Juventus' 5 Essential Changes to Become Champions League Contenders
For large sections of the game they were outplayed, but when referee Marco Guida blew the full-time whistle at San Siro on Sunday evening, Juventus had once again vanquished Milan. With goals from Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente, the Turin giants took a commanding 11-point lead at the top of Serie A.
The game marked their 12th league clean sheet, and gave them a record 69 points from the first 26 games of the season, surpassing the previous best from Fabio Capello’s 2006 side. At first glance, their league dominance looks complete, and a third consecutive title seems all but a foregone conclusion for Antonio’s Conte’s all-conquering squad.
Yet what is so often overlooked is that back in the early part of the season, Juventus were in poor form. By the time they lost 4-2 to Fiorentina and 2-1 Real Madrid in late October, La Madama had kept just three clean sheets, conceding 15 times in their first 12 games of the season. That run included draws with Galatasaray and FC Copenhagen, results which would ultimately lead to their exit from the Champions League.
As they now look ahead to next season, many wonder what it will take in order for the Bianconeri to better compete in Europe’s elite competition. On the following pages are the things Juventus must do to contend for a trophy the grand Old Lady of Italian football has won just twice in her illustrious past.
5. Some Improved Reserves
One major flaw with the current Juventus squad is the drop-off in talent from a number of first-team players to their back-up. Should injury effect either Stephan Lichtsteiner or Kwadwo Asamoah, the alternatives at full-back are poor as, despite Mauricio Isla’s recent improvement, he and Federico Peluso are simply not good enough at the highest level.
The same goes for Simone Padoin in midfield, although Pablo Osvaldo has proven to be a smart addition in attack. The striker arrived on loan from Southampton in January with an option to make the move permanent, and his form—he has scored in each of his two starts to date—makes him a huge upgrade on the other forwards available to Antonio Conte.
4. Smarter Rotations of the Team
Keeping the team fresh during a long campaign is something Antonio Conte has rarely concerned himself with, often simply selecting the best XI players available and keeping changes to a minimum. That has left various members of the squad looking fatigued, with Paul Pogba in particular looking jaded in recent weeks.
However, early signs are encouraging that the coach has already learned from previous mistakes, selecting just five players for to contest both last weekend’s win over Milan and the previous Thursday’s Europa League tie. With impressive looking wins over the Rossoneri and Trabzonspor, it seems the 44-year-old judged things perfectly.
3. A Settled Group
It seems churlish to point out, but even this summer, Juventus entered the Champions League with three new members of their first-choice XI. Paul Pogba took over from Claudio Marchisio in midfield while newly signed strike duo Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente only arrived in the summer.
While the Argentinean began scoring instantly in the league, in Europe he needed his partner on form too to occupy defenders and, in truth, Llorente was woeful in the first part of the season. The Basque striker took until November to play himself into form, and it is difficult to imagine both men failing to score were they to face the same Turkish and Danish sides now.
2. Learn from the Europa League
Dropping out of the Champions League and into Europe’s secondary competition gives Juventus a perfect opportunity to learn to win ties on the continent. With Antonio Conte and much of his squad hugely inexperienced at the highest level, the Europa League can be an excellent proving ground for them collectively.
Figuring out how to approach regular midweek games, the raised level of opponents and playing two-legged knockout football are all relatively new challenges for this Juventus, with few players having serious experience of continental football. Indeed, Carlos Tevez and Andrea Pirlo are the only current members of the squad who have won the Champions League, matching a feat Conte achieved as a player back in 1996.
The Europa League Final being at Juventus Stadium provides extra incentive should any be required, but it is the chance to practice all the other points raised here that will prove most beneficial.
1. More Tactical Variations
One common misconception among supporters has been that a shift to 4-3-3 would prove to be some magic cure-all for the problems Juventus face in the Champions League. What that idea fails to recognise is just how well suited the 3-5-2 formation is to competing in Serie A and how well the Bianconeri perform within it.
What is needed is more tactical variety, something Antonio Conte has already demonstrated effectively this season. The matches against Roma and Milan showed the team can change its style of play within that preferred framework, while the encounters with Real Madrid proved that occasionally a four-man defence is the way to go.
This summer, the biggest requirement on the transfer market may well be a player able to help with that shift. A winger with the pace and skill to drive past opponents should be top of their shopping list and in Domenico Berardi, perhaps they already own just the man they need.