Juventus: Who Should Be the Bianconeri's No. 1 January Transfer Target?
Two-time defending champions Juventus are unbeaten and two points off the pace in Serie A. A win Sunday, coupled with a draw between Napoli and Roma on Friday, would put them back in a familiar place—the league lead.
In spite of this, the Juve we've seen so far this year is not the team that we've expected to see. In spite of the addition of Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente, the team is still wasting numerous opportunities in front of goal.
More worrying, the defense—one of Europe's best over the last two seasons—has shown alarming signs of regression.
Andrea Barzagli has been struggling with injury. Giorgio Chiellini has not been in top form. Leonardo Bonucci has been fantastic as a passer this year but has made errors in defense. Angelo Ogbonna has been slow in adjusting to Antonio Conte's three-man defense.
The team has been forced to play from behind for much of the last six weeks.
While they haven't lost a game so far, they've dropped valuable points in both Serie A and the Champions League and haven't shown the insane form we saw in their early 4-1 win against Lazio.
It's a troubling trend but a solvable one.
Unfortunately, that solution will require a new formation, and that formation will require a potential big-money move—preferably for one Antoine Griezmann.
One of Juve's major problems this year is that their vaunted 3-5-2 has become predictable and easier to defend. Teams have parked the bus in front of their own goals and attacked Andrea Pirlo defensively, depriving him of the room he needs to operate. The team has been relentlessly attacking the middle of the field but has had a hard time getting through.
This has led to an overreliance on long passes.
While Pirlo and Bonucci are adept at making these plays—and made some spectacular ones early in the season—the urge to go for the glory ball has taken over other players as well. Paul Pogba in particular has repeatedly tried to go over the top in the final third when keeping the ball on the ground and being patient is the better option.
Wide play has been lacking to counter this clog in the middle. Stephan Lichtsteiner has played well this season, but he has lacked a match on the other side of the field ever since Kwadwo Asamoah's form fell off after last season's African Cup of Nations.
Improving wide play is where a 4-3-3 formation—and Griezmann—comes into play.
There was much talk of playing a 4-3-3 over the summer, especially with Llorente arriving as a target man in the middle. Many—including this writer—argued against such a switch because of the lack of personnel required for it, particularly on the left-hand side.
A move for Griezmann, however, can go a long way towards solving that problem.
The 22-year-old French winger has a high release clause—as high as €30 million, according to Tuttosport (via Tre Atkinson of Inside Spanish Football). But his club, Real Sociedad, is mired in 15th place in La Liga and winless in Champions League play with consecutive games against Manchester United next on the agenda. If they are eliminated from the Champions League early, the financial needs of a relatively lightweight club may necessitate a sale at a lower price, and Juve are reportedly looking to pounce, according to Tuttosport (via Football Italia).
Griezmann is a dynamic player on the left. He scored 10 times a year ago in leading Sociedad to an unexpected Champions League berth. This year, he's scored once in six games and is averaging three shots per contest. He's not a crossing winger, but instead cuts in from the left and makes neat layoff passes to his teammates.
The threat from Griezmann on the left would force teams to divide their focus rather than collapse on the team's excellent midfield. The young Frenchman should be the first man on the list when the January transfer window opens.
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