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Is Juventus Back? They Finished Outside the Top 3 in the Previous Three Seasons

The previous Serie A season wasn’t just a title race but the rightful crowning of Napoli as deserving champions, displaying splendid football under Luciano Spalletti’s guidance. Napoli’s triumph marked the third different champion in as many seasons, signaling a refreshing shift from years of Juventus dominance.

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Soccer Football – Serie A – Juventus v Hellas Verona – Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy – October 28, 2023 Juventus’ Andrea Cambiaso celebrates scoring their first goal with teammates REUTERS/Massimo Pinca

In the current season, Massimiliano Allegri’s team seems determined to reclaim their status as the kings of Italy. Currently sitting in second place after 12 games and holding a four-point lead over AC Milan in third, Juventus appears poised for a comeback. However, with Simone Inzaghi’s Inter emerging as a strong contender for the title, the question arises: Is Juventus prepared to make a triumphant return?

Juventus Revamped

The recent string of five consecutive wins in the league has ignited speculation about Juventus’ potential return to the top. While their victories haven’t featured high-scoring affairs, with no more than two goals in any game and four of them won by a one-goal margin, it marks their longest winning streak since the period between October 2022 and January 2023.

The emergence of Juventus 2.0 is evident, characterized by a younger squad. Departures such as Leonardo Bonucci, Juan Cuadrado, and Ángel Di Maria have contributed to a shift in the team’s dynamics. The average age of the starting XI has decreased from 28 years and 57 days last season to 26 years and 334 days this season, making them the ninth-youngest team compared to being the third oldest.

Young talents like Federico Gatti and Timothy Weah, acquired from Lille in Ligue 1, have stepped in to replace the experienced players. Gleison Bremer has taken on a leadership role in defense alongside the relatively inexperienced Gatti and Daniele Rugani. The seasoned Alex Sandro has seen limited action this season due to injury.

Maintaining defensive principles, Allegri’s Juventus 2.0 adopts a compact and unapologetically defense-first approach in their 5-3-2 formation when off the ball. The team’s evolution reflects a deliberate construction of a new era for Juventus.

Juventus Fefensive Structure Image Credits Opta Analyst Is Juventus Back? They Finished Outside the Top 3 in the Previous Three Seasons
Juventus’ Fefensive Structure, Image Credits- Opta Analyst

In their current formation, Juventus appears inclined to adopt a more defensive stance rather than actively engaging in pressing duels to force mistakes from the opposition. A key indicator of pressing intensity is the average number of passes allowed by the opposition before registering a defensive action, known as PPDA. Juventus’ PPDA of 14.8 this season is the fifth-highest in Serie A, highlighting their static and resilient defensive approach.

Notably, Juventus leads the Serie A in clearances, having cleared the ball 256 times, a stark contrast to league leaders Inter, who have made the second-fewest clearances at 141. While top teams typically rank lower in clearances due to reduced pressure, Juventus’s defensive-first strategy stands out in this metric.

In possession, the wing-backs take higher positions on the pitch, enabling the center-backs to carry and distribute the ball from the back. Allegri’s tactical style requires significant contribution from the outside eights flanking Manuel Locatelli, who typically plays the role of the regista or tempo-setter. Despite Locatelli’s versatility, Juventus’ preference for a defensive approach minimizes his exposure in the middle of the park.

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FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football – Serie A – Juventus v Parma – Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy – January 19, 2020 General view of the corner flag inside the stadium before the match REUTERS/Massimo Pinca

The responsibility of maintaining a constant defensive screen falls on the eights, including Adrien Rabiot and either Fabio Miretti or Weston McKennie. All three midfielders are known for their industrious work ethic and ability to cover ground, ensuring the continuity of Locatelli’s role as the defensive anchor. This cohesive midfield setup aligns with Juventus’ overall defensive-oriented philosophy.

Manuel Locateli’s Significance

Despite his primary role as a defensive shield, Manuel Locatelli’s responsibilities extend beyond mere defensive duties. He plays a crucial role in orchestrating the team’s play, showcasing his passing abilities by distributing the ball into the opposition half and finding runners behind the defense. Notably, many of his progressive passes involve long balls to wing-backs and wingers, particularly to the right side.

Locatelli’s significance to the team is evident in the sheer volume and distribution of his passes across the pitch. He has completed 52 progressive passes this season, a statistic surpassed by only six outfield players in Serie A. Moreover, his successful passes upfield have covered an impressive distance of 4,213 meters, nearly 200 meters more than any other midfielder in the division.

