The signings Juventus need to end their Champions League drought
14th June 2017. By Ryan Baldi.
With a sixth successive Serie A title and a third Coppa Italia in a row already secured, the stage was set for Juventus to end their 21-year wait for a Champions League crown and secure a triumphant treble against Real Madrid in Cardiff earlier this month.
Zinédine Zidane’s side went into the game as reigning European champions and had just secured a first La Liga title in five years, but Juventus, under the guidance of master tactician Massimiliano Allegri and having seen off free-scoring Ligue 1 leaders Monaco in the semi-final, looked ready to unseat Los Blancos at the summit of the continental game.
It wasn’t to be, though. A tight first half, in which Mario Mandžukić scored one of the great Champions League final goals with an acrobatic overhead strike, was followed by a masterclass in efficiency and attacking penetration from the Spanish side, ending with a 4-1 victory for Zidane’s men and a third European Cup in three years.
It was the second final of Europe’s premier club competition that the Bianconeri had reached in three years, losing out to Madrid’s great rivals Barcelona in 2015. The Juve squad has undergone many changes since that 3-1 defeat in Berlin, with the likes of Paul Pogba, Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal, Carlos Tevez and Álvaro Morata – who was on the bench for the Spaniards in Cardiff – all leaving.
But despite the departures, Juventus have shown impressive transfer market savvy in the last couple of years, picking up veteran full-back Dani Alves on a free transfer from Barça, Paulo Dybala for a hefty €40 million fee which has since been made to look like peanuts, and Gonzalo Higuaín and Miralem Pjanić from Serie A contenders Napoli and Roma respectively for a combined €120 million.
As sound as those additions have proved to be, falling at the final hurdle once again has shown that if Juve truly aspire to more than the domestic dominance they have cultivated in recent years, further signings are required this summer.
However, Allegri and his players got a lot right last season; after all, a domestic double and reaching a Champions League final is no mean feat. There’s no major overhaul required, rather some specifically targeted surgery to bolster the Old Lady’s options in a few key areas, giving them every chance of finally lifting the Champions League trophy for the first time since their 1996 penalty shootout win over Louis van Gaal’s Ajax.
A new winger certainly seems to be on the agenda for the Bianconeri. Juan Cuadrado, who has become a permanent Juventus player after a successful two-season loan from Premier League champions Chelsea, started 2016-17 well, but lost his starting place to Alves as the season reached its crescendo.
Douglas Costa is thought to be top of the Italian champions’ wish list. The most recent reports suggest that they have agreed personal terms with the gifted and exciting Brazilian winger, the next step is to settle upon an agreeable fee with Bayern Munich.
Keita Baldé Diao is another option. The 22-year-old Spain-born Senegal international enjoyed a breakout campaign with Lazio last term, building on his base of tremendous athleticism, pure speed and dynamic dribbling ability by increasing his work rate, understanding of the game and finessing his finishing ability. The 22-year-old former Barcelona academy product scored 15 Serie A goals in 30 games in 2016-17. AC Milan have reportedly agreed a €30 million fee for the youngster, but the player himself is said to favour a move to Turin.
Right-back is another area of the squad that Allegri will look to strengthen. Alves has enjoyed a fantastic end to the campaign, but at 34 he can’t play 50 games a season anymore, and has featured as much as a winger lately as in his customary spot on the right side of defence.
Stephan Lichtsteiner appears to have outstayed his usefulness at Juventus Stadium. The powerful Swiss right-back was a key player in several title-winning campaigns under both Allegri and his predecessor Antonio Conte, but he has dropped down the pecking order and is likely to leave this summer.
The other option is Andrea Barzagli, the evergreen 36-year-old whose €300,000 signing from Wolfsburg in 2011 will be remembered as one of the greatest transfers in the club’s history. But the Italian international is a natural centre-back, lacking the pace and athleticism to contribute to the attacking phase.
Atalata’s impressive 23-year-old right-back Andrea Conti is the preferred option to come in and improve this area of the team, but Juve face stiff competition for the 6ft 1ins defender in the form of big-spending Milan.
Conti caught the eye as part of La Dea’s incredible run to Europa League qualification under Gian Piero Gasperini last term, producing a remarkable return of eight goals and five assists.
The only other position that could do with freshening up for Juventus is central midfield. In February, Allegri switched away from the 3-5-2 formation that was so successful for Conte, electing to deploy a 4-2-3-1 system. And the results were positive, with Dybala, Higuaín and Mandžukić all benefitting from the tactical change.
But no player was boosted more by the slight change of role that the new formation brought about than Pjanić. The former Roma midfielder overcame a slow start to life with the Turin giants to develop into the side’s chief conductor at the base of midfield.
However, up against Madrid in the Champions League final, the Bosnian playmaker struggled to assert his authority from the double pivot, overrun by the magnificent, scheming duo of Toni Kroos and Luka Modrić.
With club legend Claudio Marchisio and Sami Khedira possessing less than dependable injury records, the acquisition of an athletic and technical central midfielder could help Pjanić’s influence be felt all the more.
For that, long-time Juve target Corentin Tolisso of Lyon is absolutely perfect. The 22-year-old French midfielder is energetic, physically imposing, and blessed with a tremendous passing range and shooting technique.
Tolisso’s incredible versatility has seen him feature as a defensive midfielder, a No.8, a No.10 and even as a false nine at Parc OL. Available this summer for around €25-30 million, the one-cap Les Bleus man would represent an absolute bargain. However, the Bianconeri appear to have fallen behind Bayern Munich in the race for his signature.
There is business to be done for Juventus this summer if they hope to end their Champions League drought, but they’ve shown themselves to be among the most astute bargain hunters in Europe in recent years.