The 2013-14 Champions League season was a supreme disappointment for Juventus and their fans. They came into the tournament as a dark horse to win it, but defensive breakdowns against Galatasaray and an inability to put away their group's weakest side—Copenhagen—at the Parken Stadium saw them finish third and drop into the Europa League. It was the second time in their last three trips to Europe's elite competition that the Bianconeri had found themselves demoted to their less-prestigious counterpart.
The culprit in their fall? The 3-5-2 formation that Antonio Conte has used to so much success in Italy has been markedly less effective in Europe, mainly due to its vulnerability to top-level wing play. Conte experimented with a 4-3-3 in the team's two group games against Real Madrid and had some success.
Unfortunately, the squad Conte has to work with doesn't make that formation feasible on a regular basis. He lacks any true wingers as well as a left-back. The 3-5-2 suits his personnel perfectly. It's what gets the best out of his team—so naturally it's what sees the field.
There is, however, a light at the end of the tunnel. Sporting director Giuseppe Marotta may have plans in the works to get him the players he needs to add a vital element of versatility to his lineup.
The left-back position may be the team's greatest need, and an upgrade must come from outside the organization. There are a few options, but the best one is likely Real Madrid's Fabio Coentrao. A report from Tuttosport (h/t Football Italia) claimed that Juve was tracking Carlo Ancelotti's wantaway and were nosing their way in front in the race for his signature. Goal.com reported in March that Manchester City's Aleksandar Kolarov was still on the Juve radar.
Is Juve primed to turn around their European fortunes next season?
While no concrete reports have emerged as to interest from Juventus, Wolfsburg's Ricardo Rodriguez would be an enticing target considering how well he has paired with Stephan Lichtsteiner on the flanks of Switzerland's starting XI.
The wings could be solved a little bit closer to home. Domenico Berardi—currently on loan at Sassuolo—has been the year's breakout player and can play as a centre-forward or on either flank, though he is at his best on the left. Purchasing the second half of his rights would be far cheaper than paying €30 million for, say, Real Sociedad's Antoine Griezmann—and give Conte a versatile piece on the forward line.
Similarly, Manolo Gabbiadini—who has played on the right wing at loan club Sampdoria ever since Sinisa Mihajlovic took over in Genoa—could help answer the wing question by bringing in high quality for relatively low cost. Possessing lightning speed and a cannon for a left foot, Gabbiadini has scored eight times this year—five of them from the right wing.
There may be even more coming as well, but if the rumors are to be believed, Marotta is gearing up to give Juve a squad versatile enough to play two formations at elite levels. That kind of versatility just might be enough to put them over the hump and become true European contenders.