A player of Locatelli’s influence becomes particularly crucial in matches where Juventus seeks to dominate possession or break down resilient defenses. This is especially noteworthy for an Allegri-led side that might appear less prepared when in control of the ball. Locatelli’s ability to dictate play and contribute to progressive passing makes him a key figure for Juventus in various strategic aspects of the game.

Manuel Locatellis Progressive Passes in Serie A 2023 24 Image Credits Opta Analyst Is Juventus Back? They Finished Outside the Top 3 in the Previous Three Seasons
Manuel Locatelli’s Progressive Passes in Serie A 2023-24, Image Credits- Opta Analyst

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Filip Kostić: The Cross Maestro’s Impact on Juventus’ Play

When seeking to serve players like Federico Chiesa and Dusan Vlahović, the ball frequently channels to Filip Kostić’s flank. His versatility in delivering the final ball forces opposition defenses to be strategic in the space they allow him.

Additionally, Kostić plays a significant role in why only Inter (54), Atalanta (49), and Cagliari (47) have completed more open-play crosses than Juventus (44). This aligns with his reputation as a crossing machine, honed during his time in the Bundesliga.

Chances Created by Filip Kostic in Serie A 2023 24 Image via Opta Analyst Is Juventus Back? They Finished Outside the Top 3 in the Previous Three Seasons
Chances Created by Filip Kostic in Serie A 2023-24, Image Credits- Opta Analyst

Analyzing his shot assists provides insight into Juventus’ left side dynamics. Kostić has created a total of 24 chances, ranking joint-sixth in Serie A, with 15 coming from open play. Notably, a majority of these chances, as depicted in the graphic below, are delivered with precision into the central area of the penalty box.

Their origin might vary, whether it’s from the corner flag, high and wide on the flank, or in the half spaces, but the consistency and objective of deliveries remain steadfast – all directed towards the most critical area of the box: the central spaces.

Juventus Progressive Passes Zones Image Credits Opta Analyst Is Juventus Back? They Finished Outside the Top 3 in the Previous Three Seasons
Juventus’ Progressive Passes Zones, Image Credits- Opta Analyst

Juventus frequently advances the ball through the left channels, particularly in the advanced and wide regions of the opponents’ half. This trend underscores Kostić’s impact, with 8.8% of progressive passes originating from the left side, where he predominantly operates. In the attacking third, Juventus records 24.4% of their progressive passes on the left, a figure nearly double the 12.4% observed on the right.

Precision in Attack – Unpacking Juventus’ Strategic Goal Scoring Patterns

Examining the broader context, how does all of this contribute to Juventus’ overall strategy?

In terms of attacking output this season, Juventus ranks third in Serie A with 176 shots, showcasing both quantity and quality. Their 18.7 non-penalty expected goals (xG) is second only to Inter’s 20.3, indicating a proficiency in generating high-quality opportunities. The alignment between their actual non-penalty goals (18) and non-penalty xG (18.7) suggests that their attacking success is consistent and not merely a result of overperformance.

Delving deeper into where they score their goals provides further insights. Juventus excels in the danger zone, with the highest proportion of goals (33%) scored in the six-yard box compared to any other Serie A team. However, while they score 83% of their goals inside the penalty area, this figure is surpassed by only three other clubs. This highlights a potential area for improvement, suggesting that Juventus might be too eager to take shots from outside the box.

Scoring 17% of goals from outside the box underscores the team’s ability to threaten from a distance. However, it also raises the possibility of a tendency to shoot from less optimal positions, potentially indicating challenges in breaking down the opposition’s defensive line.

Serie A Shot Taking Areas from Different Teams Image Credits Opta Analyst Is Juventus Back? They Finished Outside the Top 3 in the Previous Three Seasons
Serie A Shot Taking Areas from Different Teams, Image Credits- Opta Analyst

Putting frustrations aside, Allegri’s team has evolved into a formidable adversary. With an average of just 0.65 expected goals (xG) conceded per game, they face fewer high-quality chances than any other team in Serie A, even surpassing Inter (0.70). Once again, the earlier noted compactness and their tenacious approach in denying space cannot be overlooked.

Returning to the initial question: is Juventus truly “back”? The evidence suggests that, at the very least, they are currently performing as expected.

While this should bring reassurance to Allegri and the fans, the upcoming Sunday’s Derby d’Italia at home against Inter will serve as the ultimate litmus test. It presents the perfect opportunity for Juventus to make a resounding statement and send a clear signal to their rivals. However, any failure in this crucial match will underscore the amount of work that still lies ahead for them.

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