The end of Juventus’ January seemed to look a lot a like the end of September.
The past week has seen two very disappointing results in Serie A due to a dip in form, injuries to key players, and questions whether Claudio Ranieri is indeed the right man to get the job done in Turin.
Now, as the calendar turns to February, Juve trails leader Inter Milan by seven points and have been pushed down to third by a surging AC Milan.
Juve have come out flat to begin every game the past month, looked tired before the match was even close to being over, and have not been anywhere close to the kind of offensive team they were when they were on Inter’s heals.
Amauri has not registered a goal in 2009 and Alessandro Del Piero’s lone league strike of the calendar year has come on a free kick. The sight of the Juve captain screaming at himself for missing a quality opportunity is becoming more and more frequent every week.
Not what you want to hear when you are one of the main contenders for the Scudetto.
However, the consistent problem, a theme throughout the entire season, is the ongoing situation in the training room.
No team in Serie A has seen as many crucial players go down throughout the entire season as Juve has.
It seems as though when one important player comes back, another one is lost.
David Trezeguet and Mauro Camoranesi are back and finally able to contribute to an offense that desperately needs them. However, Giorgio Chiellini is injured once again. While it may only be for a week or two, his injury did come in his return to the lineup.
And more often than not, the Juve medical staff has had a full schedule trying to get players back to full health.
Add that to crucial players like one of Ranieri’s few choices to play every minute every week, Pavel Nedved, starting to finally show signs of being 36 years old, and the dip in form is quickly becoming apparent.
Despite a goal against Cagliari, Nedved is obviously not the same kind of player he has been in the past. His production slipped considerably in January and now fans are starting to doubt whether he is the best choice along the left wing.
But the question on every Juve fan’s mind is: Can their beloved Old lady make another comeback this season and get back in the Scudetto hunt?
Obviously right now things look grim and the Scudetto is out of reach, but with a few weeks of quality play, a team can build on its comeback and get rolling again.
However, there is reason to be optimistic.
The schedule is somewhat favorable with only three of the next eight games coming against teams in the top half of the table.
And the craziness that is the 2008/09 Serie A campaign, it has proved that anything can happen. Inter have shown us they aren’t the lock to win every week like they have been in previous seasons.
Also, just like in October, there was a huge Champions League matchup on the horizon. Instead of it being Real Madrid later this month, it’s Chelsea, and we know that Ranieri has the Feb. 25 first leg date circled in his calendar for obvious reasons.
If Ranieri wants his team to comeback like they did after the Real game, things will have to change and in a hurry.
Whether it means shaking things up and giving the Old Guard a game, or simply going against what he knows best and fielding a formation other than his trusted 4-4-2, something will have to be done.
And if they bring their January form into February and March, the Journey lyrics to “Don’t Stop Believin’” in the Juve faithful's heads will come to a screeching end.