Let’s be honest here. I don’t like Juventus. You don’t like Juventus. None of us like Juventus. None of us want to keep track of Juventus. That’s why it’s so nice to have BWRAO head honcho Danny Penza to interrogate about the Bianconeri. Despite being the captain of the Juvenuts, Danny has a voice as sweet as Gimli son of Gloin, parents a truly wonderful cat, and is genuinely the nicest person on the SB Nation calcio beat. Here’s our conversation.
Viola Nation: I’m really trying to hold back my cackling, but the first question I have to ask about Juventus this year is, “What the hell happened?” Has anything gone right?
Danny Penza: It’s funny — well, not really funny for me; it probably is for you — because that’s pretty much the same kind of thing that we discussed on the podcast this week. (Hey, all! Subscribe, rate and review on your favorite podcasting platform!) That was, of course, before Juventus went out and beat Zenit 4-2 in one of their best performances of the season. But, to answer your question, Mr. Tito, it can’t really be boiled down to one of two things. it’s been a multitude, and it’s been years in the making with how this roster has been built, been supposedly improved over the last couple of years and not actually improved.
What’s gone wrong depends on the week it is. Sometimes it’s the attack. Sometimes it’s the defense. A lot of the time it’s the midfield not named Manuel Locatelli. We know coming into this season that it was a flawed squad, but I think the fact that they’re still trying to figure out what they are and Max Allegri still trying to figure out where he wants to take them has played a big role in where they are at the moment. Allegri, while obviously not to blame for the roster construction mistakes of the last couple of summers, is not totally faultless in all of this. It’s not like he’s hitting home runs every time he fills out the lineup card. But they show flashes — and that’s maybe the most frustrating part out of all of this.
VN: Given the rough start, what are the goals for Juve this year? Is this team going to put everything into the Champions League or is the primary objective just making the top four?
DP: I think the goal(s) now have to both compete in the Champions League this season and then make sure you qualify for it next season. Now, the good thing is that with Tuesday’s win over Zenit, they’re already in the Champions League Round of 16, which is definitely one of the goals that Allegri has set out as something he wants to see happen from the very beginning of his return to Juventus. But as much as it’s about this season, it very much is about changing the goals from Scudetto to a top 4 finish like what happened last season with Andrea Pirlo. It didn’t happen this early with Pirlo, with the shifting of logical goals coming more around the midway point of the season rather than in the first week of November. But when you combine how this team started, how the last week of October went and now how they’re 16 points — TITO, SIXTEEN POINTS! — getting back in the Scudetto race just doesn’t seem possible.
And trust me, I’m about as optimistic as anybody at BWRAO. The Scudetto ain’t happening this season. It needs to be about going as far as you can in the Champions League this season but at the same time making sure you’re in the top 4 for next season. Because as we all know, that Champions League money is pretty important when you’re posting losses of over €200 million in one fiscal year like Juve just did a few weeks back.
VN: Despite looking like the king of the internet trolls, Max Allegri might be the best coach in Serie A. What does he need to do to get the Bianconeri firing again?
DP: For one, he needs his team to be healthy. And with how many games most of these dudes have played over the last couple of years ever since we came out of lockdown, that’s virtually impossible. So, with that being said, I think the most important thing Allegri needs to do is two-fold: Max needs to let Paulo Dybala cook, and he needs to trust the youngsters to really get this team going and build for the future. That means playing the likes of Matthijs de Ligt over somebody like Leonardo Bonucci or Giorgio Chiellini more often than not. That means having Federico Chiesa be the terrorizing winger he can be rather than having him be a makeshift striker.
Essentially, let the kids play, let them become the future of the club in the present. Everybody can see what the core of this team can be if Allegri truly wants to build around Dybala, with Chiesa, de Ligt, Locatelli giving a really good foundation to build off of going forward.
But, I think the easier thing would be for Allegri give this team just a little bit of slack when it comes to how they play. You know, loosen up the leash just a little bit and not essentially go into match conservation mode once the team gets a one-goal lead. That was what made the Zenit win such a pleasant surprise to many of us who watched. Allegri didn’t shut it all down and go into a defensive shell when they went up 1-0. The team kept the foot on the gas rather than shutting things down. And when you want to think of things that Allegri can do in the immediate future, that has to be the No. 1 priority rather than continuing to grind out 1-0 wins because that just doesn’t seem to be sustainable.
