Juventus revitalised ahead of Olympiacos tie after derby win
Up until the Derby della Mole, Juventus' displays were concerning. So many of their players claimed last season's reinforcements had made the club better, yet few had seen any evidence of such claims. The defence looked, and remains, vulnerable. It seemed the side had to rely heavily on Paulo Dybala's magic.
Struggling to play with any fluency or coordination, last season's balance looked lost forever. That is until the match against Torino. Right off the bat, the Bianconeri played with aggression, determination and a level of cohesion that restored faith in this team's brilliance.
Despite the absences and rotations Massimiliano Allegri insists on using to avoid exhaustion, Juve displayed the strength that many of us had not expected to see for another few months. They demolished Torino and forced them to surrender to frustration and undisciplined play.
Speaking to Mediaset, former Bianconero Alessio Tacchinardi insisted, "Juventus' season starts now."
"They showed a ferocious desire to attack that hadn't been seen before. The whole team was mauling the opponents. With that attitude, they will tear their opponents to pieces." Indeed, Juventus were flying high well before Sinisa Mihajlovic's side lost a man to a red card. While the numerical superiority was advantageous, it was not necessary to secure a Bianconeri win.
Writing his usual analysis, Fabrizio Bocca of La Repubblica applauded Juventus, noting the superiority of their performance over that of Napoli's, the only other side with a unbeaten record in Serie A. As Bocca noted, Maurizio Sarri's team is unchanged this season whereas Allegri's side is a chameleon, one that forever changes men, formations and tactics seamlessly.
Regularly failing at the final step, as they did in the the Champions League final, many continue to doubt Allegri. However, while the Spanish press are quick to applaud Marcelino for waking up a sleeping giant in Valencia, a side full of Serie A rejects, we continue to ask more of Allegri. A domestic double is not enough.
It isn't but Juventus for all their brilliance are a collection of players that by in large, Allegri made better. Sami Khedira, a La Liga reject was considered broken before Allegri made him invaluable. Mario Mandzukic, another reject, became a symbol of sacrifice under the Juve coach when even Diego Simeone struggled to train him while the likes of Alex Sandro become superstars. There is no Cristiano Ronaldo, no Lionel Messi, no Toni Kroos and no Andres Iniesta, yet Juventus excelled in the Champions League. They excelled despite their deficiencies and through their collective play and evolving tactics.
Sometimes, a finals win is just too far for certain squads who don't possess an outstanding bench or the superstar player at each position. The very fact Juventus did better than so many of Europe's giants, who boast the best and purchase the costliest contracts, is to be applauded and appreciated.
However, Juventus, in the words of pundit Gianluca Vialli deserve the trophy with the big ears and this season they will try again. After a humiliating defeat against Barcelona in the first game of the group, the Bianconeri will be hoping to redeem themselves and earn a comprehensive victory against Olympiacos on Wednesday evening.
The Greek side are suffering and after their defeat to AEK on Sunday evening, opted to sack their coach Besnik Hasi. In his place arrives Takis Lemonis, a seasoned professional who returns for his fourth spell in charge of the club. With the tactics set to be changed, it remains to be seen how the Greeks will play, making preparations a little harder for Allegri.
The other concern for the Italian tactician is that he doesn't have a right-back. Stephan Lichtsteiner hasn't been included in the Champions League squad while Mattia De Sciglio is out injured. As such, reports suggest Allegri will opt to play a 3-4-3 formation, sacrificing Juan Cuadrado in attack while both Stefano Sturaro and Alex Sandro will be asked to join the midfield.
The Colombian is finally performing at a high level so it will be a shame not to see him on the pitch, but Gonzalo Higuain may well be welcomed back into the side after he was left out of the starting lineup against Torino. What the striker has to do is ensure movement.
Juve were applauded for their performance on Saturday because of their constant movement, allowing for fluency. In order to overwhelm the opponent, Juve must always be unpredictable and Olympiacos are weak enough to buckle under the pressure.
Anything less than three points and the Old Lady will be enveloped in mass hysteria and criticism. Whether Allegri tests the 3-4-3 shape or relies on the 4-2-3-1, the time to win in Europe is now and Juventus must perform to secure qualification.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.