It was interesting to hear former Juventus coach Max Allegri’s comments concerning the obsessive nature with tactics in his native country. Allegri gave an extremely frank interview in which he eschewed the basic ideas of tactics and footballing philosophies. For him, you simply get your best players in their finest physical and mental condition, and put them out on to the field to win. Nothing more, nothing less.
Whilst Allegri’s view is the antithesis to what Maurizio Sarri believes in, it could do the latter no harm to take some stock in what the former is saying: Using your best players usually leads to winning football matches.
Sarri has been exceedingly hesitant to do just that. Whilst Allegri famously shoehorned the cinque stelle (five stars) of Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain, Mario Mandzukic, Juan Cuadrado and Miralem Pjanic into the starting XI midway through the 2016-17 season as they reached the Champions League final, Sarri hasn’t followed suit. Until this week.
Every time the question of whether Cristiano Ronaldo, Higuain and Dybala could all play together was put to him, Sarri was quick to shoot down the idea, stating they Juve would lose balance.
Sarri has generally picked two of the three, with either Aaron Ramsey or Federico Bernardeschi playing in behind as a No 10. Ramsey has struggled with injuries throughout the season, and has only made five starts, whilst Bernardeschi, try as he might, doesn’t know how best to interpret the role of a trequartista, and looks lost the majority of the time.
As Gigi Buffon noted in the build up to the Italian Super Cup this week, the Bianconeri were winning games by sheer force of will, relying on that combination of knowing how to win ugly and the psychological fear that their name still generates in Serie A.
Juve were struggling to break teams down, despite the huge amount of attacking resources at their disposal. Furthermore, the ‘balance’ Sarri repeatedly used as an excuse not to play Dybala, Higuain and Ronaldo together was barely visible; Juve have only the joint third best defence in the league, with 17 goals conceded. That’s nine more than at this stage last season.
The turning point came in the 3-1 defeat to Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico. Ronaldo and Dybala started with Bernardeschi in behind and whilst Juve completed 200 more passes than their opponents, they weren’t threatening.
All of the possession was in front of the Biancocelesti, easily marshalled and Juve pandered, passing the ball from one side of the pitch to the other. Essentially, what frustrated Chelsea fans in the early days.
Since then, it does seem like Sarri has given in to the Allegri methodology. Juve started the trio together for the first time against Udinese, and whilst admittedly the Zebrette were Serie D levels of pitiful in the first half, Ronaldo, Higuain and Dybala linked up wonderfully.
Against Sampdoria on Wednesday, Sarri kept faith in the trio and was rewarded with two stunning goals from Dybala and Ronaldo, with the latter showing almost inhuman levels of agility to hang in the air and wait for Alex Sandro’s cross.
There is a feeling that the three players all want to play together from the start, Dybala said as much in the aftermath of their 2-0 win against Bayer Leverkusen in the final group game of the Champions League.
Yet it’s one thing to start the trio against Udinese and Samp, it’s quite another to do it in a Champions League quarter final or in the inevitable title decider against Inter next March.
With that being said, it is early days, but if Sarri continues to utilise Dybala, Ronaldo and Higuain from the start and the results remain, why change a good thing? Allegri certainly wouldn’t.