The Serie A landscape is changing. Though Juventus remain Scudetto favourites, there is a genuine threat to the Old Lady’s uninterrupted six-year reign at the top, and the ambitious challengers who ran them close last year, notably Napoli, will firmly believe they can end the dominance of Italy’s most successful side.
The gap between Juventus and the chasing pack is undoubtedly shrinking, and the champions have played their part in reducing their own advantage. This time last year, there was collective shock as general manager Beppe Marotta sensationally activated the release clause of Gonzalo Higuain, a move which left the Partenopei helpless, and Roma felt equally aggrieved when the Bianconeri successfully came knocking for midfielder Miralem Pjanic.
Fast forward a summer and Max Allegri’s side have experienced a taste of their own medicine. With the rumour mill in full flow, even the most optimistic Milan supporter would not have believed Juventus would strengthen a rival, while weakening themselves in the process. In Leonardo Bonucci, Vincenzo Montella has acquired arguably the best defender in Europe. The Italian also proved an asset at the other end of the field, chipping in with some invaluable goals and assists, and was the brains to Giorgio Chiellini’s brawn. The pair complemented each other wonderfully and his loss cannot be ignored.
The glaring hole left by the technically gifted defender must be occupied. Despite the fact Juve respectfully allowed Bonucci to depart, the club should be adding, not replacing a player of such calibre.
Chiellini is a warrior, but his performance level noticeably dropped in the previous term. Along with veteran Andrea Barzagli, he is the wrong side of 30 and Medhi Benatia has also recently reached that milestone. In the meantime, Daniele Rugani will hope to take advantage of the opening and stake a claim in World Cup year.
Juventus need an experienced, but not aging, figure who can slot in seamlessly and has ideally featured regularly in Europe’s elite competition. Now it’s over to Marotta to work his magic again.
Further forward, the impending capture of Blaise Matuidi will offer something different to the midfield. The Frenchman has boundless energy and is a sound investment to a squad challenging on three fronts, but won’t solve a problem area which was dramatically exposed in Cardiff against Real Madrid. Sami Khedira and Pjanic were comprehensively out-run and should never have been in a position of facing three men in Los Blancos’ midfield.
As things stand, the Bianconeri don’t just need a recognised centre-half, but also an orthodox holding midfielder. It’s a role that can be covered temporarily, but not permanently. Look at the impact Casemiro has had on Toni Kroos and Luka Modric. Particularly the German, who played within himself during the beginning of his Madrid career, as the anchor in front of the back four. Now Kroos has the licence to showcase his phenomenal passing range and play his natural game.
While Juventus may not appear their usual imperious self, they still have time to make an assault on the market. If they can secure two top level reinforcements, this will give everyone at the club a lift and should ensure they are equipped for the long season ahead.