A result shouldn’t change a season, but Juventus’ victory over reigning European champion Chelsea on Wednesday was far more important than just three points in the Champions League group. The 1-0 win was all about re-affirming Juventus, recovering some balance and finally offering some hope that his second stint under Max Allegri could be close to the success of his first.
Juve have nowhere near been close to their best recently. He took only two points from his first four Serie A games of the season and has since limped with a couple of unconvincing 3-2 wins. The simplistic explanation is to point out that Cristiano Ronaldo has left for Manchester United, and it is obviously true that his goals – 81 of them in three league seasons – have helped cover many cracks. But then, he was partly responsible for many of those cracks; or, to put it more generously, his signing for € 100 million in 2018 was part of a more general policy that undermined the supremacy Juve had previously enjoyed.
When Allegri left the club in 2019, Juve had won eight league titles in a row, five of which were under him. He had also won the Coppa Italia four times and led Juve to two Champions League finals. Juve were, very clearly, one of the best teams in the world at the time. The addition of Ronaldo and his goals at great expense in 2018 – after he helped Real Madrid knock Juve out of the Champions League in the quarter-finals earlier that year with a stunning overhead kick – should have ensured success. in Europe. Instead, Juve promptly exited the next Champions League in the quarter-finals at Ajax, at which point the club lost the plot.
Removing Allegri was essentially a recognition that Juve were bored with national successes. This is the superclub dilemma, being so big that national success means nothing. Juve, disconcerting, has appointed Maurizio Sarri as coach. He had been very critical of Juve when he was coach of Napoli and his style of football required the full buy-in of the players. There was no obvious place in his system for an individualistic forward like Ronaldo. Juve remained omnipotent in the national team and won Serie A, but this time the exit from the Champions League reached the round of 16, against Lyon.
So Allegri left and was replaced by Andrea Pirlo, legend of the club and excellent player, but without experience as a coach. Juve came out of the Champions League again in the round of 16, this time at Porto, but the most sensational proof of the decline came in Serie A, when they finished fourth, on which the club came to its senses, restored Allegri and became transferred from Ronaldo.
The difficult start to this season is a hangover from those last three years. What did Juve want? Introducing Ronaldo – which executives still insist as a glorious triumph in terms of raising the club’s profile, a claim which, if true, essentially means that transfers and stardom are now more important in football than actually winning trophies – was a move that suggested an intention to replicate Real Madrid’s successful model of having great players who have won moments (although it is questionable how this is possible without a midfield offering control of Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos ). But Sarri’s appointment suggested a desire for a modern and integrated team-oriented approach. It couldn’t work. Ronaldo’s signing stifled the team’s tactical development.
The season following Ronaldo’s arrival, Juve’s net spending was € 20.5 million. Last summer it was € 30.7 million. This summer it was 500,000 euros. By superclub standards, even taking COVID-19 into account, these are miniscule sums and a lot of what has been spent is on loan fees, not even on purchases. The signing of Ronaldo stifled the economic development of the team.
There are many excellent players at Juventus. But the problem is, they haven’t been bought according to a plan and the past two seasons have been marked by tactical confusion. It is debatable whether Allegri is the right man to make up for it – before leaving there was the feeling that he was a bit reactive in his approach, that he did not follow the proactivity that dominates the modern game – but whoever is in charge will need time to sort out the mess.
In Wednesday’s recovery, there were signs of what it aims to achieve. With Chelsea playing on a trial basis, as they have been for a few weeks (and without the services of N’Golo Kanté), Juve looked explosively quick and won the game 10 seconds from the start with a goal of one. of his brightest young talents, Federico Chiesa.
This does not mean that everything has suddenly settled down, that Juventus is back to being truly among the best, but at least Allegri knows what a functional Juve looks like now.
More football coverage: