It has been a little over four months since Andrea Agnelli made the surprise decision to hire Andrea Pirlo and, as expected, Juventus along with their coach have encountered difficulties.
Many still call into question the club’s decision to task a novice tactician with steering one of the world’s biggest clubs through a period of transition and whilst a valid query, many more experienced coaches would have experienced the same issues. Context is paramount when discussing the Italian champions current situation.
Preparation time is pivotal, of which there was and still is little. Work on the grass has been severely hampered by the congested fixture schedule and attempting to integrate a number of new players into a different environment, whilst implementing a modern playing style is arguably as difficult as it gets for any coach, never mind Pirlo taking his first steps into management.
With these factors considered, it would have been easy for Pirlo to continue with what had gone before him just as Maurizio Sarri had done. The former Chelsea boss was expected to change the Bianconeri by delivering a fresh, fluid brand of football.
Instead, Sarri resorted to following a similar method to the man that preceded him. Functional football and a reliance on individuals to win games, ultimately delivering a trophy.
The Italian World Cup winner chose to follow his own path. Much was made of Pirlo’s thesis and it was evident early on he was keen for his ideas to become a reality on the pitch.
Andrea is pro-active, he wants to take the game to his opponent. It’s brave and not without risks, requiring buy-in from players that have become accustomed to winning in a particular way. Changing their mentality is a hurdle that remains at times, unconquered.
Juve are not used to imposing themselves, this is not the way they conduct their business, but it is the direction the club wants to move in and stumbling is an inevitable part of the process for everyone involved.
In the first few weeks, Pirlo was guilty of being over ambitious in his team selections. It appeared he was attempting to get as many of his best attackers on the pitch as possible. It was unbalanced, left holes in their shape and Juve lacked cohesion going forward. Results and performances were in-different but it should be noted how quickly his team had adapted to playing a hybrid system.
The Old Lady had some notable absentees at that time, namely Matthijs de Ligt and Cristiano Ronaldo. It came as no surprise that the return of those two along with others coincided with Juve showing signs of improvement.
Although the aforementioned pair make a substantial difference, Pirlo was naturally learning and growing with each week.
The former midfielder has tweaked aspects of his XI. Now regularly using a third midfield player ahead of his double pivot instead of an attacker brings balance and aids the team in linking play through the thirds.
In wide areas players such as Juan Cuadrado and Alex Sandro offer better positional discipline both offensively and defensively. The team are more stable as a result of these changes, tougher to beat out of possession and sharper in it.
In the last month performances have vastly improved and results were following suit, the recent display against Fiorentina was a spoiler. A defeat which is compounded by dropping points in earlier rounds. Despite what happened against La Viola it should not detract from the positive steps both Pirlo and Juve have made.
In 90 minutes we saw the story of Juve’s season so far and within it all the problems that the players and Pirlo will face going forward, but importantly that they have the potential to overcome them.
That illustrious 10th consecutive Scudetto currently feels distant for the Turin giants, but if the last few years have taught us anything it is that you can never rule Juve out. La Vecchia Signora have won a plethora of trophies over the last decade, winning on that scale is unprecedented and should never be taken for granted or with the assumption that it can be simply maintained.
With Pirlo’s arrival began a rejuvenation process. The Bianconeri’s management committed to the remodelling they had openly spoken of before.
It remains to be seen if further squad investment will be made in January but what is certain is that now this commitment has been made, it has to be believed in with or without trophies in the upcoming year.