Since Juventus won their 28th championship in 2012, no other Italian has tasted domestic league success.
The Old Lady, as they are commonly known, have redefined the meaning of monopoly by winning the last nine Scudetti, at times without any real challengers.
But following another dismal Champions League performance, they begin a third consecutive season with a different manager as club legend Andrea Pirlo succeeds the much-maligned Maurizio Sarri.
Will he be able to maintain their dominance? Or will Juve be dethroned? Here are five things to expect in 2020/21.
1. Much more tactical flexibility and a switch to a back three
When Juventus hired Sarri after he guided Chelsea to a Europa League win last summer, it was seen by many observers as an attempt to shed their pragmatic, win-at-all-cost image.
However, any Utopian visions upper management had never transpired. ‘Sarriball’, which reinvigorated Napoli under his watch, did not take off. Elimination from the Champions League by unfancied Ligue 1 outfit Lyon ultimately cost Sarri a second year, but there were doubts as to his suitability anyway.
Sarri, much like the man he replaced Massimiliano Allegri, was stubborn when it came to his preferred system and tactics. He used his favoured 4-3-3 shape for much of the season, only otherwise deploying a 4-3-1-2. To many in Juve’s squad, this was a huge change from Allegri’s stout preference for a back-three, which could theoretically return with Pirlo’s introduction.
Pirlo fielded a back-three formation to start Saturday’s friendly win over Novara and, while previously outlining his coaching ideas, gave the distinct impression he’s not fixated with one way of playing.
“Tactically we could play with four or three at the back, I have no set formations,” he said.
2. Cristiano to end a 13-year Capocannoniere wait
Juve managed 76 goals across 38 matches, which left them behind four teams in the scoring charts: Atalanta (98), Inter Milan (81), Lazio (79) and Roma (77). As low as that might sound for a title-winning team, it nonetheless matches their average in the previous five seasons, their best return being the 86 managed in 2017/18 when Paulo Dybala (22) was the leading marksman.
The next two seasons saw five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo take over primary goalscoring duties, but even he is yet to finish as Serie A’s capocannoniere (which literally means ‘head gunner’). He finished on 31 strikes last season, five behind Lazio’s centre-forward Ciro Immobile.
Bringing in a striker to occupy central areas while leaving space for Ronaldo out wide, à la Karim Benzema during his Real Madrid days, is clearly one of Juventus’ transfer objectives. Gonzalo Higuaín has left and Luis Suárez, Edin Dzeko and Olivier Giroud are among the potential replacements linked. But one thing is clear: no matter who leads the line, Ronaldo is the main source of goals.
He turns 36 during this forthcoming season, but Ronaldo’s fitness is legendary. He only missed five Serie A games last term and, across 2,919 minutes, attempted 208 shots (most in competition), hit the target 80 times (most) and recorded an xG of 28.67 (again, most).
His average of 0.96 goals per 90 minutes was up on 0.7 per 90 from the previous season. If he can replicate that form in front of goal, or go better (given his competitive drive and spirit, you know he’s going to push to achieve it), there’s every chance Ronaldo will become Juve’s first ‘golden boot’ winner since fabled No.10 Alessandro Del Piero produced 21 goals in the 2007/08 season.
William Hill’s 2020/21 Serie A top goalscorer favourites:
- Cristiano Ronaldo – 2/1
- Romelu Lukaku – 4/1
- Ciro Immobile – 6/1
- Duvan Zapata – 10/1
- Lautaro Martinez – 14/1
*You have to be 18+ to gamble. All odds and offers within this article are accurate at the time of writing (10:30, 14/09/2020). BeGambleAware.
3. Away form will let them down
Part of why Juventus weren’t so totally dominant last season was their less-than-stellar away form. Sarri’s men suffered seven losses overall. Not since their 2010/11 campaign (10) have they been humbled so many times.
Of those seven defeats, six came on the road, including three of their last four away trips. A 4-2 loss at Milan was even the most they’ve shipped in an away game since October 2013. More distressing is the fact Juventus were one of eight clubs to register at least three errors leading to goals on the road. The other teams on the list finished the 2019/20 campaign sitting in the following spots: 12, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20.
All things considered, Pirlo has his work cut out for him. He has told us to expect more aggression and speed in recovering the ball in the shortest possible time, which would in theory alleviate some of the team’s concerns at the back. They faced 271 shots on their travels last season, substantially higher than Juve’s average in the preceding three seasons (201). This eventually resulted in 26 goals conceded, which is again on the wrong side of the average from these aforementioned campaigns (17).
Home is where the heart is, but as the six-time Serie A champion knows, enjoying consistently successful away days guarantees the champagne is flowing at season’s end.
4. Juventus to just fall short of 10 consecutive Serie A wins
Ronaldo’s form will unquestionably be crucial to Juve’s title defence and quest for an unbelievable 10-peat. Not only was he responsible for 41% of their league goals last season, but that aura (which increases tenfold when he’s in the groove) bewitches defenders, thus making life for his teammates a lot easier.
That said, newly-appointed manager Pirlo takes charge following the Bianconeri’s most hard-fought championship win in recent times. It’s worth pointing out Juve were seven points clear when they confirmed Italian football’s grandest prize for another year. But by the final standings, Sarri’s men pipped Inter Milan by one point, the smallest margin of success in this unprecedented period of dominance.
Before last season, their most slender season-ending lead was three points in 2014/15. Back then, Allegri’s team responded by winning the 2015/16 season by nine points. A similar response is expected given who they are; but with an unproven coach at the helm and facing an ever-improving Inter, their most likely challenger, how confident can we be? All good things must come to an end, and our prediction is that Juve will face their season of reckoning.
William Hill’s 2020/21 Serie A title favourites:
- Juventus – 17/20
- Inter Milan – 2/1
- Atalanta – 10/1
- Napoli – 12/1
- Lazio – 20/1
5. Arthur will be referred to as ‘the new Pirlo’ at some point
No matter how Juve are set up, one thing you can be sure of is that they’ll be keeping the ball moving. Pirlo perfected this artform during an illustrious 22-year playing career and wants to impose a style which emphasises heavy-ball retention. “I want to bring some enthusiasm, what has been missing in the last period,” he told reporters. “I want to propose a proactive football, and domination of the play.”
To this end, the loss of Miralem Pjanic (1,725 passes completed last season) to Barcelona is to be counterbalanced by Brazilian metronome Arthur coming the other way.
Arthur averaged 70.71 successful passes per 90 minutes, which betters every Serie A player bar Fabián Ruiz (70.75). It remains to be seen exactly where the Brazilian international fits into Pirlo’s plans, but the expectation is he’ll be playing a pivotal role. “I have seen and admired him,” Juve’s new boss added. “Arthur is a good player. In my opinion he is a midfielder who can fill multiple roles. He will be very useful during the season.”
Dejan Kulusevski is another exciting signing, but you could imagine Arthur becoming a personal project for Pirlo. He is also a player who has previously invited illustrious comparisons, having been was cast as the heir to Xavi before the Barcelona board decided to trade him for a 30-year-old. If given an important role in which he can dictate play, and if Juventus get off to a strong start under Serie A’s former pass-master Pirlo, it won’t be long before someone, somewhere in the media puts two and two together.