Shopping spree: Examining Juventus' needs, transfer window targets
With the summer window officially open throughout Europe’s top leagues, we’re diving deep to analyse the transfer needs for the continent’s best clubs. Here, we examine the situation at Juventus.
Key additions (so far)
- Patrik Schick (Sampdoria) – reported €25-million transfer
- Medhi Benatia (Bayern Munich) – Loan made permanent for €17 million
- Juan Cuadrado (Chelsea) – Loan made permanent for €20 million
- Riccardo Orsolini (Ascoli) – €6-million transfer
- Mattia Caldara (Atalanta) – €15-million fee; remains with Atalanta on loan
- Rodrigo Bentancur (Boca Juniors) – €9.5-million transfer
Juventus supporters, watching on as AC Milan has moved like lightning to reconstruct its squad with a plethora of early deals, have grumbled about the meandering pace with which Beppe Marotta has seemed to conduct his business this summer. It’s easy to forget, however, that the 60-year-old executive has already procured some impressive signatures – most of them just happened to be in January.
Not resting on his laurels, Marotta made a trio of moves to continue reloading for the future, inking exciting winger Riccardo Orsolini (20), graceful midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur (20), and composed centre-back Mattia Caldara (23). Patrik Schick, the 21-year-old Czech phenom who took Serie A by storm last season, has already completed the first stage of his medical in Turin, and should provide much-needed depth behind Gonzalo Higuain, who looked exhausted late in the season.
True, those moves are unlikely to make the club significantly better in 2017-18, but they are impressive deals that help solidify the long-term health of the club. Unsexy as they may be right now, they’re just as vital as making an opulent move in the market.
Noteworthy departures (so far)
The abrupt departure of the Brazilian full-back came as a shock, throwing an unforeseen wrench into the club’s summer plans. There are distinct areas that need to be upgraded for the reigning six-time Italian champion to continue bridging the gap on continental kingpin Real Madrid, but the full-back situation wasn’t supposed to be one of them. Alves, who found his groove in the second half of the campaign after recovering from a fractured leg, was his dynamic self once the calendar flipped to 2017. His all-conquering performance against Monaco in the Champions League semi-final will go down as the standout showing from his lone season in Italy, but the truth is he was a consistent force after settling in.
No Juventus player completed more passes per 90 minutes in Serie A than Alves, who, despite being 34, continued to showcase the attacking verve and exuberance that made him such a dominant, vital presence for Barcelona.
A true like-for-like replacement – as in, a right-back who commands the ball and is adept at interplay with his attacking peers – won’t be available, which means Marotta and sporting director Fabio Paratici need to get creative.
Potential sales (and loans)
Few things are unequivocal in the transfer market, but here’s one that, just like the club itself, is very much a black-and-white matter: Juventus can’t afford to lose Alex Sandro this summer. Thanks for your interest, Chelsea, but no thanks – not even for the gargantuan €70-million fee being suggested.
Related: Juventus receives ‘substantial offer’ for Chelsea target Alex Sandro
The 26-year-old was an absolute monster last season, establishing himself as a contender for Marcelo’s throne as the best left-back on the planet. Measured per 90 minutes, his numbers in some of the most important attacking categories were immaculate. Here’s how Sandro ranked among left-backs who made at least 20 appearances in Europe’s top five leagues:
|Category||Total (per 90 minutes)||Rank|
Per WhoScored, only one other left-back from Europe’s top five leagues ranked in the top 10 in all three of those categories (Hint: he has a spectacular Afro and plays for Real Madrid). Juventus isn’t going to buy Marcelo, so he’s out. Theo Hernandez also rated highly in those categories, and he just moved to Real Madrid for €24 million. Faouzi Ghoulam also put up (somewhat) comparable numbers, but after the Gonzalo Higuain saga last year, Napoli would likely rather staple its players to the bench (literally) than allow them to join the Bianconeri.
Which brings us back to the original point: Alex Sandro needs to be retained.
The rest of that group – not including the potential loanees – consists of replaceable bench options, though giving up so quickly on talented 23-year-old midfielder Mario Lemina would be a shame.
Biggest transfer need
Box-to-box central midfielder: As a whole, Juventus is stronger now than it was when either Arturo Vidal or Paul Pogba were at the club. The midfield, though, is desperately crying out for that type of agile, energetic player.
