A fine demonstration of mental strength secured a 3-1 win against Sevilla midweek that should stand Juventus in good stead going forward.
Not only have Juve qualified for the next round of the Champions League, but it appears the Italians could top their qualifying group after all. The problem is, they could still meet Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Arsenal or Real Madrid as a result of finishing first. If there was ever a time when topping the group did not matter, it was this year.
The fact that Juventus currently top their Champions League qualifying group and boast a seven-point gap at the top of the Serie A table is quite a feat considering the quality of the team’s play and the many injuries suffered thus far this season.
Claudio Marchisio has only just returned to action and has yet to play with continuity and at his optimum level, while Massimiliano Allegri has struggled to solve the tactical conundrum that is Miralem Pjanic. The playmaker is of no use to the current squad, his talents severely squandered. He is incapable of conjuring up a move on his own, while the absences of both Paulo Dybala and Marko Pjaca have stripped Juventus’ offensive line of the constant movement the Bosnian needs to flourish.
Pjanic will never be a man to join the attack and strike. He is a visionary who can only delight when those ahead of him make the right runs and tactically position themselves to benefit from his genius.
Deployed in a static team that lacks fluidity and constant movement, Pjanic has been disappointing, impressing only sporadically. The lack of stability has hardly helped. With so many injuries the coach has struggled to field a consistent first XI, forcing the Bosnian to adapt to different positions, schemes and personnel almost every week.
At this moment of time, Juventus need a different player. One who can run from deep, evade the press and participate in the offensive movements. Juan Cuadrado fits the bill but while he can introduce trickery, pace and ingenuity, it seems he’s yet to improve upon his decision making and reading of the game. The Colombian boasts a wide range of skills and cannot be described as anything but talented but unless he learns how to harness that brilliance into something practical, he will always prove to be a frustrating figure. There is a reason why Allegri never considered him indispensable and why Chelsea agreed to loan him out.
Considering the many absences and the quest for tactical balance, Cuadrado currently finds himself playing a major role for the Bianconeri and he must use that to his advantage. While he can never be faulted for his commitment to the job, the 28-year-old must try to simplify his game, perfecting the basics before indulging in the complicated.
Far too often, against Sevilla, the winger held onto the ball for too long or attempted to overcome a plethora of defenders when he ought to have simply looked up and sought a better positioned teammate. His sole purpose is to facilitate Juve’s attacking game when in possession but the Colombian often tries to do it all by himself, to be the hero of the moment rather than simply contributing to the overall movement to help the collective.
Against Genoa, Cuadrado could well start, as will Mario Mandzukic and the Croatian striker will hope that on this occasion, the winger will deliver fine crosses into the box rather than attempt impossible strikes.
Ivan Juric’s side may not be at their beautiful best but they are a difficult opponent to beat. Energetic, dynamic and vertical, Juric admits his style of play has been inspired by his love of heavy metal. This perhaps explains why Genoa love nothing more than to aggressively seek the win, earning six red cards in the process. No side has proved as ferocious.
Capable of pressing high up the pitch, the team look to quickly steal possession to facilitate their route to goal. Determined and fond of the odd foul, Genoa are the type of team Juve hate to face. Only intelligence and precise rotation of the ball can overcome such a team and the Bianconeri have struggled on both counts this season. Surrendering possession rather cheaply, it is time Juve learnt how to retain the ball and dictate the tempo of the game.
This composed and mature style of play was difficult to achieve even when the Old Lady boasted one of Europe’s finest midfields. Without such capable men in the middle, the task has proved even harder for Allegri’s newcomers, especially in light of Marchisio’s injury. However, the coach has always found solutions and with time, he is bound to do so again.
In the meantime, he will rely on the squad’s ability to grind out wins.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Minarzouki.