10 Decisions Juventus Need to Make to Be Successful in 2014-15
With a third Scudetto and a record-breaking dominance in the league, 2013-14 was by no means an unsuccessful season at Juventus, but a lacklustre Champions League campaign was a bitter disappointment for the Italian giants.
Now, the new season is just weeks away, and the Bianconeri are working hard to improve and strengthen so that they can go the distance in Europe—perhaps finally fulfilling their potential and bringing a third European title to Turin.
It won't be an easy task, but if they can deal with their most pressing problems in time for the new season, they'll be a force to be reckoned with.
Settle on a Formation
Last season, Juve's formation was held to blame for their underwhelming performances in the Champions League.
Antonio Conte's standard 3-5-2 was, in the eyes of many, too old-fashioned to deal with the fast-paced, modern alternatives that the Italians faced in Europe.
The fact that the World Cup saw several high-profile sides shine while using a three-man defence suggests otherwise, and if the manager wants to stick with his league shape, it doesn't mean they can't succeed in the Champions League.
More important than his system will be the players Conte uses to fill it. Once those pieces are in place, the manager needs to stick to what he's confident in and not resort to last-minute formation changes ahead of important European games. Last year in the Champions League, Juve looked uncomfortable whenever they changed to a four-man defence, and that, as much as anything, contributed to their failure.
... and Prepare for It
Managers like Louis van Gaal, Zdenek Zeman and Rafa Benitez are famously rigid when it comes to their formations. But when managers like that succeed, it's not simply down to the superiority of their preferred tactical approach. It's because they identify and deploy the best players for their chosen system, rather than trying to fit square pegs into round holes.
Far too much emphasis is put on solely the shape these days. In reality, success and failure have a lot more to do with the players inside the formation and how compatible they are with the manager's ideas, than with the purely abstract definition of a team as 4-3-3, 3-5-2 or similar.
Whatever shape Conte wants to use in 2014-15, it's important that he decides soon and spends the rest of the offseason preparing for it. That means working with the players, but also making sure that he's got the personnel to suit. There's no point having a team-sheet full of talented players if he can't make 11 of them work to the best of their abilities on the field.
Another Scudetto or a Push for the Champions League?
Ideally, Conte wants to go for both league and European glory, but in the real world it's going to be an extremely difficult goal to achieve.
Juve don't have the financial might to match the Champions League's biggest sides—and even Real Madrid couldn't compete on both fronts last term.
Towards the second half of the season in Spain, it was quite clear that Carlo Ancelotti's main focus was winning Los Merengues' historic 10th European title. Even though they finished La Liga in third, behind local rivals Atletico and Barcelona, 2013-14 was an extremely successful campaign for Real because they achieved that primary goal.
Roma, Napoli, Fiorentina and perhaps even Inter will all be pushing for glory in Serie A next term. Though Juve won't want to be completely out of the running for the Scudetto, if the Champions League is a genuine ambition then perhaps it's time that they switch focus and commit themselves fully to winning that third title.
Decide What Kind of Players They Really Need
Juve have a large squad, but there is a clearly favoured starting XI—plus Claudio Marchisio—and then a drop off in terms of both ability and functionality. Such continuity can be a plus, but if Conte wants to win a historic fourth Scudetto in a row and be competitive in Europe, he'll need to rotate more.
For that to happen, the manager will need a squad that he trusts and one that can guarantee a high-standard, even if some of the first XI regulars aren't available.
Last season, Sebastian Giovinco, Mirko Vucinic and Fabio Quagliarella managed just 13 starts between them, more often than not joining the disappointing Dani Osvaldo on the bench. All four forwards combined bagged fewer goals than Paul Pogba from midfield.
None of them are bad players, but if they don't work for Conte then having four high-profile—and expensive—forwards perpetually on the sidelines is no good to anyone.
Southampton's Osvaldo won't be back on loan, and Vucinic has already completed a move to Al Jazira. There'll be no shortage of suitors should Giovinco decide to move on, and according to the Gazzetta dello Sport Torino are close to a move for Quagliarella.
Whoever they bring in to replace the departures need to challenge Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente. They also need to feature regularly as starters if they're to be called a success. Conte will stick to his favoured XI as much as possible, and he's right to. But when he's forced to change, those changes need to be a lot more effective.
