Goal drought puts Ranieri under pressure
At the beginning of the season Juventus were tipped to be the main challengers to Scudetto holders Internazionale but a worrying lack of goals means the Bianconeri are already playing catch-up in Serie A.
There are only five games gone in the domestic season but Claudio Ranieri's team find themselves down in seventh place, three points adrift of surprise leaders Lazio. That in itself is certainly no reason to panic, but following their dour 0-0 draw at Sampdoria last weekend concerns have arisen regarding their ability to put the ball in the back of the net.
Although the 'Old Lady' are still unbeaten in Serie A and sitting fairly pretty in the Champions League after a win over Zenit St Petersburg and a draw with BATE Borisov, they have been playing defensively and their record of just two wins and three draws has made the natives a tad restless.
Prior to the stalemate at the Stadio Comunale Luigi Ferraris Juventus had only managed to net a single goal in their league matches and whilst that was obviously enough if the Bianconeri managed to keep a clean sheet they struggled to see off teams that scored against them.
Fiorentina's Alberto Gilardino and Catania Calcio's Gianvito Plasmati both managed to breach the Juve defence, the latter at the Stadio Olimpico, to secure 1-1 draws for their sides. Those ties could be viewed as missed victories but the 0-0 draw with Sampdoria was simply an inadequate performance. Rather than playing themselves into form Ranieri's side appear to be going in the opposite direction.
Despite Alessandro Del Piero still proving to be Juve's most potent weapon at 33-years-old and the good start to the season by Carvalho De Oliveira Amauri, who has scored three of Juve's four goals this season, the supply to the strikers has not been particularly effective.
The midfield quartet of Mohamed Sissoko, Mauro Camoranesi, Pavel Nedved and Christian Poulsen were easily stifled by Sampdoria and a Del Piero freekick, plus a right-footed shot that hit the woodwork constituted the only efforts of note for Juve.
As a result some of the fans have started to question the lack of adventure that Ranieri's side displays and the Italian's failure to bring on attacking midfielder Sebastian Giovinco, who provided the assist for Amauri's opener against Catania in his only game this campaign, has been viewed as 'proof' of the former Chelsea manager's negativity.
Being labelled as "monotonous, dull, a little boring" by La Gazzetta dello Sport doesn't help Ranieri's cause either.
Giovinco's stock rose yet further when he was the catalyst for Juve when they came back from two goals down to draw with BATE Borisov. Vincenzo Iaquinta ended his drought with a brace of goals. Ranieri must hope Iaquinta, a big money signing from Udinese in the summer of 2007, can take confidence on to the domestic stage.
At this point last season Juventus had already netted 13 goals in Serie A and let's not forget that the Old Lady were newly promoted to the top flight after they were demoted to Serie B for their part in the corruption and match-fixing scandal that hit calcio in 2006.
Didier Deschamps guided Juventus back to Serie A at the first attempt only to be replaced by Claudio Ranieri, who kept Parma out of Serie B whilst Juve won promotion from it, who in turn guided the Turin club into a Champions League spot at the expense of Milan - no mean feat.
One big difference between the goal tally of last season and the comparative dearth of strikes this year is the absence of talismanic striker David Trezeguet. The Frenchman might have been surplus to the national team's requirements at Euro 2008 but Trezegol managed to smash in 20 goals alongside Del Piero (21) for Juventus last season.
The former Monaco striker broke down with a knee injury in a Champions League qualifier against Zenit St Petersburg on September 17 after struggling with the problem at the start of the campaign.
Such is the importance of the striker to Juventus that the club were initially reluctant to sanction an operation on Trezeguet's right knee, but the results of a series of scans revealed that no other option would correct the injury and now the 31-year-old will be sidelined for up to five months.
The unavailability of Trezeguet is undoubtedly a contributing factor to Juve's struggles in front of goal but Ranieri insists that lumping all their problems on the absence of one player is not beneficial for the rest of the team, or necessarily the answer to the problem.
"We are missing Trezeguet," Ranieri said. "But we shouldn't wait for him like a Messiah."
Ranieri might be eager to insist that no single person can be held accountable for Juve's goal drought but the fans certainly do not agree. They are already pointing the finger of responsibility at their increasingly unpopular and defensive manager.
According to an online survey, 71% of Bianconeri fans no longer have confidence in the tactical ability of their coach and claim he is so afraid of losing a match that he is scared to make the correct substitutions.
Next up for Juve is the visit of Palermo to the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday. Last season they smashed five past the Rosaneri in Turin - so no added pressure on Ranieri then.