On Saturday night, the Mapei Stadium in Reggio Emila played host to the Trofeo TIM tournament, a pre-season competition that has become a staple of Italian football. With Inter having announced their withdrawal, the 2014 edition saw Sassuolo competing against Milan and Juventus to contest the annual event.
Played in a round-robin format, the evening consisted of three 45-minute matches between the three teams. Three points were given for a win, two for a win on penalties, with any side losing a shootout also gaining one point.
If the venue, the participation of the Neroverde and even Massimiliano Allegri’s presence on the Juventus bench were all new, the matches involving Juventus saw the return of a familiar face—a face that will provide the club with a huge boost in the post-Antonio Conte era.
Named to the starting XI for the first time this summer, Arturo Vidal took his place in the side, and while clearly short of fitness, his timely comeback is incredibly pleasing from a Bianconeri perspective. Despite being constantly linked with a move away, Juventus and Beppe Marotta always insisted the Chilean was never for sale this summer, per Football Italia.
With only a few days of the transfer window remaining, it appears that statement is genuinely true, and Turin’s Old Lady welcomed her leading man back with open arms. Slowly overcoming the effects of the knee injury he sustained late last season, his new coach took time to single out Vidal’s importance to the side.
“It’s important to see Arturo back in the team,” Allegri told reporters (h/t Juventus.com). “Even though he’s not yet match fit, he played a good half-hour’s football tonight.” Yet it was not just the former Leverkusen man being in the team that boosted Juve, it was also those around him who continue to provide hope for the 2014-15 season.
In the opening match against Milan, Allegri named the 27-year-old as part of a diamond midfield, with Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba and Claudio Marchisio taking up the remaining positions. That quartet remain essential for Juventus, no matter what formation or playing style Conte’s successor seeks to impose upon them.
Over the three years under the previous coach, the four men have come together to form one of football’s finest midfield’s, their abilities and characteristics blending superbly to provide a plethora of tactical options.
Conte almost exclusively used three of them in a 3-5-2 formation as they helped secure three consecutive league titles, but there are so many other alternatives open to Allegri in the forthcoming campaign. On Saturday, he explored one that Conte had also deployed occasionally, selecting Pogba slightly ahead of the others in a more advanced role.
It is an idea his predecessor turned to late in the 2012-13 season as his strikers continued to misfire, and the young Frenchman appeared to enjoy the freedom it gave him. There, he was able to add drive and energy to the Juventus attack, becoming a key protagonist at a vital point in the campaign.
Though Conte quickly returned to his default formation, Allegri appears far more open to such experiments and recently discussed that tactical flexibility with La Gazzetta dello Sport. After noting that he is fortunate to inherit a side completely at ease with the three-man defence, the new coach went on to show just how fluid his alternative idea will be.
“Would this other formation be a 4-3-1-2?” the 47-year-old remarked to the pink paper (h/t Football Italia). “Often I say 4-3 and then we’ll see. It depends on the characteristics of the players.” With Alvaro Morata and Roberto Pereyra able to play in numerous attacking roles just as Simone Pepe returns to fitness, it’s clear Allegri will have many alternatives.
That can only bode well for a coach given an almost impossible task, seeking as he does to improve or build upon the incredible success of Conte’s reign. With Vidal back in midfield, however, he might be able to do just that.