If They're Selling Pogba or Vidal, They Should Do It Now
Both Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal are hot properties this summer, and selling one or the other could net Juve a tidy sum.
The temptation to part with one of their star midfielders might be too much for the Bianconeri to resist. A big-money sale could enable Conte to strengthen in other areas without adversely affecting the centre too much, as a midfield of Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio and one of Pogba or Vidal is still more than capable of competing at the highest level.
Selling one of the pair would also put them in a stronger financial position to hold on to the other—even if one of the petrodollar clubs came knocking.
That said, whatever they decide to do they should do it quickly. Replacements will need to be found, even if not at the same level, and if the money earned is to be put to good use elsewhere, the club will need time to identify candidates and conduct business calmly. Last-minute sales and shopping sprees rarely work out well.
Be Sure of Targets and Don't Wait Until the Winter Window to Do Business
Osvaldo is a prime example of the kind of business that Juve need to avoid if they're to be successful next season.
Brought to Turin in January to provide more options up front, the hope was that the often-troublesome striker would rekindle the form he'd shown in 2012-13 for Roma after a difficult few months in the Premier League.
It didn't work out. He made just 11 appearances in total, scoring only once and never looking like a Juve-standard player.
Stop-gap signings are sometimes unavoidable—to cover for a long-term injury, for example—but signing Osvaldo added nothing to the Bianconeri last season. If there was a genuine need for forward cover, it should have been taken care of before they'd started their campaign.
Short-Term Success or Long-Term Structure?
Juventus need a left-back. That much is clear. But what kind of left-back? Would it be better to sign Manchester United's Patrice Evra, who the Gazzetta dello Sport believes is very close to signing? Or should Conte be focusing on a longer-term solution, like Marcos Rojo, who Squawka.com believe is of interest to both Juve and Liverpool?
The Sporting star has been impressive in Portugal and, at 24, would be a much better solution in the long-run. The veteran Frenchman, meanwhile, is a proven winner and comes with a wealth of experience, but probably only has another season or two left at a high level.
It's a decision that Juve will have to make with all of their summer signings. If bringing in experienced players puts the finishing touches on this squad and success comes right away, it will be worth it. But if it doesn't work, the Bianconeri will be back to the drawing board next summer.
Juan Iturbe or Alexis Sanchez?
Good players don't come cheap, but Juventus need more creative talent in the side and should do whatever they can to bring it to Turin.
Last week, I wrote about Verona's Juan Iturbe and why he'd be a good purchase, even if he comes at a price. Alexis Sanchez is another player who would undoubtedly add a lot to the Bianconeri attack. But whoever they sign, they shouldn't be afraid to spend. One or two gifted attackers could be the difference between glory and disappointment this season, and Conte can't afford to let the talent he needs slip away just because the Bianconeri are hesitant in the market.
What Happens Without Pirlo?
Losing a player like Andrea Pirlo will hurt any side, but at 35, he's no longer someone who Conte can count on for an entire season or expect to play 40+ games.
In the past, when the midfield maestro was absent, Juve suffered, seeming out of sync and often looking devoid of that crucial creative spark.
The Italian playmaker will be integral to any success that the Turin side experiences next season, but there should be a plan B in place just in case he's not available. Because while "give the ball to Pirlo" might get you out of trouble in most cases, it won't help much if he's not on the pitch.
What to Do with Kingsley Coman
He's a signing for the future, but that shouldn't stop Conte from finding some role for Kingsley Coman next season.
The former Paris Saint-Germain attacking midfielder left his hometown club in favour of Juventus—and presumably in the hope that he'll find more playing time in Serie A. Like Paul Pogba, he's an enormous talent and one that could be invaluable to the Bianconeri once he's matured.
At just 18, he's far from the finished product. However, that didn't stop Pogba from making an immediate impact in Italy once he left Manchester United, and Juve fans will be hoping for similar things from Coman.
Like his countryman, Coman has joined Juventus because he was frustrated with a lack of playing time at his old club. He grew up in Paris and became the French league's youngest ever player at just 16, under Carlo Ancelotti. But after seeing just 37 minutes of game time in Ligue 1 in 2013-14, he's moved on in search of his big break. Juve shouldn't be shy in giving it to him, because they just might have another young superstar on their hands.