Can Max Allegri keep Juventus on top of Serie A despite key departures?
All eyes will be on Juventus and how they play in their first competitive game of the new season against Lazio in the Supercoppa on Saturday, August 8. With the club having lost Arturo Vidal, Carlos Tevez and Andrea Pirlo this summer, many predict a year of transition for the Turin giants as they attempt to recreate the same synergy that led them to four consecutive trophy-laden years.
It has been confirmed that Sami Khedira will be out of the squad for two months due to a thigh injury he suffered against Marseille while Giorgio Chiellini will also miss the important match in Shanghai. With Andrea Barzagli seemingly back from injury and ready to go, it is possible that manager Massimiliano Allegri may revert to the 3-5-2 formation with the World Cup winner taking Chiellini's place from the start of the match. Should the coach not want to risk it, then Barzagli will start on the bench and Juventus will line up in their usual 4-3-1-2 formation with Martin Caceres back in the heart if defence and Roberto Pereyra acting as the playmaking behind the forwards.
With so many important leaders on the pitch having either departed or absent due to injury, it remains to be seen if Juventus will play with the same motivation that they demonstrated from the start under former manager Antonio Conte and that led the club to so much success under Allegri. New Napoli coach, Maurizio Sarri made a point of noting how much he hopes his current side can emulate the winning mentality that catapulted Juve to success.
"Coming from a provincial team, I saw so many teams enter the field with a presumptuous attitude against [his former club] Empoli," Sarri stated.
"There was only one that came with a different attitude: Juventus.
"So we can't only talk about technical and tactical things, but also mentality. Juventus were screaming in the tunnel to fire themselves up before going out, and that translates into points."
While Allegri was certainly the man who perfected the Bianconeri, making them a tactically fluent and versatile side capable of imposing their own game against the best of teams, he was lucky to have taken over from a man who instilled a warrior like attitude in the squad. Conte taught them how to behave in a black and white jersey.
With several stars no longer around, Allegri's real test starts now. This is his team now. There is little to perfect but he does have to lay down a whole new foundation. The formations may need to be altered, the style of play will have to change but one thing he must maintain is that winning mentality -- that burning desire to succeed. Motivating the new arrivals like Mario Mandžukić and Paulo Dybala, while concocting a plan to extract the best of the entire squad will be his greatest challenge especially considering the pressure on the giants to keep winning more and more.
While question marks remain as to how Juventus will perform on the sporting side of things, fans can at least be happy that on the business side of things. The club continues to develop and grow with management finding ways of raising revenue.
Growing the brand is of the utmost importance and if the Premier League has taught us anything, it is that Asia is the perfect place to target. The first step was to organise the Supercoppa match to be played in Shanghai, the second time the Cup has been played in China. Building off of that, Juventus have sought ways to engage their Asian fans as evidenced by the club launching an official account on the popular Chinese microblogging service Sino Weibo (which has over 600 million users) in July.
By growing their online following and opening six new online stores throughout Asia, the Turin giants hope they can exploit this excitement to help push Juventus into being one of the top five richest clubs in the world. Juventus currently rank ninth at $837 million according to Forbes' latest richest football clubs list.
The club's new partnership with Adidas also helps, as it has already sold three times as many jerseys in the first week in the new deal than they managed last year under Nike according to Francesco Calvo, Juve's Commercial and Marketing Manager.
If the Old Lady hopes to be a major player in Europe, as the club once was in the 90s, then it must keep growing the brand in Asia and the United States in order to compete. Juventus fans can only hope that on the sporting side of things, Allegri can once again lead the club to new heights, despite the many new faces and evolving style of play.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.