The Andrea Pirlo era has not exactly got off to the start Andrea Agnelli was hoping for when he appointed the rookie manager over the summer. Juventus have struggled in the opening weeks of the 2020-21 Serie A season, dropping points against Crotone and now Hellas Verona. In fact, the Bianconeri have only recorded one victory on the field this season – in their opener against Sampdoria. Beyond the poor results, Juventus look like a side clearly in transition and is currently in the midst of defining its new identity.
Since his appointment, Pirlo has emphasised the need to press up the pitch and force turnovers as well as committing many men forward in attack. This is a complete turnaround from his predecessors, notably Maurizio Sarri. The former Empoli tactician stressed the importance of intricate buildup play and recognisable patterns of possession. Pirlo has completely shaken this up and has instilled a new system in place, which allows for flexibility in and out of possession.
When Juventus lose the ball, they typically fall into a back four and defend with a 4-4-2. As the side wins back the ball, however, the Bianconeri quickly transition into a hybrid 3-5-2/3-2-5 of sorts and look to stretch the opposition. Considering Pirlo did not have a preseason to work out the kinks of his system, growing pains are to be expected. In addition, this setup is the polar opposite of Sarri’s footballing philosophy.
As a result, it is only normal that Pirlo encounters some issues when attempting to essentially reset his players. Tactical changes take time to be fully immersed into the eleven, even if the poor results add to the pressure he is currently facing.
Beyond their recent struggles, it is important to consider Juve’s notable absences. Cristiano Ronaldo has missed the side’s last three games after testing positive for COVID-19, and will likely miss their upcoming clash against Barcelona. Other than Ronaldo, Pirlo has had to make do without Alex Sandro, Matthijs de Ligt and until recently, Paulo Dybala. Weston McKennie is another player who tested positive for COVID-19, after his impressive start to the season. When considering that four bonafide starters have been missing, it puts Juve’s early-season struggles into context .
Absences, however, are not excuses as the side has failed to impress in their last two league affairs. Once again, Juventus have demonstrated complacency in their games against Hellas Verona and Crotone and only took the game to the opposition after conceding a goal. This mentality has been present for the past two seasons now and is something that needs to be changed immediately.
Pirlo’s men played their best football in the last 20 minutes of their most recent clash against Hellas Verona as their backs were against the wall. Simply put, a narrow deficit should not be necessary for the side to demonstrate urgency on the pitch. The Italian champions were at their best in their Champions League opener, dominating the proceedings from the get-go, and must translate this mentality into their domestic play. Otherwise, they risk relinquishing their Scudetto crown for the first time in 10 years.
Juventus will now shift their attention to Barcelona in their second Champions League game and will do so, with only one fit central defender. After Barcelona, the Bianconeri take on Spezia, Lazio, and Cagliari. Despite their notable absences, Juve will have to return to winning ways sooner rather than later, otherwise risk falling into crisis mode.
Given it is still early days in Pirlo’s tenure, it would be wise to exhibit patience and allow Juve’s regular starters to return to action before judging him and his setup. The early signs have been encouraging, but Pirlo needs to eliminate his side’s complacency and introduce a newfound desire to conquer Italian football.