Shaky at the back, toothless in attack – is this the end of Juventus' Serie A dominance?
It's seemed as if Chelsea’s crown has slipped a little further with every passing game this season, the Premier League champions’ fall from grace appearing to have no end in sight. Jose Mourinho has blamed anything and everything - from the team’s medical staff and underperforming players to the Football Association and Arsene Wenger - yet nothing appears able to part the storm clouds that have gathered over Stamford Bridge.
To see the Blues in disarray so soon after last season’s dominance is as unfathomable as it is shocking, but perhaps the most remarkable fact about this unforeseen slump is they are not the only European heavyweight struggling to remain competitive in 2015/16. Indeed, just as the English champions have endured a tough start to the current campaign, their Italian counterparts, Juventus, have likewise dropped points at a substantial rate.
The Bianconeri have already tasted defeat as many times in Serie A as in the whole of last season, and face a hugely significant week with both Milan and Manchester City due to visit Turin in the next seven days. It is a period that could define their season.
Exits and injuries
Pogba, meanwhile, has struggled to live up to his vast potential
Most obviously, the reason Juventus are not as good this term as they were in 2014/15 is the exodus of top-level talent in the summer. Andrea Pirlo decided it was time to make the move to MLS with New York City FC, while a lucrative offer from Bayern Munich saw Arturo Vidal’s wish to move on quickly granted.
Juventus appeared to have covered those departures by bringing in the likes of Sami Khedira, but Carlos Tevez has proven much harder to replace, with his departure robbing Max Allegri’s squad of their one genuine match-winner. Having netted 50 goals in just 95 games for the Italians, the striker has already won the Argentinean league with boyhood side Boca Juniors; his return home may ultimately be the factor that prevents the Bianconeri from lifting a fifth straight title of their own.
The aforementioned acquisition of World Cup winner Sami Khedira and the continued development of Paul Pogba meant that the team should have been able to withstand the exits of Vidal and Pirlo. That, though, has not been the case.
When fit, the German has shown himself to be a superb player who adds so much to the Juventus side. While the Old Lady have not yet lost with Khedira on the pitch, however, the midfielder has struggled with a series of niggling injuries and played in only eight of the club’s sixteen fixtures to date.
Claudio Marchisio has similarly battled ill health, with the inability to field both men costing the Bianconeri vital points already this term.
Pogba, meanwhile, has struggled to live up to his vast potential. Having asked to remain at the club in the close-season, the France international took over the prestigious No.10 shirt vacated by Tevez as a way of acknowledging the extra responsibility he would now be expected to shoulder. Things have not really worked out as planned, though, with his inability to perform in the absence of his experienced running mates proving hugely detrimental to results.
Every decision Allegri made last year seemed to pay off, but that has patently not been the case this time around. It began with his puzzling use of Simone Padoin in the centre of midfield for the first two games of the season: the limited veteran was caught out repeatedly as his lack of technical ability was cruelly exposed by Udinese and Roma.
The former Milan boss has continued to make other errors as the campaign progressed. Although his use of Alvaro Morata on the left flank has aided the side defensively – most notably in last month’s Turin derby – it has also curtailed the Spaniard’s goalscoring prowess.
“This season has been a little more complicated for us," the former Real Madrid man admitted to El Larguero recently. “I’ve struggled with injuries, and I’ve not been playing in my ideal role either.”
Defensive disarray, attacking incohesion
Previously the foundation upon which their success was built, the Juve defence has been a shadow of its former self in the last three months
Previously the foundation upon which their success was built, the Juve defence has been a shadow of its former self in the last three months, leaking goals at an alarming rate and prone to making uncharacteristic individual errors. Gigi Buffon has continued to pull off incredible saves on a regular basis, but the club captain could do little when Andrea Barzagli lost his man to allow Frosinone to equalise and earn their first ever Serie A point in September.
It was a similar story as Giorgio Chiellini inexplicably got himself sent off against Sassuolo, returning to the side only to hand Borussia Monchengladbach a goal just seven days later. Leonardo Bonucci has not been as impressive as usual either, ensuring this once impenetrable backline has become a lot easier to play against.
Juve concede to Borussia Monchengladbach
To compound matters futher, the loss of Tevez and the issue with Morata have seen Juventus lose all semblance of attacking chemistry, with the club’s new signings doing little to improve the situation. Mario Mandzukic and Simone Zaza arrived at a combined cost of €36 million but neither has looked consistently threatening, while Hernanes has been simply woeful since his deadline-day switch from Inter.
Paulo Dybala has been the one bright spot, with the ex-Palermo frontman already netting six goals for the Bianconeri. Allegri has yet to find a way to bring the best out of him, Morata and Juan Cuadrado simultaneously, however, a riddle that the 48-year-old must seek to solve urgently. Only with her attacking players working in unison can Italian football’s grand Old Lady hope to return to her throne.