Juventus jetted off from Milan’s Malpensa Airport on Sunday evening to embark on another leg of their pre-season preparations. Whilst it will take in thousands of air miles, President Andrea Agnelli recognised the importance of the Asian tour, reportedly telling the squad: “I know it will be a challenging tour, but do yourself proud and make the most of it.” His outlook would lean more towards the off-field benefits, but as far as the new season is concerned, it will be a significant fortnight.
Massimiliano Allegri took with him a 28-man squad, only missing Andrea Barzagli and Alvaro Morata through injury. The presence of Arturo Vidal – still the subject of constant speculation surrounding a move to Manchester United – on the plane was reassuring for Bianconeri supporters. While you can never say never on the transfer front, as each day passes the likelihood of a switch decreases.
Adding to that was Giuseppe Marotta’s referring to the: “timing issues to fulfil such a [transfer] request.” For Allegri and the club, the Chilean is a required and fundamental player. He didn’t feature against Cesena last week and so the tour represents a chance to shake off the knee injury which hampered his World Cup.
Another interesting aspect of the squad announcement was the names of Patrice Evra and Luca Marrone. The new French arrival was listed as a midfielder, an indication Allegri is sticking to the wing-back system. The Coach confirmed on Tuesday he will go with it for now and try alternatives later.
The inclusion of Marrone as a defender also offers a glimpse into his future. Naturally a central midfielder, he became the vice-Leonardo Bonucci in 2012. The 24-year-old proved an able replacement when required, but reverted to midfield at Sassuolo last term. His inclusion in a Juventus backline would be better suited to a three-man defence and this could be Marrone’s avenue into the squad this season.
Juve visit three countries on the tour, commencing with today’s contest against an Indonesia select side in Jakarta – where they were welcomed by fanatical locals in some breathtaking scenes. From the Indonesian capital the Bianconeri fly to Sydney and will meet old friend Alessandro Del Piero. He leads an A-League All Star team on Sunday for a first ever clash against his beloved Old Lady.
“It will be a special game, not only for me but for the Australian Federation and all the players,” Del Piero said. “It will certainly be exciting to come face to face with my old team. I do not know what will happen, because it will be a unique situation.” Finally, the Turin giants square-off against a Singapore select team on August 16. It represents the crux of their remaining preparations, with only the ‘family game’ at Villar Perosa and the TIM Trophy – against Milan and Sassuolo – to follow before facing Chievo in the Serie A opener.
Allegri knows this time is valuable. His coaching career to date has been punctuated by slow starts and it’s something he’ll hope to avoid given the early backlash to his appointment. Only once has his team picked up more than seven points in the opening four games and his Milan record was particularly poor. In Allegri’s first Milan season they won just once in that timeframe, in 2011-12 it was one win in five. A season later they lost five times in the opening eight rounds. And by the time he was sacked this past January, Milan had only claimed five wins in 19 outings.
The tour is where the Scudetto-winning Coach will learn about his squad in greater detail. From how training routines are put into practice to off-field preparation, recovery and team bonding, as well as the physical and mental conditioning that comes with quick-fire matches and travel. “We’re training to improve our physical condition. All friendlies are important and tomorrow will be a good workout for us,” he said yesterday. It’s also a first chance to look at new signings such as Evra and Romulo, while Roberto Pereyra and Kingsley Coman have another opportunity to make an early impression.
For the club the journey is a chance to foster relationships in a booming region, while Allegri and his players know that Asia offers critical grounding for Verona and the year ahead.