Leonardo Bonucci returns as Juve look to continue growth vs. Empoli
All hail Massimiliano Allegri!
After Juventus defeated Porto, both the Gazzetta dello Sport and Corriere dello Sport praised the tactician who made two vital substitutions to guarantee the Old Lady's 2-0 victory at the Estadio do Dragao on Wednesday.
Despite relentless wins that resulted in first place in the Champions League qualifying group and in Serie A, the coach still opted to introduce a formation that could unleash the talent he boasts within the side. Since the first time Juve deployed the 4-2-3-1 formation, they have proved unstoppable, scoring a multitude of goals while improving upon their defensive solidity.
It helps that Juve possess the squad depth that allows Allegri to make positive changes. Being able to call upon the likes of Dani Alves, Marko Pjaca and Claudio Marchisio, all regulars for their national sides, is nothing short of a privilege. In truth, barring Real Madrid, Juventus might just have the deepest squad in Europe.
Boasting a defence that has conceded only two goals in the champions League all season, Juventus feel this could be their year. In fact, Sami Khedira said as much in his postmatch interview with BT Sport. "Sometimes you have a feeling and this year I do have a very good feeling," the Germany international said. He did also concede that several other teams may be experiencing a similar feeling, but based on how defensively weak certain sides have looked this season -- even the usually solid Atletico Madrid -- we can understand Juve's positivity.
Their movement on the ball may be too slow, their manoeuvres at times a little predictable, but Juventus are progressing a little each week and Allegri believes they have so much potential and he's keen to exploit that. Monaco and Manchester City proved that while playing open and attacking football can be fun to watch, it will not get them far against more mature and composed sides that can play with balance and commit fewer mistakes.
Defence wins trophies and when it comes to the European giants, the Old Lady boasts an incredible record. The only thing that must be improved upon is the side's attacking play, ensuring swift movement on the ball while maintaining accuracy.
This is where the likes of Pjaca could prove important going forward. While he dropped off in the second half against Palermo and was targeted by coach Allegri for not giving his all, he boasts the ability to change the game going forward, offering the acceleration and speed of movement Juventus may require against certain opponents. If he continues to work hard and show the attitude that has impressed his coach recently, he may become the man to count on, offering more quality than Juan Cuadrado or even Mario Mandzukic can.
The former Atletico Madrid man is an incredibly committed player who works hard for the team but against certain sides, he is not as necessary. Take the match against Bayern Munich last season as an example: His selection proved to be a poor decision as Juve didn't need a hard worker but the pace of Alvaro Morata, a player who can change the game. Against Porto, the Croatian couldn't make much of an impact because his strengths weren't required.
Cuadrado on the other hand may boast speed and skill but he can be incredibly frustrating on the ball, reading the game poorly unless clearly instructed, resulting in several bad decisions on the ball. Yet each one of these players has his role to play this season. Mandzukic and Cuadrado offer balance while Pjaca and Dani Alves offer a more attacking alternative.
Up next for Allegri's men is Empoli, who will travel to Turin on Saturday evening. Juventus did not have as much time as they had hoped to prepare for this Serie A fixture considering their return flight was delayed. However, as their opponent currently sit 17th in the table and have scored the fewest goals in the league, one imagines this will be an easy match. In fact, Gonzalo Higuain has scored four more goals for Juventus than the entire Empoli team has managed this season.
But while the Argentine needs to be rested so that he may feature against Napoli in the Coppa Italia on Tuesday evening, Leonardo Bonucci and Claudio Marchisio are set to make a welcome return to the side.
The defender is keen to move on from the episode that forced his exclusion from the Champions League match midweek and Allegri can only hope he will prove to be a leader on the pitch. Tensions are high and outbursts can be tolerated to a certain extent, but trophies will only be achieved together and in a harmonious environment and it's up to the Italian to prove he's happy to continue growing.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.