The 2015/16 Serie A season has already kicked off, and it has provided it’s first twist of what looks to be a very interesting battle for top spot, champions league entries and the last few tickets to the Europa league.
After the 2014-15 campaign, which saw Juventus rarely stretched to win their fourth straight Scudetto, 2015-16 carries the weight of expectation but with plenty of question marks.
This time last year, Massimiliano Allegri was signed as Juventus manager following the departure of Antonio Conte, and everyone was quick to write him off and expected the Juve juggernaut to be dismantled. But fast forward 12 months, and Allegri led the Bianconeri to their most successful season is modern history – a fourth straight Scudetto, a Coppa Italia, a Supercoppa Italiana and a Champions League final – the latter being the most impressive of them all after several years of underwhelming European performance.
Under Conte, Juve looked void of ideas and struggled to implement the high pressing, all action approach in Europe, but Allegri added a swathe of calm and tactical nous that Conte did not. From the rampaging wild beast that tore through Serie A for three seasons, a new Juve was crafted, and it was even more devastating.
But amidst all the highs of last season, and the expectations to go one better in Europe this season, things don’t seem as promising as they did after the 90 minute whistle in Berlin.
Arguably, the three key players pivotal to Juve’s recent success have parted ways, making this season’s Bianconeri line up look more interesting than intimidating.
Carlos Tevez moved to boyhood club Boca Juniors in Argentina, Andrea Pirlo to New York City in MLS and Arturo Vidal to German giants Bayern Munich.
Juventus opened their account on the weekend at home against Udinese, and in losing the opening match it was clear that Juve have some teething problems in dealing with the depature of the Tevez,Vidal and Pirlo trio. Not so much a loss of the talent and the ability that those three had to offer, but the leadership they displayed. This will take time, and a few stumbles are expected as a new core is built around an already strong foundation in Buffon, Chiellini, Marchisio and Pogba.
Marchisio will now have the chance to step out of the shadows of Vidal and Pirlo and be the midfield lynchpin, and Paul Pogba will again be expected to shine and continually improve as Juve’s star man, illustrated by being given the illustrious number 10 shirt.
With the recent arrival of the flamboyant wide man Juan Cuadrado on loan from Chelsea, this gives a sense that this may not be the only handshake that Juve and Chelsea share, as Chelsea look to snap up the 22 yr old French prodigy, in what would be an expected world record transfer fee.
However, with the losses of Vidal and Pirlo it’s practically impossible to imagine that Juve would sell another starting midfielder, and with Pogba taking the new kit number it seems as though he is happy enough to remain in Turin for the foreseeable future.
Speaking of number 10s, Juventus are supposedly still in the market for one, with the club allegedly circling for both Mario Götze and Isco, two players who may not get enough first team football this season – a European Championships year. Those rumours have died off though and in all likelihood those that the Old Lady have already brought in this window will be the only extras they carry with them – until January at least.
Paulo Dybala signed from Palermo for an initial fee of €32 million two days prior the Champions League final, while Sami Khedira and Mario Mandzukic have arrived to fill vacant spots following the exits of Vidal, Pirlo and Tevez. Other acquisitions are Daniele Rugani, Simone Zaza and back-up goalkeeper Neto, while highly rated left-back Alex Sandro has sealed a move from FC Porto.
Juan Cuadrado is expected to hit the ground running after a tumultuous time at Chelsea, and he is the direct and exciting player that Juve haven’t had since the likes of Milos Krasic, but with a lot more to offer going forward and defensively, as shown at the 2014 World Cup and during his three previous seasons in Italy with Fiorentina, and before that with Udinese and Lecce.
There is certainly a goal void to fill after Tevez’s departure, but with the attacking options now consisting of proven goal-getter Madzukic, a real live-wire in Dybala and Alvaro Morata hoping to continue his fine end of season form from last term, Juve look to have a more balanced attacking force. Quality back-up options are also on hand with Zaza and Kingsley Coman eager to prove their worth, while Ferndando Llorente, who fell out of favour last season, has returned to Spain.
Defence poses a more problematic equation for the Italian giants, particularly in the fitness department, with Angelo Ogbonna moving on to West Ham United, experienced cover may be limited. Defensive prodigy Rugani will be expected to step in for any absences, but he is yet to be tested at the highest level. Alex Sandro will provide cover for the seemingly age-less Evra, and Martin Caceres can deputize anywhere across the back four if need be, but if the dynamic duo of Chiellini and Bonucci are absent, the usual water-tight defence may be at risk.
Juventus have started the age of a new era, ushering in new young talent that can push them to titles domestically, but another European push will be where the litmus test truly stands in replacing the world class talent they have lost, yet to lose possibly, and potentially gain.
A knee-jerk reaction was expected, and the dreaded “Allegri second-season-syndrome” has been thrown about as they recover from their opening day loss, but as the team takes shape and new players find their feet, results will come and Juventus will be expected to challenge on all fronts.
Roma host Juve on the weekend for an early title contender battle, which will give Juve and Allegri the perfect chance to steady the ship, or for more worries to rock it.
Only time will tell.