The Bianconeri are well-placed to complete a treble yet many fans are not happy with the team’s style of play and are making their dissatisfaction known.
A Juventus goal is usually followed by a widespread celebration in the Allianz Stadium. But these are strange times in Turin.
After opening the scoring in last Sunday’s 2-0 win over Brescia, Paulo Dybala was more worried about making a point than reveling in his fantastic free-kick.
After performing his customary ‘Gladiator mask’ celebration, the Argentine imitated a whistle with his right hand and then waved his finger in the direction of the lovers.
The message was clear: enough with the whistling.
The Bianconeri are high in Serie A, perfectly positioned to reach the final of the Coppa Italia and heavy favourites to advance to the quarter-finals of this Champions League at the expense of an injury-hit Lyon.
So, why are their players being jeered by their own fans?
The easy answer is that Juve aren’t playing nicely. However, the situation is a bit more complex than that.
After all, this is the club which has lived by the Gianpiero Boniperti mantra, “Winning isn’t important: it is the only thing that counts.”
However, it’s apparent that no more rings true in Turin, at least not for everybody.
Much like Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich 12 months prior to him, Juve president Andrea Agnelli hired Maurizio Sarri last summer because he no longer wanted to win — he wanted to win in style.
In Napoli, Sarri had assembled among the most aesthetically pleasing sides in Europe, and on a relatively modest budget. It made him the darling of soccer’s purists and also among the most sought after coaches in the sport.
Chelsea fans never took to Sarri’s brand of ownership soccer –‘F*ck Sarriball’ was a chant heard regularly at Stamford Bridge last year — but the Neapolitan secured a return to the Champions League via a third-placed Premier League finish before then masterminding a 4-1 rout of Arsenal at the Europa League closing.
At that point, Agnelli had seen enough to convince him that Sarri was the guy to succeed the a lot more pragmatic Massimiliano Allegri as Juve’s coach.
It was not going to be a simple transition, though. ‘Sarriball’ asks a good deal of players; it takes some time to execute. The possession-orientated strategy calls for a high defensive line, 90-minute pressing and rapid movement of the ball; teething problems were unavoidable.
However, the reason there is so much tension in Turin is that seven months to the new ambitious project, Juve’s players are still struggling to understand’Sarrismo’, let alone execute it.
Hardly surprising, then, the exact journalists who were so convinced that Pep Guardiola was on his way into Juve last summer were beside themselves with excitement when it was announced last week that Manchester City was banned by the next two Champions Leagues.
“City are all out! What will you do, Pep?” The Gazzetta Dello Sport giddily requested last Friday.
It was also noted that Agnelli has become unconvinced by Juve’s performances and while Target has learned that Guardiola plans to remain in the Etihad past the summer, Sarri is unquestionably a man under mounting pressure.
Indeed, he confessed himself after Juve’s fortuitous Coppa Italia draw AC Milan a week that his players’ progress had”stalled”. But, one could easily argue that the Bianconeri system has in fact been going backwards for the last two months.
Following an encouraging and unbeaten start to the season in all competitions, Juve have dropped four times — twice to Lazio — since December 7.
Again, this would have been okay — especially given the Old Lady, in concept, stays on track for the treble — if the fans were being treated to signs of improvement; positive indications of’Sarriball’.
Instead, Juve’s drama was predictable and painfully slow. This is a team still looking for its own identity, so it is hardly surprising that so many gamers have appeared unsure of these, and indeed their functions.
As a radio host and Juve fan Linus told Tuttosport earlier this week, “The whistles are unpleasant but the typical Juventus fan is disoriented, fighting to relate to this group if there’s not any stable backbone, where the players struggle but take to the area in ever-changing roles.
“Maybe we’re demanding fans, but this isn’t the real Juve except on a few occasions. We’re accustomed to having fun, in addition to winning: civil dissent has to be accepted.”
Even Linus, however, could comprehend Dybala’s point — because backed up by center-half Leonardo Bonucci — that this is a time for Juve fans to back the players, as opposed to berating them.
Only this week, former team president Giovanni Cobolli Gigli explained Miralem Pjanic into Radio Sportiva as”soft as mozzarella”, which will have done little for the Bosnian’s self-belief.
Nonetheless, the playmaker perhaps personifies Juve’s struggles under Sarri this year.
He originally thrived from the’Jorginho role’ but he’s utterly lost his way, and his optimism, just like Juve in general, together with all the group relying on Cristiano Ronaldo’s clinical finishing to win matches.
This is undeniably a team which specialises in individual moments of excellence as opposed to shows of collective power.
And this is possibly the most concerning issue for Juventus. While the players appear confused and undercooked, the growing suspicion in Turin is the Old Lady’s main problem is psychological.
As Guido Vaciago composed in Tuttosport on Tuesday,”People who believe it’s only a physical or tactical problem have understood no matter what Juventus have been around for the last eight decades.”
The keys to Juve’s remarkable run of eight successive Scudetti were unity and a spirit of self-sacrifice. There was a massive amount of talent from the groups of Antonio Conte and Allegri but it was their togetherness that drove them. Sarri’s side don’t yet possess that feeling of solidity.
The yield of Giorgio Chiellini will help in that respect. It’s one thing having the club captain for a cheerleader on the sidelines; it’s quite another to have him call the shots from the backline.
While there’s not a great deal of disparity in the numbers, it’s nonetheless telling Juve have scored fewer goals and conceded over their two Scudetto competitions, Lazio and Inter.
Surely, Chiellini’s return is good news for Matthijs de Ligt, who has fought to repay since his summer arrival from Ajax. However, the entire squad should benefit from getting their inspirational skipper back together.
Chiellini can only do this much, though. The onus remains on Sarri as coach to combine the squad, the club and really the fans supporting him moving into what everyone on the club insists is a critical month for the group.
Ahead of the Champions League first-leg clash with Lyon, and a massive Serie A showdown with Inter, Sarri have reportedly decided to give up on his 4-3-1-2 formation — primarily because of his lack of a working playmaker — and will revert to his favorite 4-3-3, with the free-scoring Ronaldo being joined in attack by Juan Cuadrado and Dybala.
It’s thought that the players are on board but winning over the fans can clearly prove harder. Finding the fans onside has been a battle from the beginning for Sarri. Many greeted his appointment with scepticism; some with open hostility.
Sarri, after all, had shown them the finger from the Napoli team bus in front of a match against Juventus in April 2018, so when the 61-year-old magnanimously paid tribute to his former team after a 2-1 loss at the San Paolo earlier this month, I’ve keyboard warriors went apoplectic online.
Basically, memories are long in Turin, while patience is short supply. And clearly, winning is no longer the one thing that counts at Juventus. Positive results can’t compensate for a negative setting, as Ernesto Valverde discovered at Barcelona.
In summary, it is Sarri — instead of Dybala — who must turn those jeers to cheers as soon as possible.