It's not every day that Roma fans can look down on Juventus. Outside of the capital club's always superior fashion choices, Roma seldom warrants being mentioned in the same breath as Juventus. However, with only 11 points through seven matches and a measly +1 goal differential, this isn't your grandmother's...uh...Old Lady. In some ways, Juventus’ slow start to the season has been the story of Serie A, and while Max Allegri's side isn't likely to tread water like this all season long, thanks to some questionable roster decisions, key players getting on in years and Wojciech Szczesny's implosion, Roma fans can finally revel in Juve's misery—call it Serie A Schaudenfraude.
Despite the Old Lady's struggles, this is still Juventus we're talking about; a club that has always kept Roma under its thumb. To get the inside scoop on this massive early-season fixture, we turned, as always, to our friend Danny at Black, White & Read All Over, who was kind enough to explore what I'm sure are unfamiliar emotions for most Juventus fans.
So...uh...what gives? Why is Juventus in seventh place? Is this the inevitable decline after a decade of dominance or is there something more specific weighing them down?
Danny Penza: It’s very easy to see why Juventus enters the weekend in seventh place. Go back to the first four games of the season, see why they dropped points in the manner that they did, and there you go. This was a very flawed squad to begin the season despite Max Allegri coming back to Juventus, but then you factor in your starting goalkeeper making numerous game-changing mistakes, you have an absolute horrible performance against Empoli and then just general crap defending taking place ... and bam, Juve’s got a couple of points through the first month of the season.
Some of it can be pointed to important players getting older or hurt (or both). Some of it has to do with Wojciech Szczesny’s terrible form from the 2021 calendar year extending into the new season. (Thankfully, that’s improved over the last few weeks.) But the of the season was really just showed us what Juventus has been over the last couple of years — a team in desperate need of new blood in defense and in the midfield while also being a squad that is fragile mentally and sometimes its own worst enemy.
Similar to the previous question, but the Juve attack has taken a bit of a hit in Ronaldo’s absence. Who has picked up the slack so far and who would you project as the club’s leading scorer come May?
DP: It’s taken a hit, but that was always going to be the case when you see a dude who’s scored 30-something goals each of the last couple of years leave the club. The line of thinking was that without having to feed Ronaldo more often than not, the sum of the parts would make up for the departure of such a commanding presence. There’s been signs that Juve’s attack can be just as dangerous because you’re not having to appease Ronaldo (and everything that comes with the guy). Paulo Dybala, before he got hurt again, was really playing well. Alvaro Morata, as much as he’s the butt of a lot of jokes, has played well more often than he’s been bad. Federico Chiesa is, well, an absolute star.
And I think that’s the good thing to come out of Ronaldo leaving — somebody like Chiesa, who has been GREAT since the start of 2021, can truly make this his team in a hurry. Dybala, when fit, can be more of the player I know he can be rather than worrying about getting Ronaldo his goals. Same with Morata, too. There’s a lot of potential in this Juve attack even with Ronaldo back in Manchester, they just need to find the right formula.
That’s why Max Allegri got a four-year contract. This is going to be a gradual thing, not instant gratification
Paulo Dybala is off to a fine start this season and he at least feels like he should be the club’s main attraction. Tell us a bit about the arch of his Juve career and how you see his role developing this season now that he’s “the man” so to speak.
DP: There are two main things going on with Dybala right now — and unfortunately none of it has to do with his beautiful dogs. (Seriously, go on Instagram and look at them because they’re awesome.) The biggest thing is the contract extension negotiations, with our first posting on the matter going back to the middle of December ... 2019! At this point, I’m done writing about things reportedly being agreed to simply because we’ve gone down that road multiple times and I am tired of writing the same thing I did a year ago. The second thing is, as we’re dealing with again right now, is his overall health. Dybala wasn’t viewed as an injury-prone player prior to 2020, and since he tried to come back too early and play through an injury in Juve’s Champions League ouster against Lyon, it’s been bad. (For the record, he also had COVID for a month and a half during lockdown, so there’s that.)
