning this into an Italian history lesson, let’s chew the meat at hand. Yes, they have been dominant but rendered the Serie A less interesting to watch in that space of time.
Everyone wants some, “I didn’t see that coming” moments, for instance Leicester City’s historic 2014/15 Premier League title win. Fortunate enough for us lovers of the thrills and spills of the game, taking into account the events that have transpired over the summer, there seems to be a more realistic prospect of the Italian Serie A title changing hands, after close to a decade.
I hope I have piqued your interest because am going to get straight into it.
Addio (Goodbye) Allegri
The first fortunate factor that could favor the other bold Italian giants in their quest for a rare Serie A title, is actually self-inflicted by Juve. Them, parting ways with manager Massimiliano Allegri at the beginning of the summer hinted on what their priorities are at this point in time. It’s clearly not to win another Scudetto. The Italian had been a real clutch, taking over from Conte in 2014 and doing just enough to continue that impressive title winning run coupled with leading them to two Champions League finals in a space of three years. But the writing is on the wall, they are pricing another piece of silverware above the honor of becoming Italian champions, a UEFA Champions League crown they last laid their hands on, 23 years before today. No wonder they have had the privilege to pick and drop most of the finest rising and established Italian gaffers to do try and do that job in recent years with no success.
More evidence to support this cause states that the big money acquisitions of five time Balon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo (Mr. Champions League) from Real Madrid, suiting up Aaron Ramsey with hefty wages, the capture of Mathijs de Ligt for the third most expensive fee for a defender and recently the charge to try and prize Romelu Lukaku away from Manchester United amongst others. They had been winning Scudettos without spending a lot but specialising in signing some of Europe’s top talent on free transfers. All of sudden, they feel the need to. More concretely, Juve know that it could probably take a century to have another Ronaldo in world football and the need to utilise this unique opportunity before the soon 35-year-old can hang up his boots. They’ve had the first strike at the UEFA crown and the second one called 2019/20 could be the last. In short, they really like Italian but need some more European flavour which could loosen their hold on the domestic title and give room for the likes of Napoli and Inter Milan to pounce. What else has happened over the summer?
The Italian Job
So their new gaffer is Maurizio Sarri, a highly rated manager who has just won his first ever title with Chelsea in the recent 2018/19 season. A European crown, not the one Juve are craving but the sister, the UEFA Europa League title. Meaning the 60-year-old has bare minimum experience but less likely enough to help them maintain their foothold in Italy, as well as conquer Europe. Sarri’s “stubborn methods” came under a lot of fire in England as they seemed to suggest he needed more time to properly mold Chelsea to his vision, though doing considerably well in the end. Securing a champions league qualification for the Blues and winning some silverware. Now, that could be the same scenario at Juve, but does he have enough time? Considering the conversation we have just had, probably not.
But let’s look at how he could possibly set-up his team.
Juve’s predicted line-up
No doubt it’s a pretty strong 4-3-3 outfit (Sarri’s favorite formation), with the vastly experienced Buffon and long-time servant of the club returning from Paris to gang up with Ronaldo and company, there is hardly no better option in goal than the 41-year-old, who seemingly has the UEFA crown standing between him and retirement. With Mathijs De Ligt who captained Ajax to a Champions League semi-final in the previous campaign and meticulous Chiellini forming a centre-back pairing, they have the right mix of youth and experience. Alex Sandro and possibly Danilo on the left and right-back positions, provide some decent cover for the flanks and it’s in the midfield where it gets more interesting. Pjanic who has similar qualities as Sarri’s beloved Jorginho could retain his role alongside the dynamic Aaron Ramsey and the towering Adrien Rabiot who arrived from Paris St Germain in the summer. Up front, Gonzalo Higuain who just returned from a loan move at Chelsea, coincidentally with Maurizio whom he will work with for the third time dating back to their first meeting at Napoli; could finally get his chance to properly thrive at Juve. He would undoubtedly be flanked by the legendary Ronaldo and Bernardeschi. Another option would be the fluid Dybala but options is what they have in abundance with Matuidi, Samir Khedira, Douglas Costa and many more also looking to break into Sarri’s side.
It’s clear that this unit would be among Europe’s top 0.01%. But with the challenge of also managing egos of highly prized individuals falling onto Sarri’s plate, that won’t be any consolation for the Old Lady faithful who witnessed his fall out with Kepa Arrizabalaga in Chelsea’s Carabao Cup final defeat against Manchester City in February 2019. One consolation however is that the Italian is unproven on home soil and could be on a personal mission to edge his name among the best by winning the domestic title and the much need Champions League in one swoop.
