Juventus: How the Bianconeri Might Line Up in the Champions League Next Season
Juventus played their first season in the Champions League since 2009-10 this past year, and it has to be considered a success. Juve overcame three straight draws out of the gate to win a tricky group that included Shakhtar Donetsk and Chelsea, then dominated Celtic in the Round of 16 before falling victim to the buzz saw that was Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals.
The Bianconeri possess one of the best defenses in Europe. With Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo manning the middle of the park, they may have the best midfield on planet Earth—and they're backed up by 20-year-old phenom Paul Pogba.
The overall rebuilding of the squad from the horror of those back-to-back seventh-place finishes three and four seasons ago, when calciopoli finally caught up to them. Still, they're easily the class of the Serie A.
But being the class of Serie A and the class of the Champions League are two different things. For Juve to be both, changes will need to be made.
For the purposes of this article, the scope of the player pool is limited to players currently on the roster or who are confirmed to be full members of the team once the transfer window officially begins. Rumors that a player might be on his way to Turin aren't good enough to put a player in this side.
So understanding that, how might Juve line up on the continent next season to improve on their performance of 2012-13? Let's look at the squad and see what they might do.
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There is no question that captain Gianluigi Buffon will stand between the pipes for Juve this year. At 35, Buffon is still one of the best keepers in the world—if not the best.
His shot-stopping abilities are matched by only a handful of men. His ability to marshal a defense is unparalleled the world over. He is an asset to any team looking to win Europe's biggest prize.
Who his backup will be is a question not yet answered. With respect to Buffon's greatness, this is a question that needs to be addressed considering his injury history.
Marco Storari, his understudy for the last three seasons, is not expected back. Another option would be to bring young project Nicola Leali, who spent last season on loan with Lanciano, to be the No. 2 and learn directly from the master himself. Juve could also buy a new backup and loan Leali out again—possibly to get him some top-flight experience.
Leali is likely the man to take Buffon's place when he finally hangs up his boots, but it remains to be seen whether he will now be his backup.
Regardless, unless Buffon is injured or Juve end up playing a dead-rubber match late in the group stage, it's inconceivable that the World Cup winner will be the one on the field.
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Defense is one of Juventus' greatest strengths, but the way this defense lines up in the Champions League has been a point of contention ever since Bayern steamrolled their way through the Bianconeri and into the semifinals.
The back three of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini has two great advantages. First, it allows Juve to keep all three men—each among the top 20 center backs in the world—on the field at the same time.
All three bring something different. Barzagli is the tactical maestro; Bonucci may be the best ball-playing defender in Europe; Chiellini is another in a long line of Italian defenders who shuts down opponents with a combination of technique and brute force.
But it may have been the second benefit of the back three that was the reason Antonio Conte switched to a 3-5-2 in the first place. Using three center backs masked the fact that Juve don't have anyone on the roster who can be considered an elite-level left-back.
Paolo De Ceglie is not the type of player who can start for a team like Juve on the left-hand side. Chiellini was tried at left-back before the switch to the 3-5-2, but at this point in his career he shouldn't be on the flank full-time—to say nothing of the fact that his talents are wasted there.
After Arjen Robben ran rampant against Juve in the quarterfinals, many fans claimed that playing with a back three left the team incapable of defending wingers of the Dutchman's quality and began clamoring for a return to a four-man back line.
Returning to a four-man line means benching one of the three center-backs—a tough choice. While Swiss international Stephan Lichtsteiner has adapted to playing as wing-back over the last year-and-a-half, his skill set is better suited to a traditional full-back, so the right side would be solid.
That again leaves the left as the elephant in the room. De Ceglie is not a player you want starting regularly in the Champions League. Simon Jones of the Daily Mail recently reported that interest has renewed in Manchester City player Aleksandar Kolarov, but such a move is far from certain.
It should also be noted that were it not for an early first-leg injury to Toni Kroos, Robben likely wouldn't have been unleashed on Juve in the same way he was. It's also debatable if any team could have stood in Bayern's way the way they were playing last year. Even Barcelona was run off the field in the face of the Bavarians' onslaught.
