Italian journalist Alvise Cagnazzo weighs up the task in hand for Juventus boss Maurizio Sarri as he looks to prove his remaining doubters wrong by guiding his side past Lyon in the Champions League.
Maurizio Sarri is a man under pressure but has bought himself some time. That seems to be the most credible message that has been circulating within the Juventus boardroom in recent days.
The team has more holes than Swiss cheese and concedes far too many goals for their liking. For the first time, the club won the Scudetto while conceding more than 30 goals, an unconvincing record that did not please officials at the club.
So how can Juventus find a way to win their most highly-anticipated match of the season against Lyon in the Champions League?
Friday’s Champions League round of 16 match against Lyon is a crossroads in Sarri’s season. In the pre-match press conference, the Juventus coach clearly explained his mood: ‘I am not worried and I am sure that my future here does not depend on the 90 minutes against Lyon.
‘The club had 13 months to evaluate my job and in Juventus there are no bad managers.’
Sarri maintains he is not afraid and dismisses the words of the Italian media, who are convinced that he is at risk of losing his job. Winning a Scudetto at the first attempt is a magnificent achievement, and yet failure against Lyon could rewrite an historic season.
Sarri is a sensitive coach and an introverted character despite his penchant for sarcasm. He was suspended during the final day defeat against Roma and communicated with his staff from the stands via text message, preferring older methods to newfangled WhatsApp.
Sarri communicated with his players from a special room in the Allianz Stadium, initially texting his assistant Giovanni Martusciello and then calling him during the half-time interval.
According to Tuttosport, Sarri continues to send text messages and nobody else at Juventus has abandoned the system either. To Sarri, communication is paramount and he does not like to entrust his thoughts to tweets or short messages.
Immediately after winning the Scudetto with Juventus he sent each player and staff member a personalized message of thanks for the great work done during the season, and asking everyone to concentrate on the upcoming task against Lyon. He needs to hope his messages got through loud and clear.
Juventus will again hang their hopes on Gonzalo Higuain this weekend. According to ‘Gazzetta’ and ‘Tuttosport’, Juve are ready to say goodbye to their striker who wants to return to Argentina to be close to his mother. Offers have been received from River Plate and DC United, a club where his brother Fernando is the assistant manager.
The goals have dried up somewhat for Higuain. At 33, ‘Pipita’ has endured a slow but steady decline and the club has already decided to replace him with Arkadiusz Milik. However, Sarri will hope Higuain’s desire is to guarantee a grand finale in the Champions League before waving goodbye to Italy.
Juventus have championed athletic trainers in the past such as Giampiero Ventrone and Bangsbo Andersen, who now works for an eye-catching Atalanta side. Sarri has not been able to improve the endurance of his players this season and this lower standard of physical fitness seems to mirror the lack of cohesion within the club.
Juve did not rectify the recurring performance problems experienced by many players including Aaron Ramsey, Mattia De Sciglio, Sami Khedira and Douglas Costa.
Sarri and his staff should have devised a bespoke programme to help those who suffered with incessant injuries, but all four have never managed to improve athletically. Now they are each becoming a financial burden to the club. Ramsey is an emblematic case: physical problems are added to concerns the manager already had about where he would fit in tactically.
The Welshman’s sale at the end of the season seems increasingly likely. The midfielder has not been an influential player since he arrived in Italy. He has never found match fitness, nor has he found the best position in midfield in Sarri’s 4-3-3 formation.
On Thursday, club chiefs Pavel Nedved and Fabio Paratici were present at the training ground. The board members attended the training session and spoke individually to many players, including Gianluigi Buffon. Their presence is essential to motivate the team to win a game that guarantees Juventus more than 15 million euros. According to ‘Dagospia’, Nedved and Paratici have begun to fear President Agnelli could make wholesale changes at the end of the season.
The contract of sports director Paratici expires in 2021 and even if Agnelli has repeatedly reiterated his desire to extend the contract until 2024, he could be replaced by Gigi Buffon or replaced by another internal manager such as his assistant Federico Cherubini, now responsible for youth development.
When a person is under pressure in Italy it is said that life ‘chews bitter in the mouth’. When Sarri is nervous, the number of cigarettes he smokes rises to 60 per day. During training, superstitious Sarri never leaves his baseball cap in the changing room.
There were two briefings with Juve players on Thursday and Sarri hopes that the players can overcome the fear of failing and conquer their opponents. His has faith that his players will fight until the last minute but he is afraid that the physical condition, and the air of uncertainty at the club, could betray the team.
According to ‘Repubblica’, a strategy has been devised and two coaches have been identified in case Juve fail in Europe. The first would be Paulo Sousa, the former Juventus player.
Sousa would be the club’s first choice due to his history in Turin and his popularity among the playing staff. The Portuguese was an attacking midfielder in Marcello Lippi’s team, while as a coach he has shown that he knows how to structure more attacking sides, fielding his teams in 3-5-2 and 4-2-3-1 formations.
The second profile is Simone Inzaghi, the current Lazio coach. He may not renew his contract with Lazio in search of a new adventure in a top European club. Paratici and Inzaghi are friends and have known each other for many years, having both grown up in Piacenza.
Inzaghi belongs to the clique of coaches that would have excellent references in Turin. Both would have already responded positively to indirect contact with Italian intermediaries who would have overseen negotiations. For now though, all eyes at the club are on Sarri.