For the rest of Serie A, events at Juventus Stadium last Saturday evening were all too predictable. The Bianconeri never looked at their best against Fiorentina yet emerged 2-1 victors thanks to Gonzalo Higuain’s second-half goal, his first for the Turin giants after a summer move from Napoli.
It was exactly the kind of match-winning strike that the Argentina international has become known for during his three years on the peninsula, while Juve merely continued a domestic undefeated streak which stretches back to October 31, 2015.
There is little doubt that the Old Lady owed those three points against La Viola to Higuain’s deadly finishing.
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A message for Gonzalo Higuain’s critics, from the man himself 👊 https://t.co/uLAX43cqPO2016-8-22 08:23:50
Yet looking beyond the seemingly inevitable sixth consecutive league title upon which the Turin giants are now firmly focussed, what else lies in store for supporters of Italy’s most successful club?
Attempting to identify the stars of the side in 2016/17 is almost as difficult as preventing Juventus from scoring goals; the team is filled with so many talented players that the task often proves impossible.
Obviously, Higuain underlined his own case for inclusion on such a list by writing the weekend’s headlines, but it must be noted that he began the game on the bench, while Paulo Dybala was always going to be in the starting XI.
.@PauDybala_JR's 2015/16 season: ⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️ #ForzaJuve #LaJoya https://t.co/XRBYwD8j1q2016-6-25 21:30:40
Like his fellow Argentine, the 22-year-old needs no introduction. He enjoyed a superb first year in Turin, weighing in with a 19-goal, nine-assist haul in Serie A and gaining vital UEFA Champions League experience.
He will certainly be looking to build upon that this term, and Massimiliano Allegri is in no doubt about just how good his young protege can become. "Dybala is an extraordinary player, and he can also get better," the Juve boss said at a recent press conference. "He will become one of the world's top three players."
There is also no shortage of big-name players at the opposite end of the field. Captain Gigi Buffon continues to repel both Serie A’s best strikers and Father Time with equal aplomb, playing superbly well despite his advancing years.
Last season saw him set a new league record of 973 minutes without conceding a goal, yet the skipper cannot take all the credit for that alone, with a stellar cast of defenders ahead of Buffon doing much to help him regularly keep clean sheets.
1 - G. Buffon has not conceded goals for 973 minutes, a new record in the Serie A history. Goalkeeper. #OptaBest11 https://t.co/GdF8hLn4A42016-5-19 08:29:37
Playing in between that star-studded attack and the brilliant Juve back line are some high-class midfielders, with Miralem Pjanic perhaps set to play a major role this term after his move from AS Roma.
The Bosnia and Herzegovina international brings some much-needed creativity to Allegri’s squad, while his versatility should allow the coach to vary his formation and tactics to suit any opponent.
Like Dybala, he may occasionally be overshadowed by others alongside him, but there is little doubt that Leonardo Bonucci now ranks among the best central defenders in the world.
His ability was clearly on show at UEFA Euro 2016, where the Italy international controlled the back line, delivered great passes—including a sublime assist for Emanuele Giaccherini against Belgium—and even scored a penalty past Manuel Neuer in the loss to Germany.
Yet that was merely a continuation of the form he has shown for Juventus over the last two years, maturing into a wonderful player as fans looked on in awe of his ability on the ball and physicality without it.
According to La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Football Italia), Bonucci turned down Manchester City this summer, and Juventus should be extremely thankful he did. His importance to their side is almost unparalleled.
If the footballing world is suddenly aware of what Bonucci is capable of, then perhaps it is also about to be given a timely reminder of what Kwadwo Asamoah is truly able to do when fully healthy.
With Paul Pogba back at Manchester United and Claudio Marchisio out injured, the former Udinese man may get extended opportunities to deliver this term, and he certainly capitalised upon them on Saturday against Fiorentina.
Heavily involved in both Bianconeri goals, Asamoah recorded two tackles, two completed dribbles and completed 90.7 percent of his passes, according to WhoScored.com, subsequently named Man of the Match:
A richly deserved accolade. Congratulations to our first man of the match this term, @Asabob20. 👏👏💪💪 #JuveFiorentina https://t.co/VQ13KbA9TV2016-8-21 21:52:45
Alongside him was Mario Lemina, another who could enjoy a breakout season in 2016/17 thanks to an increase in playing time. Juve’s decision to buy him outright this summer from Olympique Marseille has not stopped his efforts to improve, as he explained in an interview with JTV (via the club’s official website):
Honestly there is plenty for me to improve on, both defensively and going forward. Equally I’m still young so I’m hungry to gain more top level experience and hone my mental game at the same time. To do both these things I’ll need to focus on getting as much game time as I can and staying injury-free for as long as possible.
Strong, determined and with superb technical ability, Lemina has all the tools to do just that and is certainly a player whom fans should pay close attention to over the coming weeks and months.
The flip side to having so many excellent or potentially excellent players in the squad is that one or two could disappoint, something that Juventus have been all too accustomed to seeing in recent seasons.
In selling Roberto Pereyra to Watford and Mauricio Isla to Serie A new boys Cagliari, the Bianconeri have rid themselves of two such players, but spotting the potential for more is extremely difficult.
Perhaps the biggest potential for further disappointment lies with Allegri’s ability to balance his array of choices at full-back. Both Stephan Lichtsteiner and Patrice Evra have been excellent, while Brazilian duo Alex Sandro and Dani Alves approach this campaign at opposing ends of their respective careers.
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GOAL Kalinic!! Juventus 1-1 Fiorentina https://t.co/tB0vMtxP1s2016-8-20 20:15:57
Evra made a few costly mistakes towards the end of last season, while Sandro was clearly at fault for Nikola Kalinic’s goal on Saturday, as seen above. Cristian Tello had already outpaced him to win a corner for La Viola, but the defender then compounded that error with a poor marking job on the subsequent set piece.
Getting the balance between these four men right will be no easy task, but it is one Allegri must handle correctly if Juve are to enjoy success in 2016/17.