A breath of fresh air. That’s how their Serie A opener against Sampdoria felt for those who support Juventus, as both fans and players desperately needed a change after the awkward reign of Maurizio Sarri.
From the very beginning of the game it almost seemed like the Bianconeri were just liberated after being held in a cage, as every single player in black and white was brimming with energy, desire and confidence. While those on the pitch performed to a very high level, much of the credit should be given to Andrea Pirlo, who made some bold choices.
Alex Sandro’s injury put Il Maestro in a tricky situation even before his coaching debut, but Pirlo’s decision to hand Gianluca Frabotta only his second Serie A appearance proved to be a brilliant one. It would’ve been much easier and safer for Andrea to go with Mattia De Sciglio instead, but this is exactly the kind of decision that Juventus expect from their new coach.
The 21-year-old Frabotta repaid the faith that Pirlo showed in him, producing three accurate crosses, won as many aerial duels and being a useful outlet on the left of Juve’s 3-4-1-2 formation throughout the game.
However, the surprises didn’t stop there as Aaron Ramsey, who according to several sources was not in Pirlo’s plans, started in a more advanced midfield role and was undoubtedly one of the best players on the pitch. The Welshman, who was often criticized and looked like a shadow of himself last term, was the creative force for the La Vecchia Signora, contributing with six key passes and an assist for Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal.
Weston McKennie was another surprising name in midfield, as the American was granted his debut and he fully grabbed the opportunity. The former Schalke 04 prospect was the engine of this new-look Juventus, as he won five ground duels, four tackles and covered a huge area of the field, while also completing 88% of his passes.
Speaking of debuts, it took only 13 minutes for Dejan Kulusevski to open his account for the Bianconeri and his partnership with Cristiano Ronaldo looks more than promising already. Just like his coach, the Swede seems as cool as a cucumber and he’s clearly enjoying the freedom that he’s been given.
“Andrea is very relaxed, he believes in his players and gives me a lot of faith, so it’s easy to play for him. He lets me play and we can have fun.” Those are Kulusevski’s words after the game and indeed they describe the nature of Juve’s 3-0 triumph against I Blucerchiati perfectly.
It’s really hard to remember the last time Juventus players enjoyed themselves so much on the pitch, as Sarri’s strict philosophy when it comes to short passing and repetitive movements obviously bored the players.
However, the Sampdoria game, as well as the friendly against Novara, suggest that Pirlo cannot be more different to his predecessor in that regard. From what we’ve seen so far, l’architetto is clearly not trying to force a strict tactical approach to his players, but instead is fielding the team based on their characteristics and this is already paying off.
Reverting to a three-man backline clearly gets the best out of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, who can potentially form a formidable trio with Matthijs De Ligt once the Dutchman recovers from his shoulder injury. Bonucci is once again allowed to play his trademark long balls, which was showcased by his eight successful attempts against Samp.
On the other hand, we clearly see the freedom that’s been given to the likes of Kulusevski and Ramsey, while Cuadrado is clearly much better suited for playing at wing-back instead of defence.
It will be very interesting to see how Pirlo will handle the return of Paulo Dybala and the long-awaited arrival of a new forward. However, from what we’ve seen so far he is not afraid to field his best players together and play to their strengths. Having La Joya back and a new striker can only help Pirlo’s cause, as then he’ll have a truly multi-dimensional team.
Considering that Il Maestro arguably ticked all boxes in his coaching debut, it would be really easy to overhype him, but that’s something that must be avoided at all costs. As impressive as Juventus were last night, it’s been only one game against a Sampdoria team that still looked in a pre-season mode.
We are yet to see how the new Juventus tactician will handle games against better opposition, will he be able to find a place for Dybala and many more questions remain unanswered. However, the early signs are more than promising and we can surely say that Andrea Pirlo’s coaching debut was close to perfect.
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