Juventus will kick off yet another Serie A title campaign at home against Cagliari this Saturday. To be precise, their sixth title defence in succession. To most clubs, this would be seen as domestic domination and a sign of an inherently successful club. However, Juventus have finished as Champions League runners-up twice in the last three seasons, taking their runner-up tally to seven, the most for any club. Excuses can be made in their defence, coming up against arguably two of the best Barcelona and Real Madrid sides in history.
Yet, there is an argument to be made that dominance in Italy but defeat in Europe, is really just stagnation disguised as stability. Given that ‘golden periods’ in club histories don’t last forever, has Juventus’ chances of winning that evasive Champions League already passed?
In their last six title-winning years, Juventus have seemed to have had an ever-present core of their team, with only a few changes to the first team. A reason for the assumption is the fact that they have only had two managers in this time in Antonio Conte and Massimiliano Allegri. Their dominant and flexible 3-5-2 system has also been changed little over the years, following the theory of ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’.
However, there have actually been far more changes in that time than you would think. In fact, only five out of the 18 players which were in the Champions League Final squad of 2015 still remain at the club. It is easy to forget that players who became associated with the club, like Carlos Tevez and Andrea Pirlo, actually left the club.
Those who have left have been replaced, no matter how important they seemed to the team (ahemPaulPogba). This is thanks to Juventus’ superb transfer strategy, ignoring media hype around players, what comes first is signing the right player for the team and the system.
Whilst Chelsea have been spending all summer deciding whether to buy Danny Drinkwater for £40 million, Juventus have bought Blaise Matuidi this week for €18 million. Once again, Juventus have bought smart. The perfect long-term replacement for Claudio Marchisio, Matuidi shares the same traits as the Italian in that he is an energetic box-to-box midfielder, proven in both a title-winning PSG team and in the French national team. Importantly, Matuidi is also less injury prone than Marchisio, who has spent most of the last two seasons on the sidelines.
Here is my favourite part, this is a list of players who have been bought for more than Matuidi in recent years:
Andy Carroll to Liverpool – £35 million
Moussa Sissoko to Tottenham – £31 million
Marouane Fellaini to Manchester United – £29 million
Darren Bent to Tottenham – £22 million
Vincent Janssen to Tottenham – £19 million
Glen Johnson to Liverpool – £18.5 million
Didier Ndong to Sunderland – £18 million
Claudio Bravo to Manchester City – £17 million
Aleksandar Mitrovic to Newcastle – £16.65 million
Alberto Moreno to Liverpool -£16.2 million
Blaise Matuidi to Juventus – €18 million (£16 million)
Notice how they are all to the Premier League, funny that.
The players who are more difficult to replace are not those who leave, but simply those who age. Players such as Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Barzagli, 39 and 36 respectively, are still first team players partly through exceptional talent, but partly through the fact there is no one to replace them. If there is any doubt, one name proves this argument. Wojciech Szczesny.
This is where the start of the problem lies for Juventus. In defence, in particular, they have not strengthened or prepared for the season ahead, nor any seasons after. After losing Leonardo Bonucci to AC Milan, Allegri has reverted to a 4-2-3-1 in the preseason. In their most recent outing against Lazio in the Coppa Italia, they lost 3-2 using this system.
The new defensive signings of Mattia De Sciglio and Mehdi Benatia are decent players no doubt, however, not the players to replace key cogs such as Chiellini and Barzagli when they inevitably retire.
The notable signings which have been made have also created an overload of wingers. New recruit Federico Bernardeschi adds to the list which includes Juan Cuadrado, Moise Kean, Douglas Costa, Mario Mandzukic, Marko Pjaca and Kwando Asamoah.
After years of getting it right, Juventus have stumbled in the transfer market this year. The holes which are developing in defence have been papered over, and signings (as shrewd as they may be) have been made in the wrong places.
To reach that next level you would expect a superstar signing. Juventus’ talent of intelligent signings and managing to sign replacements like Matuidi for so cheap is admirable. However, there comes a point where this becomes an inherent problem, there is no marquee signing to take them to European success, no player which makes a statement of intent. Instead of being proactive, Juventus have again been simply reacting by signing replacements which will guarantee another season on only Serie A success.