By Brian Homewood
July 26 – Maurizio Sarri was hired by Juventus to impose his renowned high-tempo passing game on the team but the new coach stumbled across a small problem — everything revolves around Cristiano Ronaldo.
In the end, it was the individual brilliance of players such as Ronaldo and playmaker Paulo Dybala, rather than the manager’s tactics, which brought Juve their ninth successive Serie A crown and Sarri his first major title in Italian football.
Ronaldo has so far scored 31 goals in Serie A this season and his previously uneasy partnership with Dybala, who the club tried to sell before the start of the season, has flourished to the extent that the pair are now dubbed “Dybaldo” by the Italian media.
Juventus had won their previous five titles under the pragmatic leadership of Massimiliano Allegri but the club wanted something more flamboyant and hired Sarri to provide it.
However, it soon became clear that Juve were not going to weave intricate patterns through defences in the way Sarri’s Napoli side had — a style that became known as ‘Sarri-ball’.
Sarri found that old habits die hard and on several occasions vented his frustration that his team had sat back Allegri-style on their lead.
“If we are going to just pass the ball around, then at least we should do it in the opposition´s half of the field,” he said after a 2-1 win over AS Roma.
The coach also explained that he had to take the characteristics of his players into account, above all Ronaldo — whose presence requires special attention.
That raised the question as to whether the 35-year-old Portugal forward might even be a hindrance to the side.
At one point, there were murmurs that Juventus looked better on the few occasions Ronaldo was absent and that Dybala had a better understanding with his fellow Argentine Gonzalo Higuain.
“Sometimes, Ronaldo creates a small problem because you have a champion in the team and it has to be set up around him but, at the same time he solves 100 of them,” said Sarri after Ronaldo scored both goals in a 2-1 win over Parma.
“You just have to be clear that everything revolves around him.”
Juve were also helped by the inconsistencies of their rivals, especially when the season resumed after the three-month novel coronavirus stoppage.
Lazio, one point behind the Turin side when the league re-started, were ravaged by injuries and lost touch after a run which saw them take one point from five games.
Meanwhile, Inter Milan, who led for the early part of the season, repeatedly let matches slip from their grasp.
Juve’s football rarely flowed — free-scoring Atalanta proved far more enjoyable to watch — but Ronaldo and Dybala were always there to get them out of tricky situations, such as in the match at Genoa where they scored a goal apiece as three stunning second-half strikes secured a 3-1 win.
“Paulo’s great slalom, Ronaldo’s shot which was incredible for its precision and strength and the sensitive touch (from Douglas Costa) — that was how we solved the match, thanks to our individualities and phenomenal skills,” said the coach.
‘Sarri-ball’ will have to wait for another time. (Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Ken Ferris and Pritha Sarkar)