5 Ways That Juventus Can Improve Next Season If They Are to Challenge in Europe
It might not be over until the fat lady sings but Juve's latest victory saw the Old Lady extend their lead at the top of Serie A, singing smugly all the way to what will surely be their third consecutive scudetto.
Defeating Fiorentina at the weekend—a team who are in fourth and are looking to regain Champions League football—Juve's 1-0 win was symptomatic of their season: Gritty, prosaic but successful.
With just 11 games remaining of the season, their lead over second-place Roma is 14 points. Barring an almighty implosion, the Bianconeri look set to secure their 30th title.
However, when the formalities are complete and Juve are eventually handed the league trophy, there will be one glaring omission on their season record: Their insipid showing in the Champions League.
Granted, they may still gain success in the Europa League. Having been shunted into the continent's corollary competition after failure to qualify from the group stages (they recorded only one win from six games), they have already defeated Trabzonspor and now face familiar foe Fiorentina.
But it lacks the valour and glamour of a Champions League win. It is now 11 years since the all-Italian final between Juventus and AC Milan, when a penalty shootout saw the Milanese overcome the Bianconeri in an anti-climactic tie.
In the 10 finals since, Italian teams have featured on three occasions but have emerged victorious only twice. English teams have featured on seven occasions and been victorious three times.
The fact that they haven't won the Coppa Italia since 1995 adds to the theory that they need to augment their squad.
But how can Juve step up their success and transfer their domestic superiority onto the continental scale? What dimension are they missing?
Let's take a look at five factors which if assessed, could help the champions compete with other European luminaries. This list has been compiled by looking at Juve's squad and establishing areas of weakness as well as examining recent transfer rumours.
Keep Hold of Carlos Tevez
Carlos Tevez has performed exceptionally well this season. Arriving in tandem with Athletic Bilbao's Fernando Llorente last summer, the two have contributed 26 goals between them.
It is Tevez though who really deserves the plaudits. In his 24 league starts, he has scored 15 goals—the only black mark against him is that he hasn't scored in any European competition this season, a factor surely contributing towards Juve's insipid display.
Having signed a three-year contract, he technically still has two more years ahead at the champions-elect. However, nothing is ever that straghtforward with the Argentinian international.
Having left Manchester United in tempestuous conditions in 2010, he pushed for a move to cross-city rivals Manchester City—just two years later though, in September 2012, he had a well-documented fallout with then-manager Roberto Mancini.
This summer, he will compete on his home continent of South America in the World Cup. Will he look to use this as an opportunity to put himself in the shop window and attract suitors?
If Conte and co can keep Tevez at Juventus Stadium for another year (a league winner's medal will certainly help), one option could be to pair him with Alvaro Morata.
As Miguel Delaney of ESPN FC explores, the Real Madrid striker looks certain to leave the Bernabeu this summer, with Arsenal and Manchester United pursuing him. At just 21, he would not only represent a long-term investment but would slot in well alongside Spanish-speaking Tevez and Llorente.
Buy a World-Class Central Defender
Now favouring to play three central defenders, it is clear that Juve coach Antonio Conte sees this area as, in typical Italian style, a vital bedrock to launch attacks.
In Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli, they have two experienced players who can shore up the back line whilst also knowing when to turn the tables and quickly move the ball to the meticulous Andrea Pirlo in midfield.
Angelo Ogbonna has settled well into life at Juventus following his cross-city move from rival Torino—at 25 though, he still has a lot to learn. Leonardo Bonucci has also deputised well when called upon (as exemplified through his two league goals), but Martin Caceres has not been given the same opportunities. He may wish to move on this summer.
Whilst Conte favours a fluid 3-5-2 in the league, it lacks the solidity to be relied upon in Europe where the most successful teams of recent years (namely Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Barcelona) are big advocates of a 4-3-3 setup, able to switch from defence to attack effortlessly.
With that in mind, Conte must adapt his team in such a way. In Chiellini and Barzagli he has two players who, when fit, can win games. He must now add to them and generate real competition amongst his central defenders.
One option could be Bayern's Dante, an imposing yet athletic player who was fundamental to their treble-winning season last year. A regular in the Bayern team, he is yet to be rewarded with a new contract, something which Sky Sports highlighted during the January transfer window, when he was linked with a move to Manchester United.
Another viable target could be Inter Milan's Andrea Ranocchia. Having asserted himself as one of Serie A's best central defenders, the 26-year-old still has a lot of learning to do, but he could be an investment for the future, especially since Inter announced the summer arrival of Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic.
