It's that time of the year again, when Juventus fans hope and pray that Antonio Conte will be given the necessary guarantees to commit his future to the club.
Despite his reputation as one of the world's best, Conte knows that he will never be at the top of the 'most wanted' list until he achieves European success. As such, a stay with the Italian champions would benefit him as much as it would benefit them, but he must first ascertain whether the club shares his ambitions and are willing to create the conditions necessary to attain the ultimate trophy.
After years of enjoying domestic glory, it's been made clear that the priority for next season will be the Champions League. Embarrassing exits will not be tolerated, and the squad must be improved for two reasons. The first is that the one in hand is simply not good enough to defeat Europe's best such as Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, etc. The second is that the squad, whilst bigger than others in Italy, isn't deep enough or varied enough to cope with the two competitions should Juventus reach the latter stages next season.
The Bianconeri's energy levels have waned in recent months, and they've had to rely on individual play in certain games to get by. It's simply exhausting to play the Conte way for an entire season when there is a match every three days. The coach demands energy, intensity and constant control and whilst he can rotate for the Europe League, giving the likes of Simone Padoin and Federico Peluso a chance to make an impact, these players are not enough when the challenges are bigger and the competition is better. More accomplished players are required.
Thus the squad must be improved, but so must the starting line-up. Varied skill is vital, as are the type of players who would allow for tactical flexibility. A winger is certainly the priority, and whilst Angel Di Maria is the dream, it seems it's one that won't be realised. The Argentine is one of Carlo Ancelotti's favourites and a player who makes Real Madrid's 4-3-3 shape work in perfect synchronisation. Capable of attacking as well as defending, the player's stamina, technique and pace would make all the difference at Turin, should they manage to make what appears to be the impossible possible. The only way the transfer would happen is if the player requested to leave.
Di Maria is useful not only because he can play in the front line of a 4-3-3 but also as a wing-back if need be. Whilst Kwadwo Asamoah and Stephan Lichtsteiner have proved excellent, it's clear they are not world-class. Lichtsteiner is an off-the-cuff player who at times runs with no clear direction, and Conte had hoped Mauricio Isla would prove a better alternative. Sadly, Isla has been unable to produce as he did for Udinese and the coach is now desperate for a player who attacks the wide space with as much intensity as the Swiss but with more accuracy.
Asamoah, the more technical of the two, is simply not as impressive when it comes to penetrating. Somewhat less courageous, he can be marked out of the game even if he has proved excellent in securing the defence. The duo have certainly helped carry Juve forward, but when it comes to playing against the big boys, Conte wants more, better and more accomplished -- but he will most definitely not part with either player.
However, whilst Beppe Marotta and Fabio Paratici analyse the market, the fans are asking why they aren't looking to their own youth. Why is Serie A's top scorer, Ciro Immobile, being sold to Borussia Dortmund when he was developed by the Old Lady? Why is Domenico Berardi, the player who scored four against Milan and a hat-trick against Fiorentina, not being dragged up north? And what about the insanely talented Manolo Gabbiadini?
Immobile will be let go for two reasons. The first is because he can command a fee that will allow the Old Lady to reinvest. The second is because he's a striker, a forward who wants to lead the line, and currently that's not what Conte needs. Gabbiadini will be recalled back because he offers more flexibility and can give Conte what he lacks. The youngster can defend, create and play in any position all along the front line. Excellent in the wide areas, he is well-rounded even if he hasn't scored as much as Immobile. Alongside the champions, Gabbiadini's game will develop and the hope is his potential will be realised.
As for Domenico Berardi, he is certainly special and a player keenly watched by management. How can he not be when he has managed a goal every 130 minutes in his first top flight season? Ruthless, capable and mentally tough, he is one for the future but he would benefit from spending a little more time with another club, being offered the chance to start on a consistent basis. The feeling is he's not yet ready for the tough challenges and Juve are not willing to risk burning him out so quickly.
As they assess the future together, the Bianconeri must focus on the upcoming Roma match. It means little, as the Old Lady has already won the title, but in terms of prestige, Juventus have to win. A victory and they are one step closer to the 100-point mark. It won't be easy against the club that feel man-for-man they are better, but it's up to the Old Lady to prove her boys are more than consistent and that they are, indeed, that bit more special.