Ahead of our Champions League tie with Juventus on Tuesday night, we sat down with the editor-in-chief over at JuveFC.com, Rav Gopal, to get his views on the Old Lady’s season so far, players we need to keep an eye on and his thoughts ahead of the match.
Q: To kick things off, could you tell us a little about Juventus’ season so far and how the team is shaping up? Are you happy with things at the moment?
We’ve more or less hit the ground running coming off the back of a very tough but rewarding season where Roma chased us all the way to the finish line. The earlier games in the season seemed to suggest the new coach was going to stick with a tried and tested formula by persisting with a 3-5-2 formation in both the league and Europe.
As the season has gone on, it’s become all too apparent that we needed a plan B and thankfully we saw that in the game against Olympiakos where Allegri opted for a 4-3-1-2 which gave us more freedom and creativity up front. We’ve ground out some tough victories against the likes of Roma and Milan and after the change in tactics, there was the 7-0 demolition of Parma so all in all, things look to be shaping up nicely.
I think I speak for a lot of Juventini when i say the change in tactics has been the most positive development of the season to date, especially given how well it’s been implemented by Allegri and the team. The league looks set to be a straight contest between Juve and Roma so the hope is that the squad is rotated well enough to give us a chance in the Champions League as well, provided we qualify.
Q – We know Allegri wasn’t the most popular choice to replace Conte, but he seems to be getting the results still and is on course to qualify in Europe. What have you made of him so far?
I’ll be the first to admit, the announcement of Allegri as Juve coach left me feeling wholly underwhelmed; partly because of the manner of Conte’s exit so late into the pre-season but also because Maxs’ history as AC Milan coach.
Since his first press conference, it’s important to note, Allegri has taken everything in his stride and overcome every hurdle to date, winning over many Juventini (myself included) in the process. He stuck with Conte’s 3-5-2 while it still got us results and when it became evident that he needed to change things around and make the team his own, he had the patience to implement a new formation.
Watching him on the side-lines it’s all too clear that he has the same passion and fire that Conte exhibited but with a little less arrogance and touch more humility. He’s won the respect of the team by taking a pragmatic approach to every game, mixing in youth with experience to get the best out of the squad. While he was initially only offered a one year deal, I wouldn’t mind him continuing as coach next season.
Q – Back in October we saw an intriguing tactical battle between two well matched teams. How do you expect Juve to play this time round, is qualification the main aim or will you go all out for top spot?
The players and coach have been empathic in their views on the game – Juve are going all out to win and top the group. It was all too evident that the Atleti game was on the minds of the players when we were held to a 0-0 draw against Fiorentina on Friday, so the hope is that they’re fully prepared for the midweek match.
As you rightly said, the first match was a tactical affair with both sides giving away very little – this time round with Juve needing something from the game, the hope is that the players throw the shackles off and really push to get an early goal. Buffon called on the team to be ‘more daring’ while Kingsley Coman and Leonardo Bonucci both talked about Juve attacking Atleti from the outset. I’d expect us to stick to the 4-3-1-2 with Pogba, Pirlo, Marchisio and Vidal in midfield and Tevez partnering Alvaro Morata up front.
Fridays game showed just how much we miss the industry of Stephan Lichtsteiner so it’ll be great to have him back at right back while Leonardo Bonucci has become one of the defenders in Serie A and the only player to feature in every game of the season to date.
Q – We’ll also see another match up between two of the world’s best young players, Koke and Pogba. What is it that makes the Frenchman so special, and do you see him in Turin for the long term?
Pogba is in a class of his own and it’s been a long time since we’ve had other ‘big’ sides sit up and take notice of one our players. What makes Paul so special is that he has everything required to make him a complete midfielder in every aspect of his game. He has confidence in abundance but he’s also very humble and has learned to take criticism when it’s levelled at him, learning from his mistakes rather than dwelling on them.
He makes runs forward from midfield that other players wouldn’t attempt and often ends up beating 3 or 4 players before sometimes holding onto the ball a little too long before releasing it. That aside, he has technique and vision like no other young midfielder in the game today and he’s always looking to run at the opposition. Looking at his stand out goals last season, such as the strikes against Napoli and Udinese last season, you can see he has so much power in his shooting but best of all, he has the belief to attempt shots like that in the first place.
Thankfully, Pogba has reiterated on many occasions just how happy he is to be in Turin and playing for Juventus, the most recent being just a few weeks ago. A lot will depend on how far we progress in Europe this season but I can see it only being a matter of time before he moves on, most likely to Chelsea or PSG as I think they’d be the only teams prepared to pay over the odds to get him.