But still, it’s not all that happened over the summer. The next factors have nothing to do with Juve but everything to do with the threats that are gunning for their domestic throne.
Antonio Conte and Inter Milan
No one knows Conte better than Juve themselves. During his 3 years at Turin, the 50-year-old impressively won three Serie A titles and two Suppercopa Italiana. Aside from the Old Lady, we all know him as the highly tactical serial winner who always has something up his sleeve. Here’s a history lesson for you. In his first season at Chelsea, up against inarguably Europe’s best gaffers that included Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger, he came out on top to win the 2016/17 English Premier League title. He didn’t have the best of squads as compared to his foes but after three consecutive defeats in the opening stages of the season, Conte employed some tactical tweaks that saw him and the Blues win 13 games on the bounce and race to the finish line. His methods led to the 3-5-2 formation craze and variation that we have seen in recent years. Even when he came under scrutiny for his dealings with Chelsea players off the pitch and the supposed “boring style” of play, the Italian still got results. He wrapped up his disputed final season in England with an FA Cup win in the 2017/18 season, beating the Special One, Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United in the final.
In light of Conte’s brief bio above, its apparent what kind challenge Juve will get from Inter Milan. He is arguably the most experienced and highly proven gaffer in the league right now. Even more, he doesn’t have a bad squad to transmit his ideas through.
Let us also do justice and briefly look at how Inter could line up and cause Juve and everyone else some problems.
Inter’s predicted line-up
They are clearly not void of talent and experience as well. The possible defensive line up that would have Skriniar, de Vrij and Ghana’s Kwado Asamoah looks quite decent and arguably far even better than the Victor Moses, Gary Cahill, Azplicuetta unit he used to do the Chelsea job excellently. With the warrior and come-back kid, Brozovic, likely to play a key role in midfield and Politano or Ivan Perisic on either wings, they won’t be short of offensive options. Even better, there is mooted interest and likelihood of the Belgian, Romelu Lukaku joining the side from Manchester United which would also bolster the attack.
The transfer window is still open for Inter and the rest of Europe for at least 20 more days and some possible additions could make them even more interesting. For now, one thing is sure, Inter have good squad to try and match Juve and under the guidance of Conte who’s proved to be highly versatile when it comes to tactics, frustrating and annihilating opposition’s strengths; there’s a realistic chance of beating Juve to the 2019/20 Scudetto.
It’s not just the blue and black stripped warriors, there’s one more.
Carlo Ancelotti and Napoli
For the Naples citizens, it surely must be now personal for them. That thing of Juve winning consecutive Serie A titles. Napoli last won a Serie A title in the 1989/90 season. What’s even worse is that they have come so near yet so far on many occasions, starting ever so well and the Old Lady snatching the trophy in the closing stages. In the previous two seasons under Maurizio Sarri and former Real Madrid and Bayern Munich manager in Ancelotti, they have finished second. They are clearly looking up to what’s beyond that ceiling and very much eager to achieve something tangible with the excellent crop of players they currently have at their disposal. Napoli might have narrowly missed out on Nicolas Pepe who moved to Arsenal in a record-breaking deal but still have an awful lot of quality to get the job done. With additions coming in the form of the Greek defender, Manolas who will partner Koulibaly. It’s a nightmare defense. One that’s foundation to winning titles.
With that in mind, let’s actually organize them and predict how Ancelotti might organize his charges to challenge both Inter Milan, Juve or any other underdogs we could be sleeping on.
Napoli’s predicted line-up
They have real quality players in perhaps not all but the most essential areas. With the best defender in the world in my humble opinion, Senegal’s Kalidou Koulibaly leading from the back, they still retain one of division’s top defences. Fabian Ruiz who emerged as one of the top players as he and Spain clinched the 2019 UEFA U-21 European Championship will undoubtedly be back for business and eager replicate that form, supported by the once Manchester City linked, Allan in midfield. The quick and diminutive cutting edge duo of Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne and Milik need no introduction and will no doubt return to terrorise defences.
Apart from new signings that could still be added to the team, Napoli finished trophy-less last season but very much showed they possess the pedigree to beat anyone or achieve anything on their day. It’s just the need to do it on a more consistent basis. For instance, after upsetting PSG and eventual champions Liverpool in the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League group stages, Napoli were unlucky to miss out on the round-of-16 spots. Only the goal difference separated them and Jurgen Klopp’s men.
They came, went abroad, saw and conquered, now the three Italian stallions in Sarri, Conte and Ancelotti have returned to headline a looming war for supremacy on home soil. With the silent and potentially dangerous stakeholders that also include the fast rising Atalanta, AC Milan and AS Roma, the 2019/20 Italian Serie A season could be the best we have seen in quite a long time.
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