Ward off Interest in Paul Pogba
This week sees Paul Pogba turn 21 yet he belies his years. Having already begun his career at Manchester United, he left in acrimonious circumstances to join Juventus.
Now in his second season at the Turin club, he looks certain to follow up last season's league-winner's medal with another this year. With six goals in 24 games this season (a rate of one in four), he has been an integral component.
This domestic prowess has been coupled with asserting himself as a regular in the French national team. It is certain that he will form a vital ingredient of head coach Didier Deschamps' plans for this summer's World Cup.
But this ascendancy, this meteoric rise, has not gone unnoticed: Rumours have been rife that the rangy midfielder may soon be the subject of transfer bids.
An example of this arose in January when Manchester United sounded out Juve about the player returning to Old Trafford (as discussed by The Independent's Ian Herbert). Perhaps unsurprisingly, given United's struggles this season under David Moyes, the player was not keen.
Following speculation this week that Real Madrid have opened negotiations to sign the French international —as part of a double swoop with Arturo Vidal, as reported by The Metro—Juve's chief exec responded in bullish fashion. As Sky Sports reports, Beppe Marotta remains certain that Pogba will be at the club "for many years."
Invest in Wingers Who Add an Extra Dimension
In the 1-0 win over Fiorentina at the weekend, Juve kept the ball well, zipping it around with aplomb and edging out what was a tense encounter, boasting a 51 percent possession rate.
However, at times, their play looked flat: When their central midfield were stifled by La Viola's 4-3-3 formation, the champions looked stumped, especially without the talismanic Andrea Pirlo. When they looked for alternatives, they came up short.
One of the areas where they lacked creativity was on the flanks. Favouring something akin to a 3-5-2, they deployed Kwadwo Asamoah and Stephan Lichtsteiner as wide men, occupying the roles of rampaging full-backs.
Whilst they performed admirably—the winning goal came from Asamoah—neither of them are natural in these positions, with both favouring more defensive roles.
In Serie A, where Juventus rule the roost, they can always rely on eventually breaking down their opponent with this ad-libbed approach. But they experienced similar frustrations in the Champions League. Away to Galatasary in their final group game, when they had to win to qualify for the next stage, they used the same formation with the same players and went on to lose 1-0.
Several weeks before that, in the home tie against Real Madrid, it was Carlos Tevez and Claudio Marchisio who were stationed out wide. Juve dropped valuable points as they drew 2-2.
Manchester United's Nani could be an option. Even in a turbulent year at Old Trafford, the Portuguese international has failed to dispel the view of recent years that he is too inconsistent for the EPL and could instead be better-suited to a league where he would get more time on the ball.
The Metro reported that this deal almost came to fruition in January, but collapsed at the last minute.
If the two clubs do not reignite negotiations, another player who could be tempted to Italy is Bayern Munich's Xherdan Shaqiri. Having only started eight games this season, the 22-year-old attacking midfielder may seek a move away before his career stagnates.
Look Towards the Future
Gianluigi Buffon is 36. Andrea Barzagli is 32. Andrea Pirlo is 34. Even Carlos Tevez is 30.
These players have been all good, loyal servants to the Old Lady and will be able to look back fondly on their time at Juventus Stadium (and Stadio delle Alpi before that).
But the club hierarchy must now address the fact that these players will start to slow down and their impact on games will lessen.
There are players at the club who are being heralded as natural successors. Claudio Marchisio has benefited from playing in Pirlo's shadow, Giorgio Chiellini can continue the solidity in central defence for a few more years whilst the vitality of Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal has been refreshing.
Other than that though, there is little escaping that the club will need major investment over the next few seasons if they are to avoid a similar capitulation to that experienced by Inter Milan last season. Just three years after being crowned European champions, the Milanese club struggled with an ageing squad and no clear replacements, eventually finishing ninth.
An immediate concern is who could take over from the magisterial Buffon. Italy's record cap-holder, the club and country captain has enjoyed a hugely successful career since signing from Parma in 2001 for a then-record fee.
After almost 400 league appearances, he has not only won the league on four occasions but also stuck with the club following their relegation in 2006 to Serie B after the "Calciopoli" scandal.
Whilst finding a long-term successor to someone so loyal will not be easy, there are a number of short-term options available.
As Sky Sports reported last month, Real Madrid's Iker Casillas is unhappy at being rotated and may explore alternative options this summer. His compatriot Pepe Reina looks set to return to parent club Liverpool when his loan spell at Napoli expires in June—The Guardian reports he could be available for €5 million. Either could be a viable option for Juventus.
Furthermore, Barcelona's Victor Valdes will also be available this summer, as he confirmed his impending departure in an interview with The Guardian's Sid Lowe.