Q – Aside from Pogba, we all know about the likes of Tevez, Pirlo and Vidal, but who else could cause Atleti problems?
Alvaro Morata is expected to start alongside Tevez up front and given Llorente’s poor form of late, he might be the one to cause Atletico most problems. He’s a giant of a player at 6’3 but he’s also incredibly fast given his height and causes defences all kinds of problems.
His range of passing is exceptional and he can hold up play so well before bringing his teammates into the attack. I’ve heard people say that he can be selfish in possession and he often shoots when he should pass but I’ve yet to see that side of his play. Watching his performance against Parma this season is a perfect example of what he can offer Juve in attack – He scored twice and his second goal in particular was a beautifully taken volley where he got himself into the perfect position to finish.
Q – Any future stars we should look out for?
Kingsley Coman, should he feature, is definitely a player to look out for. Highly regarded at PSG, Juve fought off a lot of competition to sign him and he’s had a few chances to show us just why. He was handed a debut on the first day of the season which was incredible when you consider he’s still just 18 and only featured a hand full of times for PSG last season.
Thankfully he didn’t disappoint, partnering Tevez up front he pulled the Chievo defence all over the place and showed great control and vision for one so young; so much so that he got a standing ovation from the Juve faithful. If he does play, you can expect him to play just behind the forwards or possibly up front alongside Llorente, Morata or Tevez.
Q – It’s no secret that despite dominating domestically, Juve have struggled in Europe as of late. Is there anything you would put this down to?
I think a lot of Juventini would argue that it’s down to us playing a formation that no longer ‘works’ in Europe. The 3-5-2 was certainly a ‘safe’ setup in the league that allowed us to dominate possession and impose ourselves because our strength in midfield while the solid back line gave us stability. Up front is where we’ve really lacked potency, especially given the lack of real attacking options at our disposal which has dated back to before Conte took over.
We’ve made do with run of the mill strikers who never really combined well along with us never having found adequate replacements for the strike duo of Trezeguet and Del Piero. Signing Llorente and particularly Carlos Tevez has certainly changed a lot of that. They started to play their best football together after we’d been eliminated from the Champions League, so the hope was that a consistent strike duo that had a better understanding of one another would make the different for us in Europe.
Q – Should you make it through, how far do you think you can go this year? Could Juve win the Champions League?
It’s so difficult to judge Juve in Europe because you never know which side is going to show up! We can be our own worst enemy at times, last season being a perfect example where we should have beaten Galatasaray at home and we certainly outplayed Real Madrid for large portions of the match and deserved more than a draw.
This season we look to have turned a corner since the change in formation and there seems to be more creativity in the final third of the pitch, something that was sorely lacking in last season’s Champions League campaign. I think realistically, we should qualify from the group but then it will all depend on the draw and how we approach the games that follow.
Juve seem to lack confidence in Europe and sometimes we only start to play our football after we concede and have our backs up against the wall. If we can keep our concentration and get rid of our inferiority complex, I think we can make it to the quarter finals at least which would be an improvement.
Q – Atlético have an old adversary of Juve’s in Alessio Cerci, although we haven’t seen much of him so far in red and white. Could you shed any light on him for us?
Cerci can be a frustrating player at the best of times, but a very talented one as well. He can play as a second striker but has predominantly featured as a winger at all the clubs he’s played for, most notably his last two standout seasons with Torino. He seems to play his best football when he’s on the right wing and given the chance to cut in and shoot on his favoured left; He reminds me little of Arjen Robben in that sense.
He’s a great penalty taker and has a lot of pace but he always struck me a player that needs the fans on his side. He had a falling out with the Fiorentina tifosi which made his last season there unbearable until he finally patched things up. If he does start to feature regularly he’ll need the supporters behind him to show the very best of what he can offer.
Q – If you could sign one player from Atleti who would it be?
Antoine Griezmann looks like one for the future and his talent is there for all to see, but i’d have to go with Mario Mandzukic; A brilliant striker who Juventus should have gone all out to sign when we had the chance. He reminds me a great deal of a David Trezeguet, a player that we never managed to replace in the years since his departure.
Mandzukic has surprising pace, superb vision and great control but most of all, he can finish chances just like Trezeguet used to; a touch to bring the ball under control and another to put it past the keeper. He’s utterly clinical and so composed in the penalty area while holding up the play so well and having such precision in his first touch. He looks to be another in the long line of star strikers to have played for Atletico.
Q – Finally, care to give us a prediction for the match?
It’s a really tough one to call but I’ve seen Juve grind out results when they really need them. I think I’d go for a slender 2-1 to Juve.
You can see for yourself how we get on against Juventus, with the game tomorrow night at 20:45 CEST.