Already the team to beat, a busy summer has further reinforced a formidable Juventus squad, writes Luca Cetta.
A scan of the signings made by Juventus this summer tells the story. Listen to the players and Coach Massimiliano Allegri and they will say the same thing. The Bianconeri want to win the Champions League. They want Europe’s holy grail, more than two decades after last securing the trophy.
While chasing Ol’ Big Ears, Juventus are also after a piece of calcio history. Never before has a club won six successive Scudetti. Having strengthened an already dominant squad, the Old Lady is in pole position to etch her name into the history books.
The Bianconeri have reaped rewards from a busy summer. The list of arrivals is imposing: Miralem Pjanic, Dani Alves, Mehdi Benatia, Marko Pjaca and Gonzalo Higuain. Juve addressed the areas of need within the squad.
The miserly BBC defensive bloc, consisting of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, has further back-up. Stephan Lichtsteiner gets a partner-in-crime. Pjanic adds a touch of class to midfield, Pjaca unbridled enthusiasm in attack. Most shocking of all was the €90m arrival of Higuain from Napoli. The Turin giants met his release clause, leaving the Neapolitans powerless to stop the move. He aims to repeat his frighteningly brilliant 36-goal final Stadio San Paolo campaign.
But there were gaps to plug. The long-running Paul Pogba saga saw the midfielder re-join Manchester United for a €105m world record fee after four successful seasons in Turin. Alvaro Morata is another to return to his former club Real Madrid. Juventus hope Pjaca can provide the spark Juan Cuadrado offered from out wide, with the Colombian now back at Chelsea. There’s also Claudio Marchisio’s injury to consider, with the key midfielder not expected to recover from knee surgery until November. That puts pressure on Pjanic to settle quickly. How the midfield performs until Marchisio’s return will be important for Juve.
Yet there’s little doubt Juventus remain the team to beat. Recovering from an awful start last season, they won 24 of the next 25 matches to storm to the Scudetto. They also retained the Coppa Italia. Now the Bianconeri have signed a lynchpin from both Napoli and Roma. It adds to a level of squad depth unrivalled in Serie A.
Led by the infallible Gianluigi Buffon and his brick-wall defence, Juve will be expecting the likes of Alex Sandro and Paulo Dybala to build on impressive debut campaigns. Sami Khedira, Patrice Evra and Mario Mandzukic will also have important roles to play. Such an embarrassment of riches adds to the expectation in Turin that the gap is unassailable. Fans responded by snapping up a record 29,300 Juventus Stadium season tickets.
Allegri is happier with current pre-season preparations than 12 months ago, where he felt the squad reshuffle and early season schedule hampered the team. He is not expecting any such hiccups in 2016-17, as Juventus seek to add to their half-decade of dominance.
European glory is a target, but would anybody bet against the Bianconeri rewriting Serie A history too?
Like Antonio Conte, Allegri is chasing a hat-trick of Scudetti. He has not endured the turmoil of last summer and leads a squad which continues to strengthen. Adaptable in his tactics and personable in approach, Allegri can sense a piece of history is in his – and Juve’s – grasp.
Players come and go, but Buffon is a constant. The foundation on which this Juventus team is built, the captain remains an integral figure between the posts. Buffon continues to amaze and at the age of 38 shows little sign of slowing down. His saves equal important points gained.
The Old Lady wasn’t exactly in need of a heart transplant, but with one fell swoop the signing of Pjanic transported the beating centre of Roma’s midfield to Turin. Juventus is grateful for it, with the Bosnian adding vision, creativity and perhaps above all dead-ball expertise to one of Serie A’s most dominant midfields.
The talented young defender is an Azzurrini mainstay and reportedly a player Giampiero Ventura is looking to promote within the next 12 months. Rugani was a reserve for Italy’s Euro 2016 squad and, just as at club level, he is able to replace any one of the BBC defenders long-term with the Nazionale.
It’s hard to pick fault with Juve’s transfer campaign. But with Claudio Marchisio on the road to recovery from a knee operation, the Bianconeri could well have utilised another body in midfield to shoulder the burden. They were after veteran Mascherano, but the Argentine decided to stay with Barcelona.
Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; DANI ALVES, Khedira, PJANIC, Marchisio, Evra; Dybala, HIGUAIN