The Derby d’Italia is upon us once again, and that gives us the perfect opportunity to check in with Danny Penza from our Bianconeri sister site Black & White & Read All Over. Despite being a Juve fan, Danny is one of the best calcio people out there and always a pleasure to talk to. We went over everything Juve, from Vlahovic’s impact to the takeaways on Allegri’s debut (x2) season and more. We couldn’t leave out Dybala’s impending departure either and whether there’s any chance he ends up trading Turin for Milan.
A big thanks to Danny for his time!
Q: How has Allegri’s return season fared? What does a successful end to the campaign look like?
A: Honestly, it’s hard to describe what it’s been like because so much of the recent drama and disappointment has clouded a lot of the other stuff that has happened. Juve started the season horribly, they were able to right the ship to start the year, they signed the best young striker in Europe not named Erling Haaland, jumped into the top four and have a nice advantage over Atalanta but then get dumped out of the Champions League Round of 16 by Villarreal and then decide to not renew their No. 10’s contract. That may be an incredibly terrible run-on sentence, but that’s the short version of it — there’s been some good, some really bad, and then some other stuff that has probably fallen somewhere in between.
This team had issues big enough where thinking they were a title contender coming into the season probably was the right thing to do. But the addition of Vlahovic and the struggles of those above Juve in the standings has made both the tough start to the season and all the dropped points against teams in which Juve shouldn’t drop against has made it a little bit of a disappointment. Max Allegri’s reliance on being a little too conservative much more often than not is a big issue with many considering just how advanced Serie A’s tactical revolution has gone the last couple of years. But Juve are grinding out results and haven’t lost a Serie A fixture since December, so I can only complain so much, ya know?
Q: What’s the feeling around the fanbase about Paulo Dybala’s exit? Is it the right move? And do you think there’s any chance he goes to Inter?
A: Shameless plug: Listen to the latest episode of The Old Lady Speaks Podcast to get all of your Paulo Dybala opinions!
Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I will actually answer your question.
For me, it’s sad because Dybala is one of my favorite Juventus players. He’s just a great player when he’s fit and he brings that creative factor that no other Juve player really has. The problem is the “when he’s fit” part because he’s been far from a player you can rely on consistently over the last couple of years. Whenever Dybala puts a few weeks worth of appearances together, it’s almost like you’re waiting for that next muscle injury to arrive. It’s a lot like how things are with Giorgio Chiellini. The problem is, though, Dybala is 28, not 37 years old like Chiellini, and this should be La Joya’s prime.
I can understand why Dybala’s camp is upset because of the reported handshake agreement they had with Juventus back in October. But I can also understand how Vlahovic’s arrival and the shocking way in which it happened suddenly changed the way Juventus wanted to build its squad and who its centerpiece is going to be going into the future. It’s just a situation where both sides can find issues with the other and the fact that Juve wanted Dybala to take a lower salary in which they reportedly agreed to in October was, in hindsight, the final nail in the coffin.
I just hope he doesn’t go to Inter even though Dybala going to Inter makes a lot of sense. Dammit, I hate this.
Q: Dusan Vlahovic’s move to Turin from Fiorentina stole the headlines in January. What does he bring to the table? Is he worth the massive fee Juventus shipped out for him?
A: It’s pretty easy to see what Dusan brings: Goals, grinta and an absolute bull leading the line. The problem is more about how much the manager’s conservative tactics might hold the entire attack back as compared to the free-flowing style that Vlahovic was playing in under Vincenzo Italiano at Fiorentina. He is definitely worth the money spent, and the key going forward is what Juventus is able to build around him. (I guess I will get to that in a minute.) I mean, the guy scored 33 seconds into his Champions League debut and has played a ton of minutes since arriving from Fiorentina — he’s given Juventus everything they’ve asked out of him even though the injury crisis around him has been something that I can’t remember Juve dealing with in all my years covering them for BWRAO.
We’re all curious to see what Dybala does in his final games as a Juventus player, but I’m also interested to see what Vlahovic does over this same period of time knowing full well that he is now the face of this club and the club’s management have come out and said just that. Not that I don’t think he will suddenly stop scoring or anything. (Hopefully I haven’t just jinxed the dude.) But yeah, I’m down with Dusan and he certainly is a pretty good guy to build your attack around. And he’s only 22 — which, considering what he’s done already with Fiorentina, is pretty scary to think about.
Q: What’s your summer transfer window wish list for Juventus?
A: Before the Dybala non-renewal announcement, Juve’s No. 1 priority was definitely improving the midfield. Actually, it still is. Signing Manuel Locatelli was a good step forward. As was Denis Zakaria in January. The problem has been Zakaria has missed the last month due to injury, and when you combine that with Weston McKennie’s season-ending injury you’ve got a lot of energy and steel suddenly subtracted from the midfield. Adrien Rabiot and Arthur have been far from convincing, with both players rumored to be leaving over the summer. It’s just the same old song and dance with the midfield we’ve had the last handful of years — years of trying to do patchwork fixes are still being felt on the roster.
But with Dybala’s impending exit and almost everybody in defense outside of Matthijs de Ligt and Luca Pellegrini being around 30 years old or already over 30, there’s a lot more to be done this summer than just addressing the still big hole in the midfield. Juventus want to build around Vlahovic, which makes you think a 4-3-3 or something with wingers is in the cards for next season. Well, the only winger that Juventus currently has under contract for next season is Federico Chiesa, who is currently rehabbing a serious knee injury. So, yeah, some wingers are needed. As is somebody who can partner with Matthijs de Ligt because Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci are both nearing the end of their respective careers.
Basically what I’m trying to say is that this team is far from being a finished product and this summer is going to be a busy one in terms of arrivals and departures. So at least they’ll give us something to write about.
Q: What’s your prediction for Sunday and the rest of the season in general? Is a Juve title in May that far off from reality?
A: 2-1 Juventus. This team won’t be winning anything other than maybe the Coppa Italia. So there’s that, I guess.