I'd say nearly 90% of the time Roma and Juventus square off, Danny from Black & White & Read All Over and I exchange a series of Q&As (this is easily the most ampersands I've ever typed in such quick succession) at some point before the match. It's one of the benefits of being part of such a large network—having insight and opinion at the ready—and despite how many times Danny and I talk, I still have no idea what it's like to be a Juve fan. What's it like to actually win when you're suppose to? And for that matter, what are those funny little badges they always wear on their chest? Or that ostentatious trophy-looking thing they're always carrying around...what a pain in the ass that must be to stow on a plane.
This time around, things are a bit different: Juve are in the middle of a victory lap, celebrating their eighth straight Scudetto while Roma are fighting for their very financial lives. Considering that odd set of circumstances, Danny and I traded some rather meandering questions. Enjoy!
CdT: Seriously though, what’s it like following a team that, for all intents and purposes, has the league in the bag every year? Do you ever actually have any doubt they’ll win?
BWRAO: It’s interesting, because I feel like this is the main thing people asked me even before the current season started in August. “Well, you guys just got Cristiano Ronaldo, so what’s it like to know the league is over?” That was even before the first ball was kicked off and all that. I guess the easy thing to say is that Juventus hasn’t won the league by upwards of 20 points every season, so there’s that. Last Scudetto’s race had the “Juventus will eventually catch Napoli” kind of feel to it even with Juve matching Napoli win for win for months.
But I totally get what you mean, though. I always subscribe to the notion that we find out more about our teams when they lose compared to constant winning. And it’s not like a lot of Juventus’ wins this season have been impressive ones — regardless of what the announcers tend to say. Juventus have been dominant this season, but only really in the standings. Case in point: Entering this weekend’s game against Roma, Juve isn’t even averaging two goals a game. That’s not exactly what I would call dominant.
CdT: Going along with that, after eight straight titles, most of which were won by Allegri, why is there suddenly doubt about that relationship going forward?
BWRAO: It’s simple: Because of the expectations placed on this season when it comes to the Champions League, the Ronaldo signing and the less-than-impressive style of play that Max Allegri’s squad has put out there over the course of the last eight months. The expectation was that Juventus would crush the competition — and not just win, but win by a lot — and then make a serious challenge in Europe because Ronaldo is around. That’s ... not exactly how things have turned out. Sure, winning another Scudetto is always going to be enjoyable, but when you place such an importance on Europe, invest soooo much damn money in signing one of the best-ever players the game has ever seen and then come up extremely short of expectations in the Champions League, there’s going to be questions about whether the guy calling all the shots is right for the job.
And, after watching the way this team has played a lot of the time this season, Juventus just looks like a team that needs some new ideas. At the very least, they need to figure out what to do other than just hoof in cross after cross in the attacking third for 90 minutes.
CdT: The BBC era is (mercifully for the rest of us) coming to an end, so besides Rugani who will be steadying the ship for Juve at the back over the next decade?
BWRAO: Probably somebody who isn’t at the club right now.
I loved Daniele Rugani as much as the next guy after he came back from his impressive loan spell at Empoli a few years ago. But the superstar potential that a lot of us pinned to his back just doesn’t seem to be there now. He’s still just 24 years old, but it’s not like he’s blowing things away or being incredibly impressive like he was his first year or two back in Turin. He can be a solid third-choice center back at a club like Juventus, I’m just not sure he’s still the captain of the defense for the future.
That, in part, is why I think that Juventus’ biggest transfer priority this summer outside of fixing the midfield is to try and set things up defensively for the future. God love Giorgio Chiellini, but his body isn’t going to take his style of play for much longer now that he’s in his mid-30s. Leonardo Bonucci is definitely not the same Leonardo Bonucci that he was before he had his year-long sabbatical with Milan. Is somebody like Genoa’s Cristian Romero the answer? I dunno. Obviously Matthijs de Ligt is the pipe dream, but that just doesn’t seem like it’s happening at this point.
CdT: When you look at Juve’s roster, is there any one area, or indeed a flaw of any kind, that has prevented them from winning the Champions League?
BWRAO: Midfield. Midfield, midfield, midfield. If there is ever a place Juventus needs to invest serious coin in this summer, it’s their midfield.
You don’t need to look any further than most of the Champions League knockout round fixtures against Atlético Madrid and Ajax. Juventus’ midfield got run over, plain and simple. Miralem Pjanic has had a rather meh second half of the season, Blaise Matuidi can run his tail off but is a rather limited player and Emre Can has been relatively hit and miss since he became a regular starter. You compare Juve’s midfield to some of the other teams that were still alive in Europe in the semifinals — or even the quarterfinals — and it’s not close.
Allegri can have a safety-first or a defensive mindset all he wants, but a lot of the time Juve’s midfield has come up short for the better part of the last two or three seasons in Europe. This definitely isn’t the hayday of Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal, Claudio Marchisio and a young Paul Pogba. And I don’t know how much Aaron Ramsey is going to solve things, either ...
CdT: Soo...how ‘bout those kits for next year?
BWRAO: You follow the BWRAO account on Twitter, my friend. You know how I feel about those things.
Big thanks to Danny for collaborating yet again—we have tentative plans to team up to cover Italy during this summer's Women's World Cup as well—check back later today for our standard match preview.