Miralem Pjanic is a truly excellent passer. He can both orchestrate from deep and push forward to more intricate areas, scores the occasional goal from open play, and also provides deadly precision from free-kicks. The lone drawback with the Bosnian is pace. He’s not Andrea Pirlo, but he doesn’t get around the pitch like Vidal or Pogba. And that’s fine. Not every player can be like those two uber-athletic freaks of nature. The problem arises when you surround him with players who offer limited athleticism.
Sami Khedira is tactically astute as they come, and actually stayed healthy last season. He’s a freight train once he gets going, but he lumbers around more than he glides. Claudio Marchisio is a wonderful all-around midfielder who offers a little bit of everything, but off the back of a torn ACL – and now on the wrong side of 30 – he doesn’t provide the mobility he did during the earlier stages of his career. Age catches up with everyone.
If the harrowing loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League final proved anything, it was that a truly world class midfield, led by a superstar like Luka Modric, can take over a match and make all the difference.
Other areas of concern
Additional wingers: All signs suggest Massimiliano Allegri intends on going forward with the 4-2-3-1 formation that helped rejuvenate a stagnant Juventus at the midway point of last season. It’s no surprise, then, the club has been linked with moves for a multitude of wingers; the four players the Tuscan tactician used in 2016-17 to fill the wide roles all present unique concerns.
Juan Cuadrado can be scintillating on his day, but remains aggravatingly inconsistent; Mario Mandzukic is a tireless worker – his willingness to sacrifice personal production for the good of the team was vital to making the formation shift plausible – but lacks the one-on-one explosiveness that is so crucial in wide areas; Croatian youngster Marko Pjaca, an elite dribbler who offers exactly the type of skills his compatriot is missing, is mending a torn ACL that he suffered in March; Dani Alves, thrust into a more advanced position later in the season, is no longer at the club.
Backup goalkeeper: Neto, whose move from Fiorentina always seemed a curious one given that everyone knew Gianluigi Buffon had complete dominion over the starting job, is off to Valencia, while 20-year-old academy product Emil Audero has been loaned out to Venezia. With Buffon coming to the end of his career – he’s said he is “99.9 percent” sure this season will be his last – the Bianconeri need to find someone who is capable of filling some enormous boots, or gloves, as it were, next year.
Wojciech Szczesny remains the name most heavily linked with a move, and Buffon has already endorsed the potential signing, saying of the Polish shot-stopper: “He was probably the best goalkeeper in terms of consistency, and saves made. I think that it’s an intelligent marriage between the strongest club and the one who was the strongest goalkeeper last year.”
High praise, indeed.
Full-back: See earlier sections. Alves needs to be replaced, but the true cloud hanging over the Old Lady’s window is the question of Sandro’s future. His departure would signal a massive step backward during a summer that, unlike in recent years, was supposed to consist of fine tuning, not rebuilding.
Naby Keita: The answer to Juventus’ midfield issues, and those of basically any other team in Europe. The engine that powers RB Leipzig’s direct, breakneck style of play, the 22-year-old Guinean is what you’d get if you created the perfect box-to-box midfielder inside a lab. He has the dribbling skills of a winger who can traverse the entire pitch with the ball at his feet, but he just happens to do it in the most congested area of the field. He creates more turnovers than your favourite bakery, is fast going north-south and nimble moving laterally, and is smart enough to burst through holes when they appear, or pick the perfect pass when he can’t go it alone.
Pair him with an exquisite passer like, say, Miralem Pjanic, and that’s the type of midfield that dreams are made of.
Unfortunately for Juventus, Leipzig seems hellbent on keeping its brightest star; if Liverpool’s reported attempts to bring Keita to Anfield are any indication, even a £70-million offer will be rebuffed by the German side.
Ideal (but probably impossible) signings: Marco Verratti, Adrien Rabiot
Verratti has one of the most unique midfielder profiles in the game – he’s a passing king who can create for his teammates, has a feisty side that shines through when he goes into a tackle, and reads the game well enough to provide defensive cover. His Paris Saint-Germain peer Rabiot, meanwhile, is similar to Keita in that he can cut out a pass and then go gliding by his opponents with frightening ease, though he is definitely a less dynamic dribbler. Crucially, all three midfield studs are young – the diminutive Italian is the oldest of the trio, at 24 – which is something Juventus needs to consider as it continues to lay the groundwork to ensure sustained success.
