It’s no secret that Juventus isn’t very popular ‘round these here parts. They smell bad, they kick puppies, and their uniforms look stupid. That said, Black and White and Read All Over’s Lord Commander Danny Penza smells heavenly, helps young critters safely cross the street, and dresses just fine. As we’re wont to do, he answered some of my dumb questions with all his usual grace.
Viola Nation: Juventus isn’t winning the league right now despite having Serie A’s best defense. How are the fans handling this strange new state of affairs, and has #PirloOut started yet?
Danny Penza: It’s an interesting time at Juventus because we’re learning about Pirlo at the same time as he’s learning how to be a manager. The defense (and midfield) was definitely stretched earlier in the season, but two main things have seemed to calm things down a little bit and improve the defensive record of late: the return of our big Dutch baby boy Matthijs de Ligt and Pirlo going with more of a natural 3-5-2 rather than the 3-4-1-2 he was trying to implement early on. Getting a defender of de Ligt’s quality back from injury was always going to make Juve’s defense better, but just how well he’s played — and the fact that he’s played pretty much every minute of the last nine games in all competitions — shows that he’s easily this team’s best defender. And when it comes to the midfield, going to more of a 3-5-2 has allowed Rodrigo Bentancur to play more of a natural deep-lying role where he’s most comfortable, Weston McKennie to truly be a box-to-box threat and, overall, give the team more balance. There are still plenty of people who are not yet sold on Pirlo, but things are getting better and #PirloOut isn’t as prevalent as it might have been a few weeks back.
VN: I haven’t watched a lot of Juve this year, but they’ve seemed really uneven; not beating Crotone and Benevento felt very different from past editions of the Juvenuts. What’s been the difference? Is it just adjusting to a new mister or are there cracks creeping in?
DP: This squad is most definitely a flawed one despite all of its star power. Even if they’re playing better the last few weeks, that doesn’t mean they’re humming along by any means. So much of the frustration this season has been the fact that the schedule has been pretty favorable and Juve’s dropped points time and time again. There’s no real singular thing you can point to as the reason why they’ve struggled against teams they should routinely beat. You can say it’s because of the frantic schedule and you won’t be wrong. You can say it’s because of Pirlo learning on the fly and you won’t be wrong. You can say it’s because of injuries, players out of form or the team just not playing well at all and all of those things make sense. The month of January and who’s on the schedule will tell us a lot about where this team is at.
VN: From what I can tell (again, I don’t watch the Bianconeri that often), they’re keeping the ball really well but often throw too many bodies forward, leaving themselves open on the counter. They seemed to figure it out at Parma over the weekend, but do you think they’ve figured out how to break down a deep defense? This is mostly just idle speculation and doesn’t have much to do with Fiorentina, who’ve offered all the resistance of a wet cardboard box this season.
DP: I don’t think they’ve totally figured it out, but again, it’s improving. Just because Juve thumped Parma doesn’t mean that Gigi Buffon was just standing in goal for 90 minutes and didn’t have a thing to do. Grandpa had to make a handful of really good saves, including his best one of the day just moments before Juve went ahead. Parma had chances to score, and they were solid chances at that. The problems of trying to beat teams that pack it in defensively aren’t fully solved, just as it is when it comes to a team trying to beat Juventus on the break. But, like I said in the first question, the more balance that the midfield has — and Bentancur providing some cover in front of the defense — has resulted in things being much less of chaotic situation like we saw the first month or so of the season.
VN: Are there any players from Fiorentina you’re anxious about facing (the answer is no)? Any areas of the pitch in which you see the visitors causing some problems (the answer is no)? Any circumstances outside of a meteor strike that the Viola could exploit to come away with a point (the answer is no)?
DP: I think you know from our occasional Twitter interactions over the last few years that I, the man behind the BWRAO Twitter account, am quite the admirer of Gaetano Castrovilli and would have been quite happy if he ended being the Fiorentina player that Juventus signed this past summer. (I know, I know, that was never going to happen, but still.) But, based on your Twitter feed of late — and, admittedly, Fiorentina haven’t been must-see viewing for me, which seems like an OK decision — I think a lot will have to go wrong (like what happened against Crotone and Benevento) for Juve to drop points. If they play anything like they did against Parma over the weekend, it will be bad news for your boys in purple.
VN: I hate to ask it, but Viola fans are a morbidly curious bunch and we have to know. How’s that winger from Fiorentina doing? You know, Juan Cuadrado? Er, sorry, Federico Bernardeschi? Wait, no, it’s Federico Chiesa. And if you want to keep that pattern going, we’ve got a young up-and-comer named José Callejón who might interest you. Seems like he could be the real deal.
DP: Chiea’s season has been a lot like Juve’s, honestly. There’s been some good, some not very good and some that’s somewhere in the middle. With Pirlo experimenting with the 3-4-1-2/4-4-2 hybrid and the aforementioned Cuadrado playing well, a good chunk of Chiesa’s playing time this season has come on the left wing rather than on the more natural right. He’s been playing as a wingback, which is something that I believe a certain Viola fan by the name of Tito could have foreseen when the transfer first happened. The thing with Chiesa is that he’s on a team that has a lot of players like him out on the wing, and with Cuadrado playing so much this season it’s going to be hard for him to get consistent time on the right. One injury can change everything, but for the time being it seems like Chiesa’s best option for consistent minutes will be on the left — and even then it’s no lock.
VN: Can you send another couple pictures of your cat? We’re a very cat pic friendly website.
DP: Yes, of course.
It is refreshing to hear that even though my cat has, you know, a black and white tuxedo.
VN: Prediction time: What do you think is the final score, who (if anyone (lol)) gets the goals, and what’s the overall flavor of the game?
DP: I’ll go 2-0 Juventus. I think it will a lot of what we’ve seen against Juve this season against teams coming to Turin — dominating the possession numbers and having to break down an opponent who sits back. I’ll say Morata and Ronaldo get the goals, and you’ll probably send me a few grumpy tweets along the way.
Normally, this is the part where I’d tell Danny that he and his stupid team can go kick rocks, but c’mon. Look at that cat. Thanks for your time, Danny. And everyone, when it all goes pear-shaped tomorrow, remember that it’s not Danny’s fault and that we like him.