We're always looking for new perspectives here at Viola Nation, even if it means reaching across the aisle to the Newcastlesque side. We're actually pretty lucky that Danny Penza, the head honcho over at Black and White and Red All Over, is both a swell guy (for a Juve fan) and very knowledgeable about his team and Serie A in general, was willing to answer some questions for us.
Viola Nation: What are Juventus' goals for the season right now? Do yall think the Scudetto is still an obtainable objective? Champions League?
Danny Penza: The goal right now, at least domestically, is definitely the Scudetto. Juventus played like absolute crap the first month or so of the season; I don’t think anybody can deny that. But the thing they had going in their favor is that there was plenty of time to right the ship. They’ve done that. They’ve gone from just outside the relegation zone after the first handful of games to now on the brink of cracking the top four. If Juve are, say, in the top three or at least close to it by the end of the first half of the season, then the Scudetto is going to be an obtainable target. But these next few games are huge, no doubt about it. If Juve can continue this upward trajectory they’ve been able to create over the last six weeks, then their post-holiday break goals will definitely be obtainable.
VN: Things are obviously not going quite as smoothly for Juve as they did last year. What's the biggest problem? Is it losing Tevez and Vidal, or that Allegri can't coast on Conte's success anymore, or something else entirely?
DP: The Tevez, Vidal, Pirlo absences are the easy narrative to point to because you can’t escape it whenever you watch a Juventus game here in the U.S. (and probably other places, too). The early-season struggles were the byproduct of both a lot of important pieces and being replaced with new players, but also some key players being out injured. Allegri has shown the ability to be flexible, but he was almost forced to be too flexible with his formations because so many damn players were getting hurt. It seems as though he’s found the right mix now. Summer signings like Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic are starting to truly settle in. They needed to be patient with things, and that included Allegri. Panicking over three or four bad results at the beginning of the season wasn’t the be-all, end-all with them. That’s safe to say.
VN: Who's been Juve's best player this year? Best new addition? Which players, new or old, haven't looked up to snuff?
DP: Best player has to be Gigi Buffon [editor: Neto lol]. The guy is just incredible, but that’s not a secret at this point. It seems like almost every save he has made this season has been crucial and far from routine. He’s 37 years old and still playing some of the best football of his career. I’m not saying this simply because I am one of BWRAO’s biggest Buffon fanboys — but then again, who isn’t? [editor: Yeah, that's fair] — but he has allowed Juve to pick up a good amount of their point total both in the Champions League and Serie A this season. The guy wants to play until he’s 40, and who the hell can tell him otherwise the way he’s playing these days?
Best new addition is Paulo Dybala — both for the present-day impact and what he can turn into down the road. Obviously him leading the team in goals is one thing, but his form the last month or so has been truly fantastic. He’s creating chances for both himself and his teammates. When you think about how young he is and that he’s only going to continue to grow into his role and develop as a player, that hefty price tag that Palermo made Juve pay to sign Dybala this summer will look more and more worth it.
The opposite end of the spectrum is Hernanes. He’s been useless since he joined from Inter on the final day of the transfer window. All summer Juve chased a trequartista so that Allegri could go 4-3-1-2 as he so desired, but the end product was a player in Hernanes who has looked like a shell of his former self for the better part of the last 18 months. The worst part of the deal was that Juve paid €11 million to Inter. ELEVEN MILLION EUROS. TO INTER. Dammit, that’s just … yeah, stupid.
DP: I wouldn’t say ‘worried’ is the right word, simply because I like the way Juventus is playing these days. I think that the loss to Sevilla midweek was more of the exception rather than the rule. Juventus looked like a hot mess to start the season. Now, they look like a functional, well-oiled machine that is consistently picking up results. Like I said earlier, Allegri has figured things out and what’s best for this squad, and they’ve responded with some of their best results of the season. I think the way this season is shaping up, I think there’s definitely a chance that the likes of Fiorentina and Napoli could give Juventus a serious run for its money in the Scudetto race. I’d throw Roma in there, too, but it’s Roma, and they will always do Roma things to prevent them from actually threatening other title contenders.
Looking at the oncoming match specifically, which Juventus player do you think is going to be the key man? Conversely, which Fiorentina player are you most anxious about facing? What are the personnel matchups you think are worth watching?
DP: I know I’ve already talked about him, but I think Dybala is only going to get more and more crucial to Juventus’ success now that’s he’s starting to show his total game. Álvaro Morata isn’t the same Álvaro Morata from last season right now, so that puts even more importance on Dybala producing. People can point to the likes of Paul Pogba or somebody else, but when it comes to Juve’s attack, it starts with Dybala because he’s creating so damn much.
The two matchups I’m looking forward to the most will be the ones between the two sets of wingbacks — especially if Allegri goes with Alex Sandro on the left. Players for both teams are going to be bombing up and down the wings like no other, and Sandro has been so impressive in his last handful of starts. Fiorentina’s backs aren’t bad by any means, too, so that just adds to the interest in that matchup for me.
So there you go, folks. Straight from the horse's (or whatever animal Juventus is) mouth. I also fielded some questions for him; I'll update the link on here once they're up and published.