From the moment the Serie A schedule was released, Matchday 18 and the first Derby d’Italia of the campaign caught everyone’s eye. To mark this key outing, the boss of Juventus’ SB Nation site Black & White & Read All Over, Danny Penza answered some questions about the status of the Old Lady, ranging from Federico Chiesa’s big-money move from Fiorentina to how Andrea Pirlo’s first season as a head coach is faring. Many thanks to Danny for his time.
Q: What should Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan be most worried about coming from the Bianconeri?
A: The obvious fact is that Cristiano Ronaldo is a Juventus player, but that’s too easy. I think the simple fact that Juventus is a complete wild card and uncertainty from game to game is really just something that has been going on for months now. They have played up to the competition in some of their biggest games, yet played down to the likes of Benevento and Crotone during the first half of this season. Could the good side of Juventus show up against Inter? Sure! Could the bad side of Juventus show up against Inter? Definitely! I feel like the regular readers of BWRAO are probably sick of us talking about how inconsistent this team is, but until they get some kind of consistency — other than being consistent at being inconsistent, of course — we’re going to still hammer that fact home. If those of us who follow Juventus religiously every single game don’t know what the heck is going to happen each weekend, I’m not sure Conte will.
Q: On the contrary, what weaknesses could Inter exploit?
A: I think the simple fact that Juventus is down to the bare bones of its defense thanks to Matthijs de Ligt testing positive for COVID-19 and Giorgio Chiellni’s body being so fickle he can rarely play these days. I’m obviously not a world-class kind of talent like Romelu Lukaku or Lautaro Martinez, but I were I would be licking my chops when I see what kind of form Leonardo Bonucci is in right now. Honestly, Juve’s pretty lucky their defensive standing within the league is what it is being things haven’t been great, and there’s plenty of other injury issues with this team as well. I know Inter haven’t been playing great lately, but simply in terms of who’s available to Andrea Pirlo, Conte’s definitely catching his former team at a good time.
Q: Juventus bought two of the brightest talents in Serie A last year: Federico Chiesa and Dejan Kulusevski. How have they fared after six months in Turin? What are your hopes for the second half of the season?
A: Kulusevski and Chiesa have had very different kinds of seasons up until this point. With Pirlo tinkering around with personnel as he tried to implement his 3-4-1-2/4-4-2 hybrid, Kulusevski was played just about everywhere it seemed — seconda punta alongside Ronaldo, trequartista behind Ronaldo and Alvaro Morata, and then as a wingback, which didn’t go all that well at all. The kinds of games where Kulusevski has played well — especially over the last couple of months — have been the ones where can exploit his talents on the counter and try to break opposing defenders’ souls. Chiesa, after some truly up and down performances early on, has really settled into the right wingback spot with Juan Cuadrado being out due to COVID-19. He’s been played on the left-wing, but being in a much more natural position has — surprise! — allowed him to play really well. He’s exactly the kind of player who works in this system because he’s going to work his ass off no matter where he plays, but it’s the last few games (like in the win over Milan last week) where he really looked like the player who’s worth €50 million two summers from now.
Q: One of the more surprising coaching hires in recent memory came when Juventus appointed Andrea Pirlo. How has the rookie manager done so far? What is his preferred playing style?
A: It has gone a lot like you might expect for somebody who had very little preseason time to work with his new team and is essentially learning on the job with every game that goes by. There have been some good moments and probably just as many — if not more — frustrating ones. Juve’s place in the standings is pretty indicative of what they’ve done so far this season, and I don’t think anybody even in their wildest imaginations would try to convince you that this season has been any sort of resounding success. What Pirlo is trying to accomplish is quite ambitious, and it still remains to be seen if Juventus, as the team is currently constructed, can accomplish what he wants to do on a regular basis in terms of how it plays. Either way, Pirlo will continue to press, he will continue to use 3-4-1-2/3-5-2 in attack and 4-4-2 in defense. He will still demand that his midfield wins the ball back every chance it gets. And he will continually try and tweak things until he thinks he’s gotten it right. The good thing is that Pirlo is trying to adapt rather than Maurizio Sarri trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. So there’s already that little nugget that’s better than last season, I guess.
Q: What is your prediction for Sunday? How do you expect the game will play out?
A: Trying to predict Juventus this season — damn, you’ve got me speechless.
I will try, though, since I’m that nice of a guy: I’ll say 2-2 since Juve, sans the first Champions League group stage game against Barcelona, has pretty much showed up in all of their big games so far this season.