In the absence of any moves to shore up the left-hand side, I can't see Juve abandoning the three-man defense. The Barzagli-Bonucci-Chiellini line should continue.
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As mentioned in the introductory slide, Juve's central midfield trio of Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal, and Andrea Pirlo—commonly known to Juve fans as MVP—is quite possibly the best in the world.
Pirlo is the ultimate deep-lying playmaker. His metronomic passing makes Juve's attack tick. Marchisio and Vidal complement him perfectly as box-to-box midfielders who tackle hard on defense while making deadly runs through the channels on the other end of the field.
Rumors like this report in the Mirror have been swirling around Marchisio this summer. There is talk that "il principino" is on the outs with Juve management and doesn't know if he is "still an important player" for Juve. Football-Italia has reported that Juve may listen to offers for Marchisio to raise capital for a move for Stevan Jovetic, but as we'll see later, recent developments may have changed that scenario.
As the Mirror reports, Manchester United have been lying in wait to make Marchisio the replacement to the re-retiring Paul Scholes, but it's probably all speculation. Marchisio is one of the club's vice-captains and is a likely contender to wear the armband in the future. It's a good bet that he stays in Turin.
Marchisio moved into the hole in a 3-5-1-1 towards the end of the season to accommodate a place in the starting lineup for Paul Pogba. The young Frenchman was a revelation last year and further proof of Andrea Agnelli's mastery of the Bosman transfer, but moves that the team has made to the forward line probably means Marchisio will be moved back into his usual role, at least in the Champions League. Pogba will likely be used more in the league to spell the MVP midfield and keep them fresh for Europe.
Stephan Lichtsteiner will hold down the right side of midfield, backed up by Simone Padoin and Simone Pepe. The left side will be left to a combination of Federico Peluso—who was fully purchased from Atalanta a week ago—and Kwadwo Asamoah, who also had his transfer made permanent this past week.
Peluso is the more defensive option and can also deputize at center back if necessary. Asamoah started last season like gangbusters, but tailed off after he represented Ghana at the Africa Cup of Nations. He improved as the season came to an end, and his upside is huge.
Come Champions League play in September, Lichtstiener will hold down the right side, with the MVP midfield in the center and Peluso and Asamoah splitting time on the left depending on situation and form.
The forward position is what will change the most for Juve between last season and the new season. Juve's inability to hold the ball against Bayern in the first leg of the quarterfinals last year was partially due to horrible hold-up play by Alessandro Matri and Fabio Quagliarella. Their inability to keep the ball until help could arrive from the midfield set the tone for the entire tie.
Forward has been Juve's biggest weakness the last few seasons. If you look at the statistics on WhoScored, Matri is one of the most efficient strikers in Europe. The problem is that he doesn't get himself into position to take more shots. Quagliarella has shown flashes of the brilliance he showed before he blew out his knee in 2010-11 but hasn't been trusted with continual playing time.
Mirko Vucinic is maddeningly inconsistent but brilliant when he is on. His problem has been playing out of position. He is more of a "secunda punta" than a No. 9, meant to play slightly further back in the hole behind a target man.
He will get the chance to do that this year. Fernando Llorente agreed in January to join the club on a free transfer once the summer window opens. The classic target man that Juve has lacked since the departure of David Trezeguet, Llorente did not play much this season after a contract row with Athletic Bilbao, but he scored 29 goals in all competitions the year before—and he's not going to be alone.
The Daily Mail reports that Juve reached to a deal with Manchester City to bring Carlos Tevez to the Juventus Stadium on Tuesday. The deal will be official as early as Wednesday once the Argentine passes a physical.
Tevez is another secunda who can support Llorente and has extensive Champions League experience with both Manchester clubs—including a title with Manchester United in 2008.
Some other rumors—like this Metro report about Stevan Jovetic or this Sky Sports report about Gonzalo Higuain—are still swirling. The Tevez signing may change the situation when it becomes official, but with the move costing Juve only a reported €9 million plus a maximum of €3 million in performance-based bonuses the Bianconeri may have the financial wiggle room for another major signing.
The prediction for the front line as the roster currently stands: Llorente up top, with a rotation of Vucinic and Tevez supporting from the secunda punta spot.