It’s time for Juventus to step up. December promises to be a key month not only for the Scudetto race, but also for the Bianconeri’s European hopes, as the next few games can define their whole season.
A longjourneyto league leaders Napoli, a crucial clash with a Champions League qualification at stake against Olympiakos and a mouth-watering Derby d’Italia against Luciano Spalletti’s high-flying Inter at the Allianz Juventus Stadium. That’s how Juve’s schedule for the first week of December looks and Massimiliano Allegri cannot afford any wrong steps due to his side’s shaky start tothe season.
Mad Max has arguably been the main reason for Juve’s inconsistency, as he’s been playing with the starting line-up and until recently was refusing to play regularly most of his new signings. A clear example is Douglas Costa, as despite his obvious impact every time he enters the field, the ex-Bayern Munich man has just begunto earn some significant playing time in recent weeks.
The emergence of Costa should limit Mario Mandzukic’s playing time on the left, as the so-called ‘mad idea’ of playing the big Croat there has handicapped Juve’s attacking potency in some games recently, despite the effort and the dedication that Super Mario always puts in. Mandzukic should now return to his better-suited roleand be mainly played as a centre-forward rotation option for Gonzalo Higuain, who looked exhausted at the end of last season.
The situation with Blaise Matuidi and Federico Bernardeschi is similar to Douglas Costa, as (putting his horror showing against Sampdoria aside) Bernardeschi has always had a positive impact even with very limited playing time. The 23-year-old can be a valuable option not only on the right wing, but also as a back-up for Paulo Dybala, who similarly to Higuain ran out of steam towards the end of the previous campaign. On the other hand, Matuidi already proves to be the aggressive physical midfielder that Juve lacked last term, but both heand Bernardeschi are yet to earn Allegri’s trust and a more constant presence in the starting XI.
Having the likes of Sami Khedira and Stephan Lichtsteiner as regular starters week,in week out doesn’t seem to be doing any good to Juve’s performances either, especially in games against more prestigious sides. And while Khedira can still be a valuable squad member, the soon-to-be 34-year-old right-backis already well past his prime. With his contract set to expire at the end of the season, plusMattia De Sciglio’s and Benedikt Howedes’ returning to fitness, the once mighty Swiss Express should be singing his swan song in a Juventus jersey very shortly.
De Sciglio and Howedes looked good against Crotone. While the Sharks are far less formidable than Juve’s next opponents, the new duo’s performances are undoubtedly a promising sign that should earn them more playing time in the next few games.
The same applies for the rest of the new Bianconeri signings, as they are not only capable of helping overcome the next few obstacles, but playing them more regularly would allow Allegri to keep his old soldiers fresh when the end of the season approaches. With what seems to be the tightest Scudetto race in recent years and a clear goal of reaching the latter stages of the Champions League, Juventus and Allegri should be smart enough and show that they learned their lesson.
Allegri is well-known for his cautious approach when it comes to easing new signings in to the squad, as he did a remarkable job with the likes of Dybala, Alvaro Morata and even Higuain. However, Juve’s tight schedule and early-season struggles might actually do them a favour, as they will force Mad Max to load up his new guns probably earlier than he would’ve liked. After all, what’s the point of a soldier having an AK47 if he’s keeping it in the closet?