On paper, Juventus aren’t having a bad season at all. They sit atop the Serie A table and have sealed qualification to the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League. They’re unbeaten and winning just about every game.
While results show that, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Juventus under Maurizio Sarri. It gives the impression that Juve have changed Sarri more than the opposite. It was always going to take time and it clearly is taking time, as players continue to gel into Sarri’s possession-oriented system.
Sarri’s Chelsea would also look dour in the first few months. Despite that, they did go 12 games unbeaten last season. It was around the turn of the year that they played more like Sarri’s Napoli from 2015 to 2018.
A similar pattern can well be seen at Juventus. It is a club that had been playing a pragmatic brand of football since 2011 under Antonio Conte. This radical change of style was always going to take a while.
Juve have been sneaking out victories. The margins have been very small. Be it Atalanta missing a penalty recently, Alvaro Morata missing an open-goal or Gianluigi Buffon making a stunning stoppage-time save to deny Bologna. There have been very tight games where Juve have come out on top.
12 of their games in all competitions have ended with a one-goal difference. There have been VAR decisions that have gone their way, but it is their immense depth in number and quality that has made a huge difference.
They have always had an option on the bench to change the game. Inter boss Conte has been complaining about a lack of depth at the Nerazzurri for a while. But at Juve, the exact opposite has been the case.
Sarri’s side did try to offload multiple players in the summer. This included Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain, Emre Can, Mario Mandzukic, Daniele Rugani, and more to generate funds. They did sell Joao Cancelo but swapped him with Danilo from Manchester City.
Their failure to sell players was deemed a mistake. But only in the context of the transfer window. On the pitch, it is this depth that has been so important for Juventus.
Higuain, who constantly linked with a Juventus exit, has found the back of the net four times in the Serie A. He came up with the winner against Inter, coming on from the bench to keep his brilliant record against the Nerazzurri going. Against Napoli, he had scored once when Dybala wasn’t involved.
He came up with the assist for Matthijs de Ligt’s winner in the Derby della Mole. In the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo against Atalanta recently, he helped the Old Lady seal a comeback 3-1 win by scoring twice.
With Higuain on the bench against Atletico recently, Dybala found the back of the net with a free-kick. He was the match-winner against AC Milan when he could play only 35 minutes. In Ronaldo’s absence, he had given the club a point away to Lecce.
Like this, Douglas Costa also made an impact against Lokomotiv Moscow. The Brazilian came on as a late substitution after Ronaldo had gone off. He came with a sensational stoppage-time winner to win Juve the game and guarantee qualification.
What is surprising is that Juve are yet to properly test some players. Costa has been dealing with injuries. Aaron Ramsey has only recently returned to full fitness. Merih Demiral has made only one appearance and that to in a comeback win against Hellas Verona. Emre Can has played only 170 minutes.
Federico Bernardeschi is yet to score or assist, despite appearing 11 times. Once he gets in the groove, it will be much better. Juve also boasts as many as six options in midfield, thanks to the arrivals of Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot. The Frenchman is improving his match fitness and will soon be playing more often.
It’s a scary prospect. It isn’t just the depth that is impressive. The quality in depth is even more impressive. When Mattia de Sciglio and Danilo were injured at the same time, it was Juan Cuadrado who stepped in and did a good job.
This is one crucial aspect that can take Juve far in the Champions League. It is still a work in progress and the way they’re playing will only improve. The Chelsea example shows that. Combine that quality with the depth, one would be crazy to count Juventus out.