4 (realistic) players to target
Federico Bernardeschi (Fiorentina): Reports in Italy suggest a deal is close to completion, which should help quell supporters’ desire for a big summer splash. The Italian international, 23, is a tricky customer who boasts a powerful left foot, and can play a variety of attacking positions. Coming off a season in which he paired 13 goals with 5 assists in all competitions, Bernardeschi looks set to move to the Allianz Stadium (no, we’re not used to that name yet either) in a deal that could be worth over €40 million. He’d likely start from day one as the club’s first-choice right winger, cutting inside to either shoot himself or connect with Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain.
Keita Balde (Lazio): While the Bernardeschi deal seems to be at an advanced stage, and rumblings of an agreement for Douglas Costa emerged Saturday, the talk of Juventus’ interest in Lazio speedster Keita Balde has gone somewhat cold of late. Concerning, given that the 22-year-old Senegalese winger is ridiculously talented, and should only continue to get better.
With just a year remaining on his contract in the Italian capital, this is another opportunity Marotta should look to pounce on. Of course, in classic Marotta fashion, he could look to snap up the enticing wide forward for free in 2018.
Renato Sanches (Bayern Munich): Bayern Munich isn’t going to just give him away – the Bavarians have invested too much money to throw in the towel on such an enormous talent after just one season – but there could be an opportunity to work something out between two sides with a strong recent track record of brokering deals. Corentin Tolisso, who was heavily linked with Juventus last season, is a young, blossoming two-way midfielder, and would have been an absolutely perfect fit in Turin. Instead, Bayern nabbed him for an initial €41.5-million fee. He’s not going to sit on the bench. Neither is midfield mastermind Thiago Alcantara, or the human buzz saw Vidal. Sebastian Rudy will see some action, and Javi Martinez could get pushed back into midfield after the signing of hulking centre-back Niklas Sule. Sanches is raw – he’s only 19 – but is clearly talented, and needs minutes.
Juventus needs someone with his energy in central midfield. An ideal match?
Blaise Matuidi (Paris Saint-Germain): Steven N’Zonzi would see Juventus double-down on its desire to dictate possession and use a more measured, methodical attacking approach based on having two supreme passers in midfield, but with Dybala already dropping deeper to provide that additional playmaking presence, Juve should be looking for a more fleet-footed option in central midfield that can get around the pitch and act as the primary ball retriever. Blaise Matuidi, despite being 30, offers that type of skill set, and could be a relatively cheap solution for the coming season given that his contract with PSG is slated to expire next summer.
Other targets: Douglas Costa (Bayern Munich), Serge Aurier (Paris Saint-Germain), Joao Cancelo (Valencia), Mattia De Sciglio (AC Milan).
The loanee situation
Mattia Caldara (Atalanta): Juventus’ longstanding tactic of gobbling up the most promising young defenders on the peninsula continued earlier this year, when the club, clearly impressed by the calm, composed performances of Mattia Caldara, moved swiftly to bring him aboard from Atalanta for an initial €15-million fee in January.
The well-re22-year-old centre-back is a graceful defender likened more to Alessandro Nesta than other rugged predecessors. Upon returning to Turin when his loan ends in 2018, he’ll be tasked with making the transition away from Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini a seamless one.
Pol Lirola (Sassuolo): While Juventus needs to sort out the right-back situation for the immediate future, the club hopes to already have its long-term option on the books in the form of the 19-year-old Spaniard. The Barcelona-born Lirola, who has one year remaining on his loan with Sassuolo, is smooth on the ball and showcased an impressive desire to get forward in 28 total appearances with the Neroverdi last season.
Leonardo Spinazzola (Atalanta): The 24-year-old is coming off a superb season in Bergamo, breaking through with the Italian national team and establishing himself as an intriguing long-term option for his parent club.
Spinazzola would be an option should Alex Sandro be sold this summer, and while his defensive output isn’t on the level of the Brazilian, he offers a somewhat comparable attacking profile. He has one year remaining on his loan deal in Lombardia, though reports vary as to whether the Juventus brass will cut that deal short and recall him early.
Potential starting XI
Squad members: Wojciech Szczesny, Carlo Pinsoglio; Kwadwo Asamoah, Mattia De Sciglio, Daniele Rugani, Andrea Barzagli, Medhi Benatia; Sami Khedira, Claudio Marchisio, Rodrigo Bentancur; Mario Mandzukic, Marko Pjaca; Patrik Schick, Moise Kean
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)