With Fiorentina approaching a Coppa Italia semifinal against Juventus, the narratives are spiraling out of control. It’s the Viola’s best chance to break a silverware drought, but may be for the Juvenuts’ only opportunity to add to the cabinet as well. It’s the closest Firenze’s finest have gotten to a trophy since 2014. And oh, there’s an unnamed Serbian striker involved. There is, in short, a lot going on.
That’s why I’m delighted to turn to Black and White and Read All Over overlord Danny Penza (follow him on Twitter because you might get to see his cat) to unpick all these threads. As a gentle reminder, Danny’s one of the smartest, nicest, and most rational people I know despite his Bianconero predilection, and it’s always a pleasure to chat with him.
Viola Nation: Juventus are unbeaten in 14 straight league games, are in the Coppa Italia semifinals, have a chance to progress to the Champions League quarterfinals, and got rid of your favorite-ever player this summer. Surely you feel pretty good about this team, right?
Danny Penza: Me, personally, can find some positives in what’s going on at Juventus right now. But it honestly depends on who you ask. Max Allegri has brought some stability to things — especially defensively — but his rather conservative approach to things even with the January additions have definitely irked a good amount of folks. Juventus will probably never be the free-flowing ultra-modern side over the next few years, but Allegri has certainly left some people wanting more in terms of the tactics that he’s used. I think when it comes to the biggest gripe and why things might not look as good as they appear from the outside, that’s the biggest thing. Even without Federico Chiesa for the rest of the season and Paulo Dybala in and out of the lineup due to injuries, just even a little bit more of an open mindset for Allegri could do a lot of good.
Basically, in terms of Champions League and Coppa Italia, I think advancing another round would make things look a lot better than they do now. As good as they make look, only reaching the current stages in which they are currently at is not exactly good for the club or its pocketbook.
VN: As much as we all love Andrea Pirlo, he never looked like the solution in Turin. I wasn’t sure if bringing back Max Allegri, who knows the team and the organization so well, was a return to stability or the dreaded minestrone riscaldato. Sounds like he’s doing the typical Allegri things—grind out wins, make the troll face—but has he learned any new tricks?
DP: Like I said, it’s been ... interesting. I think Max’s ability to bring defensive solidarity — Juve’s got the third-best defense in the league — has helped steady the ship while they’ve worked through some very obvious problems with the attack both before the arrival of Dusan and after. But, as any listener of our podcast would know, Allegri’s tactics — especially after the Dusan signing — has been the biggest point of contention. He very much has been in the grind-out-wins mode that he was doing more and more during the end of his first run in Turin. Not that it’s the worst thing in the world — especially lately with all of the injuries up and down the squad — because Juve has been getting points consistently as the rest of Serie A is in chaos results-wise.
But yeah, if Max learned a few new tricks and wasn’t one of the few managers in Serie A to play like it’s the way the entire league used to play, I think a lot of people would be OK with that. I guess Max hasn’t learned a lot of new tricks and I’m not totally sure if he’s really all that open to it. The troll face will remain regardless, though.
VN: I’ve definitely seen some doom and gloom in the BWRAO comment section, but, as readers of this site may suspect, that’s not always the best indication of where a team’s at. What do Juventus do really well? What are they not good at? Put another way, what should Italiano be trying to stop them from doing, and how should he attack the Old Lady?
DP: If Vincenzo Italiano has a solution to stop all of these damn injuries, then I would love to hear it.
OK, I say that in jest. But, seriously, injuries are dumb and when you can almost field an entire starting XI full of injured players, then that tells you the current state of the squad no matter the results.
The thing about this Juventus team is that even though they’ve got the most points of any Serie A side since the start of 2022 and they’re sitting in fourth place, there’s not anything that they do extraordinarily well. The defense is one of the best in the league but it’s not like they’re at an elite level by any means. The midfield is what it is, and now Weston McKennie and Denis Zakaria are both out injured. The attack has Vlahovic, but Dybala is out of the lineup. What I’m trying to say is that this is still a very flawed squad and if Italiano’s top focus is something other than trying to stop Vlahovic then there’s something wrong.
You guys know better than anybody what Vlahovic having a quiet game means for the attack. And with so many other players out injured and set to miss this game, it’s hard to think that Juve’s success will come from something outside of things involving the big Serb.
VN: Okay, fine. Since you brought up Dušan, (or Susan, as we call him around here), I’ll ask. How’s he getting on? Has he been worth the money? Has his agent Darko Ristić rocked up in a gold-plated Ferrari yet?
DP: No gold Ferrari yet, but that really has been the only downside of Vlahovic’s arrival since it all went down.
He’s been worth every penny, and I think the goals are just part of the story. He’s pretty much picked up where he left off goals-wise from what he was doing at Fiorentina even though the Italian press certainly had it’s little freak out phase when he didn’t score for a couple of games a few weeks ago. But, overall, the goal production has been pretty much what I expected and hoped for, but more about the supporting cast around him that has been an issue — which, knowing what Juve’s midfield has been like the last few years, isn’t all that much of a surprise.
He’s fit in well, he’s obviously one hell of a player and he’s got the kind of skill level and especially attitude that I wish more Juve players had, especially the latter. He’s a building block without a doubt, and the current day product ain’t too shabby, either.
VN: Prediction time: What’s the final score, who gets the goals, and what’ the overall framework of the match?
DP: I’m going 2-2. I think it’s going to be really hard for Juve to get a shutout knowing how many of their regular starters they’re missing. But I’m also expecting Dusan to be a man on a mission and do the kind of things he did against Empoli over the weekend.
Thanks, Danny! You’re far and away my favorite Juve fan and your cat is a beautiful and perfect and savage little beast.