Often when one frequents a football match at the stadium, watches it on television, or even writes about it, the process is similar. Normally the research is done, the enthusiasm is plentiful and the conclusions of win, lose or draw are considered.
This game sees a Juventus team in the earliest throes of a revolution against a Napoli team who are now being refined like wine. This article could have been written 8-10 times and could bring up just as many conclusions, it is that hard to judge. Its outcome, and even more so what it means, is even harder to read.
Rinus Michels, Arrigo Sacchi, Pep Guardiola and Maurizio Sarri, this is the list of the most influential Coaches in recent history, according to the self-proclaiming Sacchi. For one, this seems absurd, the argument against is easy, trophies. Look at the 13 of Michels, the ridiculous success with Sacchi at Milan and well, Pep is just warming up.
Sacchi would tell you that it’s not about trophies, this list is about changing the face of football, but personally, that’s disagreeable. Strategists with style are only appealing if they bring results. Look at Arsene Wenger as a prime example, simply compare his first 10 years at Arsenal to his last 10.
The reason this is important in the context of Juventus and Napoli, is that this early season showdown could have crucial connotations when it comes to deciding the campaign. To answer the comments that will inevitably appear below this piece, yes, it’s the second game of the season, but the explanation is thus. Juventus are breaking the mould, that’s a fact. Gone is the classy, well drilled tactician that was Max Allegri. The man who simply knew how to win. He will go down in history as one of the greatest ‘Old Lady’ Coaches and the tag is well deserved.
Andrea Agnelli is no coward. He has broken with tradition in the hopes of making Juventus a superpower. He has displeased many traditionalists with the kit, the badge and the direction. However, if he can make it work with Sarri, the result could be mind-blowing, if it fails it could be a car crash. The measure of Agnelli will be, if he can stick by his beliefs if it starts to fail, and there is no bigger test arguably than Napoli tonight.
Sarri in truth has been ill and it has detracted from their progress. The first game against Parma was a Juventus of old that showed signs of expansive football. This was a very telling game, as it has the hallmarks of old Juve success. Remember when Allegri arrived in Turin? He kept Antonio Conte’s winning formula until they lost to Genoa, after this he introduced his Christmas tree formation, but he never abandoned his predecessors’ blueprint. Juventus just had two ways to win.
Can Sarri do the same? Arguably he could, as playing these first rounds of the campaign need some sort of stability. You can’t build Rome in a day, to cite an over-used quote, and Sarri will know that. Juventus have a fairly old team which makes it even more ambitious to teach old dogs new tricks, but if Sarri can keep the old style as an option, he may be able to integrate throughout the season.
Napoli on the other hand are an example of ‘Sarri-refined’. Carlo Ancelotti has looked at a team that has all the expansive football it could need, but hasn’t had the killer instinct or winning mentality. Ironically, they are trying to be ‘less Sarri’ and more Allegri, trying to add steel to their cavalier approach. They need to prove that they can go to Turin and deal Juventus a heavy blow, setting the standard for the season and more importantly, giving Juventus doubts.
Don’t forget about Inter as well, they will pay special interest in this game, as one of the main title rivals will drop points. There is a lot riding on this fixture, and whilst it is early, it will still do much to set the pace this campaign. Sacchi may argue that Sarri is a trailblazer and you cannot hate his brand of football, but Juventus would be wary of forgetting one thing. "Winning isn't important, it's the only thing that matters."