With the first Derby d’Italia of a still-young 2021/22 season almost upon us, we had the perfect opportunity to check back in with our counterparts across the aisle. Black & White & Read All Over site boss Danny Penza was kind enough to give us a look in on Juventus amidst a hectic three-game week for both clubs. A big thanks to Danny for stopping by!
Q: One of the biggest stories of the summer transfer market was Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United. What’s the perspective on the move from a Juventus point of view? How has he been replaced?
A: The perspective from a Juve point of view is that, at least from my end, it was the move the club needed to make. Ronaldo, despite all of the goals and the attention he brings, is a commanding presence and he demands certain things within a team, including said squad being built around him and have the ability to get him the ball. This Juventus team, or at least the ones of the last couple of years with Ronaldo on it, weren’t capable of that even though he scored a ton of goals. Juventus is still very much in transition, and having Ronaldo around would have just put off the process. He wants to win and compete for titles, especially in Europe, and this Juventus team isn’t exactly what you would call Champions League contenders at the moment.
Basically, it was the best move for both parties. Juventus wants to build around the likes of Paulo Dybala, Federico Chiesa, Matthijs de Ligt and Manuel Locatelli. They were able to get Ronaldo’s salary off the time wage bill at a time in which Juve just had massive losses as a result of the pandemic and empty stadiums. Ronaldo got his return to Manchester United and be fawned over by fans and the English media alike. Win-win for all involved.
Q: What are the early takeaways on Allegri’s (second) reign in Turin? What sort of playing style does Juventus prefer?
A: If you were to ask me this coming out of the last international break it would have been a lot different. But over the last three or four weeks worth of fixtures, Allegri is starting to get his team to play the way that results in more consistency as well as more wins. And when it comes to being in the business of winning, few have done it like Allegri in Serie A over the last couple of decades. It’s not pretty, it’s not the up-tempo Sarriball we saw two years ago or Andrea Pirlo’s high-risk but high-reward kind of system, but Allegri has essentially got this team back to playing like it did toward the end of his first run in Turin. They’re playing well defensively and they’ve finally ended their run without a clean sheet. They’ve now got four straight 1-0 wins in all competitions, which didn’t even seem possible with how all over the place the team was defensively to begin the season.
This is Allegri’s foundation. He wants a team to be solid defensively and will take it from there. It might still be a little too conservative for some, but it’s getting results right now. And for me, that’s what matters most as Juve begins these first couple of months of Allegri 2.0.
Q: What are Juventus’ strengths and weaknesses so far? Are there any Inter players you see causing the bianconeri problems? Any Juve players set for a big game against the Nerazzurri?
3) Honestly, it has depended on who’s been available. Earlier in the season, scoring goals wasn’t much of an issue. Dybala was healthy, Alvaro Morata was playing well and Chiesa was playing in a much more natural spot on the wing. But because of injuries, Allegri has had to do a lot of adjusting with Chiesa playing as a striker rather than a winger, Federico Bernardeschi has gotten a lot more playing time than anybody thought and suddenly Juve’s defense has had to shoulder a lot more of the load than I think any of us who follow the team regularly would have thought.
This will be a big challenge for Juve’s midfield that is now centered around Locatelli, and I think that is where this game will hinge. Inter’s midfield is really good, and it has been one that, as we talked on our podcast - like and subscribe to The Old Lady Speaks! - a lot last season, Juventus should try to emulate because it works so well together. At least it did under Antonio Conte, right? So now with Locatelli in and Rodrigo Bentancur not having to do so much of the heavy lifting in terms of the creativity, Juve’s midfield has definitely gotten better and is not the same kind of black hole it has been in recent years. So if you want to know who could have a big game - or who should have to have a big game if Juve want to win on Sunday - it will definitely have to be Locatelli, a boyhood Juventino who will be playing in his first-ever Derby d’Italia.
Q: What does a successful season look like for Juve? Do you think expectations will match up to reality?
A: It depends who you ask, honestly. Juve fans have gotten so accustomed to winning over the last decade that many feel like anything other than a Scudetto will be considered a failure. There are others who know this Allegri 2.0 project will take some time to truly get going and that challenging for the Scudetto this season might be a little too much to ask. And that’s before you consider just how this team started the 2021-22 season.
For me, as long as they compete for the title this season with how the first few games went, that’s a win for me. I get that winning the title for basically an entire decade will skew some of your expectations, but sometimes you need to adjust those expectations because of the squad that you have. Now, Juve’s looked better of late, but they still need to prove they can pick up results on a consistent rate to both make up points as well as close the gap on the teams in front of them. If they are able to do that, then we can adjust our expectations for the better. You know, basically the opposite of what we did last season.
Q: What’s your prediction for Sunday’s marquee affair?
A: I will do exactly what I did when I was asked this by our friends at Chiesa di Totti last week: 2-1 Juventus win. But just barely. It’s gonna be a close one, but for the first time this season I’m actually confident about the state Juve’s in going into a big game like this one obviously is.