Look, I love Dybala. I’ve got more than one Dybala jersey hanging in my closet that is next to the desk in which I am typing this answer out. But the problem we’ve seen with Dybala over the 18 months or so is that just when he’s starting to play really well, injuries happen. There’s been too many starts and stops over the last couple of years for him to be truly great for an extended period of time. And for a dude who wants to be the highest-paid player on the team, that’s not exactly the best look.
Roma and Juventus both have seldom-seen American talents in Bryan Reynolds and Weston McKennie, but his absence this year is a bit more noticeable than Reynolds’. So what gives, why doesn’t Allegri seem to value him?
DP: Part of it has to do with Manuel Locatelli’s arrival because he’s clearly the No. 1 dude in the midfield now. But it’s also because some players have simply been better than McKennie this season. Before he got the ‘Rona, Adrien Rabiot had been pretty solid as the mezzala on the left side of Allegri’s unbalanced 4-4-2. Now, if McKennie wasn’t dealing with an injury himself coming out of the international break, he would seem like a natural replacement for Rabiot because of his ability to both cover defensively as well as be a threat going forward.
But, at this point, who knows. Allegri does seem like he’s a fan of McKennie. The thing is, though, McKennie’s form now compared to this time 12 months ago is night and day. He hasn’t been very good when Allegri’s played him this season, and that form he had the first half of last season has yet to be rediscovered. Who knows, maybe he can find it over the next few weeks if he doesn’t have to miss much time with this new injury he picked up while with the USMNT, but it’s pretty simple that there are just better players right now — and Allegri is playing them.
Juve had a relatively quiet summer transfer campaign, at least in terms of volume, so how have the new signings fared thus far? Is Locatelli everything Juve fans hoped he’d be?
DP: Yeah, Juve’s summer transfer campaign was really about getting Locatelli and then taking it from there. (Although, one has to wonder what kind of freedom they would have had to do more on the market if Ronaldo hadn’t waited until the final week of August to tell the club he wanted to leave.) Juventus and Sassuolo had so many damn meetings that it’s now become a joke on the site because it felt like the negotiations would never end. But the result of those negotiations have given Juve the midfielder they so desperately needed. He’s been great with his distribution from the midfield and allowing Juve to play more direct than before. He was the player that Juve’s midfield needed so damn bad, and he hasn’t done a single thing to disappoint us so far.
Juve’s other two signings, Moise Kean and young Brazilian striker Kaio Jorge, are still trying to settle in. Kean hasn’t gotten much consistent playing time, while Kaio Jorge is just back from an injury. Kean should be a contributor once he does settle in, but Kaio Jorge is a big mystery in terms of just how much playing time he will actually see this season. He appears to be one of those cases where he will be a player that gets a rare Serie A start and then plays in the Coppa Italia, essentially using this season more as a learning experience more than getting in-game experience
Roma is a bit different than the last time these two sides met, so what scares Juve fans most about Mourinho’s Roma and how can Allegri counteract that?
DP: I think it’s the simple fact of the likes of Abraham and Zaniolo running wild on a defense that is far from a brick wall. Sure, Juve’s been playing better defensively the last couple of games, but there’s also basically two seasons worth of games where Juventus has previously played well defensively and then crashed and burned in the next game. So yeah, if it sounds like I don’t have a lot of confidence in Juventus’ defense just yet ... it’s because I don’t.
Allegri clearly wants this team to be sound defensively because that’s the backbone of his teams that have done well in the past. But thinking that Juve’s center backs can match the pace of Roma’s forward line would be a little too optimistic or probably just not smart to do. I’m guessing if Juve are successful in this game, it will look a lot like how Juve’s been able to win against Chelsea and Torino more than how they beat Sampdoria. Juve aren’t the kind of team conditioned to win in a match that is like a track meet. If it’s end to end stuff and wide open, then that’s probably something that has seen Allegri’s plans go haywire.
Lastly, give us a prediction for Sunday’s match
DP: 2-1 Juventus win ... but barely. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Roma get something out of this. So maybe this sounds like a complete cop-out after my original prediction, but whatever. Trying to predict Juve-related things these days is rather difficult.
Thanks as always to Danny—you can catch all his work at BWRAO and look for our match preview tomorrow!