Juventus -- fix it even if it ain't broke
You have to go all the way back to Chelsea in 2012 -- five years and five managers ago -- to find a Champions League winner that has changed more than Juve have in the past two seasons.
Well-run clubs never need to rebuild; they simply reload. It's an old maxim and it's generally true. If you're a dominant side, you maintain that dominance through continuous small changes rather than periodic blow-ups. Get the small changes right and you won't need to rebuild.
But for every rule, there's a counterargument: Juventus' run to the Champions League final, after they dispatched a young and vibrant Monaco side in the semifinals on Tuesday, is Exhibit A. When they take the pitch in Cardiff, assuming Sami Khedira recovers from injury, it could well be that Gianluigi Buffon and Leonardo Bonucci will be the only holdovers from the side that lost the Champions League final to Barcelona two years ago.
Sure, had Giorgio Chiellini not been injured for the 2015 final, it would be three out of 11, but it's still a pretty staggering turnaround in just two seasons. Indeed, 12 of the 18 in the matchday squad that day have now left the club.
Contrast this with their opponents that day, Barcelona, who have shed six. Or, for that matter, Real Madrid, who also lost six players (if you want to count Alvaro Morata, who left and came back, it's seven) from the side who won the trophy in 2014. You have to go all the way back to Chelsea in 2012, five years and five managers ago, to find a Champions League winner that has changed more than Juve have in the past two seasons.
You simply can't weather that much change unless you're a well-run club. And that goes beyond the manager, Massimiliano Allegri, right up to the higher reaches with sporting director Fabio Paratici and chief executive Beppe Marotta.
Not only have they rebuilt on the fly, they've done it twice in two seasons. In the summer of 2015, they lost Carlos Tevez, Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal. Last summer, it was Paul Pogba and Morata.
It's easy to say "well, they lost good players but replaced them with good ones too in the form of Sami Khedira, Paulo Dybala, Miralem Pjanic, Alex Sandro, Dani Alves, Mario Mandzukic and Gonzalo Higuain." That's true, but there are two points to make there.
The first is that if replacing good players with equally good ones were that easy, every rich club would be doing it successfully. Heck, Paratici and Marotta have made plenty of mistakes themselves over the years, it's the nature of the beast. (Old-school Serie A followers may recall Marotta's time at Atalanta when he broke the bank to sign Luca Saudati and Gianni Comandini.) But the point is they got more right than wrong, especially over the past few seasons.
Secondly, quite clearly the newcomers aren't carbon copies of the guys they replaced. Here Allegri must get a ton of credit.
Dybala is unlike any player Juventus have had for a long time; Higuain was a proven commodity as a lone striker in a 4-3-3 and yet Allegri found a way for him to be equally productive with a partner up front or in a different system, without wingers. Pjanic might be a gifted passer and free kick taker like Pirlo, but the similarities end there. Allegri realized early on he couldn't be trusted with the deep playmaking duties on his own in the same way you could trust the "Bearded One," so he stuck Khedira there and found a different role for Pjanic.
The wide men represent an even bigger change. Stephan Lichtsteiner is a reliable, gutsy, hard-working full-back, but he's an up-and-down guy; Alves is a wholly different beast altogether; Patrice Evra may have been comparable to Alex Sandro years ago, but past his 30th birthday he was a purely defensive full-back.
Then, of course, there's Mandzukic. Allegri didn't reinvent the wheel by putting a hulking 6-foot-3 guy out on the wing -- some of us are old enough to remember Egil Olsen and Jostein Flo -- and, of course, Mandzukic occasionally played there in the past, but it still takes a thorough readjustment of the system to pull it off. A guy his size, with 30-year-old legs won't be able to chase attacking full-backs, the way a more traditional winger might, nor is he going to beat anybody and put in a cross. But what he does offer is tremendous mismatches against opposing full-backs and a continuous aerial far post threat -- as he proved with his opening goal against Monaco on Tuesday night.
Allegri has overseen all these changes, but he didn't prompt them. When he took the job, he knew Pirlo and Evra were old and would be moving on, but he hoped that Pogba, Morata and Vidal might stick around. When they did not, he worked with the hand he was dealt. He may have tremendous pieces, but they are still ones that needed to be fit together. And, crucially not just fit together well enough to win Serie A, but also to go deep in the Champions League.
In addition, once Allegri had a set up in place that was yielding results and cruising along nicely in Serie A and in Europe, he conjured up a Plan B, which became the Plan A we saw against Barcelona. He chose to cram Pjanic, Mandzukic, Higuain, Dybala and Juan Cuadrado into the same XI at the same time. Thus was born the "5-star" option.
He could have played it safe and relied on the tried-and-tested formula that got Juve where they were. A stout midfield, blue-collar wide men, Buffon, Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini locking the door at the back, and somebody to nick a goal at the other end. But he explained that he was no longer convinced this was the best way to win, not against big European sides. You had to take the game to them; you had to go toe-to-toe and dominate the pitch, playing in their half. Tight defending and counterattacking were too reliant on chance and probability to succeed.
It's one thing to make sweeping changes when things aren't going right -- after all, the definition of insanity is making the same decisions again and again while expecting different outcomes -- but it's a totally different matter to take something which "ain't broke" and "fixing it" to make it better. All the while knowing full well that your "fixes" might actually make it worse.
And that's what sets Allegri, and the guys above him who supported him, apart from the pack this season. Before he was reloading/retrenching/readjusting by necessity. Now, it's by choice. And it's working.
Gabriele Marcotti is a senior writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.