VN: Following a surprisingly tough game against Zenit St. Petersburg on Tuesday, do you think Allegri’s going to rotate the squad pretty heavily? Any big surprises you expect in the XI? Can we please see Daniele Rugani start?
DP: I wouldn’t say the win over Zenit was “tough.” It wasn’t easy, but that was Juventus playing soooooo much better than they did in Russia a couple of weeks ago and getting a much-deserved win. (I haven’t been able to say that a lot this season, so let me have it.) They played well, even with the two goals being allowed.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Allegri does at least a little bit of rotation. I’m not expecting five or six changes from the Zenit game, especially since they did play well Tuesday night. Maybe something like Juan Cuadrado coming in and somebody like Federico Bernardeschi — YOUR BOY! — starting on the bench even though he had a really good game against Zenit. There also seems to be a general line of thinking in the Italian press that there could be a change made in the center of the midfield, probably Rodrigo Bentancur stepping in for Weston McKennie. That, as much as I still want my adopted son Rodrigo to get out of his year-long funk, just doesn’t seem to make sense since the McKennie-Locatelli combo seems to be playing well together lately.
And no, no Rugani. Sorry to disappoint.
VN: Nicolás González, as you may have heard, is still quarantining after testing positive for coronavirus and might miss this one (obligatory reminder that WE’RE STILL DEALING WITH A GLOBAL PANDEMIC THAT’S KILLING LITERALLY THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE A DAY). Are there any other Fiorentina players who make you anxious?
DP: Dusan. It’s Dusan. Why would it be anybody other than Dusan?
That’s where you start with Fiorentina, right? It’s Dusan and then the rest will follow. Juventus’ defense is completely hit and miss, and that means they could either shut Dusan down for 90 minutes or he could absolutely run circles around Bonucci and Chiellini (or de Ligt) and terrorize us all. Dusan is damn good and I would happy to have him as my favorite team’s No. 9 one day. (Wait, am I allowed to say that?)
VN: And hey, it’s funny you should mention Vlahović [I’m just making an assumption here.], because VN’s sources in Italy seem pretty convinced that his agent Darko Ristić has signed a deal with Juve already, despite having 2 years left on his contract. As you can imagine, we’re uh not exactly thrilled. Do yo think he’d help fix what’s wrong on your end? Would he become an automatic starter? Can’t you go back to shopping at Sassuolo and Genoa and leave us alone?
DP: There is zero doubt in my mind that Dusan would come in and immediately become the starting prima punta. We all like Alvaro Morata. He’s a nice guy. He loves Juventus and he fights for the shirt as much as anybody who is currently employed by the club. But, as we all know with Morata, there is very much good stretches and then there are bad stretches. And when you think about Juventus rebuilding itself into a team that can seriously compete for a league title and potentially make deep runs in the Champions League, getting a consistent scoring threat as the No. 9 seems rather obvious at this point. Dusan fits the bill of what Juventus needs perfectly from that position — and that’s why it’s so easy to see Juventus going all out for him come the summertime. (Whether Rocco wants to play ball with Juventus again after the Chiesa negotiations remains to be seen, of course.)
I will now stop fawning over Dusan because I know I am somewhat liked around these parts and don’t want that to change.
VN: Prediction time: what’s the final score, who (if anyone) gets the goals, and what’s the overall pattern of the match?
DP: If the same Juventus that showed up against Zenit is present against Fiorentina this weekend, then we’re in for a pretty good one. The neutrals will love it, Tito. They will see some of Serie A’s best attacking players going up against one another, they will get to see two very nice kits on the field and they will get to see two teams who don’t like each other trying to beat the living snot out of one another. I am going to say 2-1 Juventus, with Paulo Dybala continuing his really good week and grabbing the game-winner. I have no idea if this will be true and lord knows I’ve gotten a lot of my Juve predictions wrong this season (and last season) (and the season before that one), so who knows if this has any kind of credibility behind it. But yeah, I’m expecting a good one since Juve didn’t look like complete trash earlier in the week.
Thanks, Danny! Even after making your crush on Dušan public, you’re still our favorite. See you on Saturday. If you want to read the other half of our chat, it’s right here.