The Maurizio Sarri era was always meant to have a transition period. For a club that has been into playing a more pragmatic brand of football over the previous decade, changing into another extreme was always going to take time. As things stand, it certainly is taking longer than expected for Sarri to get this Juventus side to play how he wants them to.
Even though there was always a general acceptance from fans about the need to give the Neapolitan some breathing room, things have been frustrating. The recent defeat to Lyon was a key indication that instead of moving forward, Sarri’s men often look like Massimiliano Allegri’s Juve. It isn’t just the Lyon performance that confirmed it. It has been the story of the season and it has been letting them down consistently.
It is often like a ride back to last season when the Old Lady were drab in circulation from midfield. It was sluggish and there was too much emphasis on wing-play, not realising how a flair player like Paulo Dybala thrives on freedom. The outball to Cristiano Ronaldo would more or less work, getting the team goals on a regular basis. But Allegri’s Bianconeri were exposed in the Champions League against Ajax - a much more dynamic outfit under Erik ten Hag.
The Lyon defeat was similar. Rudi Garcia might be a familiar foe to Juve, but his team was much more dynamic than Sarri’s. Houssem Aouar - who can easily be in Turin next season, ran the show from attacking midfield. Juve were left to keep passing the ball around with very limited movement and a desolate hope that something might be conjured up. But just like against Ajax, nothing magically appeared. To many, it was hardly a surprise.
Bar a little period around the turn of the year, that is how Juventus have been. They’re lacking the cohesion on the ball that opens up the opposition. Sarri’s system doesn’t just rely on intelligent passing, but there is also a need to smart movement off the ball from the third potential ball receiver. Both aspects are equally crucial to unlocking defences, something that has hardly happened against multiple lesser sides.
They’ve scraped through wins against Verona, Brescia, Sampdoria, Genoa, SPAL and Bologna. A Kalidou Koulibaly own goal gave them a win against Napoli. A late Dybala winner got them three points against Milan. A dependency on individual performances from the likes of Ronaldo, Dybala and even Juan Cuadrado has been mirrored by the side creating an xG of only 47.16. That is less than Atalanta, Roma and Lazio. The overperformance of 0.87 only shows that their situation is very much deserved.
Sarri has had to change his shape to a 4-3-1-2 instead of using his traditional 4-3-3. That has increased the adaptation time period. The issues in midfield have gone up a notch because Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey have been in and out of the side. Blaise Matuidi has been struggling because of a lack of technical quality, leaving Sarri to miss Rabiot and Ramsey more than he should ideally.
But that, in itself, shows where Juventus have gone wrong. If Fabio Paratici knew about the style that Sarri would bring to the table, the summer transfer business should have matched his approach. But it didn’t. Ramsey and Rabiot were signed on free transfer deals but it was unlike how a club like Liverpool would do business. Ramsey has had infinite fitness issues in the past, while Rabiot hadn’t played first-team football in the whole of the second-half of the 2018-19 season. A top club like Juventus isn’t meant to recruit without too much background research.
Dybala, who has been a saviour on multiple occasions, was being pushed out despite having the supreme technical ability that Sarri’s system thrives on. In a parallel universe, he could have been at Tottenham or Manchester United today. The club was looking to sell multiple players to get enough money to sign Mauro Icardi. That too resulted in failure, as the Argentine joined Rabiot’s former club on loan.
With Miralem Pjanic struggling in recent games and Federico Bernardeschi yet to contribute to a single Serie A goal, Paratici and Pavel Nedved should know that they have failed Sarri in many ways. The transfer policy in the summer was aimed at making capital gains instead of supporting a manager who was meant to ride a transition. But they thought otherwise. The results of that left Sarri to talk about how he can’t get ‘Juventus to understand’ his methods when the blame lies elsewhere.
This is the same club that takes pride in going after Pep Guardiola. As glamorous as it might sound, Paratici and co have shown nothing to prove that they can back a manager who plays like Juventus have never played before. Sarri has fallen victim to that. The people running the club should realise it and correct themselves in the summer instead of changing the manager.