Cristiano Ronaldo's Serie A debut with Juventus can't overshadow long-term goals
Juventus is all about Cristiano Ronaldo, at least to the outside world. The arrival of the Portugal international, who will make his debut Saturday against Chievo Verona (noon ET on ESPN+), suggests a keen desire to win every trophy Juve will challenge for this season, and bookies, fans and pundits around the world feel this could be a very special season for the Old Lady, having come so close in recent years.
However, if the Turin giants are to excel, they need all their players to fire from all cylinders, and it will remain to be seen how Massimiliano Allegri will deploy all his best players and still achieve balance and success. This is probably why he has issued a warning to his men. Allegri wasn't joking when he said this will be particularly difficult year for the club despite their investments in the transfer market and the arrivals of players who should guarantee wins.
This season, more than any other, Juventus will be expected to win everything, and by everything we mean the Treble. Having been seen as somewhat of an underdog in direct clashes with the biggest and best European sides in recent years, this time Juventus will be expected to triumph over the likes of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich and not simply challenge. That means the coach, notorious for slow starts, is now demanded to hit the ground running, to find the perfect tactical balance that usually eludes his teams in the first few months of the season.
Allegri will not only be tasked with winning straightaway but with extracting the very best out his many talents. Based on what we saw in recent friendlies, in the matches in Villar Perosa and against the under-23 side, the fans are right to be excited. Finally, this team is not erring on the side of caution but looking to play with clear attacking intent, showing off the ability of their plethora of good forwards.
Without a clear No. 9, like the Bianconeri once had with Gonzalo Higuain, Allegri wants his forwards to play a mobile and fluid game, with the players interchanging positions and tasked with both scoring and creating. The aim is to overwhelm the opponent, to impose their own brand of football rather than simply react.
While the cunning nature of the Old Lady will always see them adapt and morph in order to overcome whomever they might face, there is a keen desire to enhance their brand of football and make it more aesthetically pleasing considering the champions they now boast all over the pitch and especially in their front line.
While the world will look to Ronaldo to provide the answers, those who follow the Old Lady will be keeping an eye on Paulo Dybala and Federico Bernardeschi. The former has yet to produce consistent high-level performances befitting his potential and talent. Many have said that Juve's style was not suited to his particular set of skills and thus excused the youngster for his disappearing acts. But if Allegri does indeed forge ahead with his plans for an all-ambitious and all-attacking lineup, it will be difficult to not demand brilliance from the Argentine. This is the year Dybala has to prove himself on the biggest stage and in the toughest moments, producing consistently to be the player Juve have seen only on occasion and rarely in the biggest moments.
Having already forged a good relationship with Ronaldo on the pitch, Dybala will benefit from his new teammate's game and his winning mentality. Having Douglas Costa's pace and Bernardeschi's intellect alongside him should also help the youngster to produce often, if not goals then clear goal-scoring opportunities. Anything other than excellence or at least signs of progression will be met with huge disappointment.
As for Bernardeschi, he proved an interesting player to watch in preseason. He was neither brilliant nor disappointing, but a lot is required from this "future great." Allegri is furiously working on his tactics because he wants to include the player at whatever cost, whether that be in midfield or in attack -- in a 4-4-2 shape or a 4-3-3 -- and the player boasts both the talent and the versatility to repay the coach's faith.
Bernardeschi's progress in particular is vital to Juve for the simple fact he is Italian and can help ensure the most successful team on the peninsula continues to have an Italian core, representing Italian ideals and the club's philosophy. Famous for having supplied the national team with so many players over the years, Juve want to ensure they remain a side interested and invested in the success of their domestic talents.
Both Dybala and Bernardeschi are set to take their place in the opening game of the season against Chievo, and while the world might be watching Ronaldo and how quickly he will settle in, the club and its fans will be hoping his teammates will rise to the occasion and live up to their own respective potential.