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Ronaldo through the middle or Dybala as a false nine? How Juventus will line up in 2019-20

12:00 IST 21/08/2019
Cristiano Ronaldo Maurizio Sarri Matthijs de Ligt Juventus
The Bianconeri's summer transfer window has been a mixed bag, creating an unusual level of uncertainty surrounding a club synonymous with stability

How will Juventus line up this season? Truth be told, we're not even sure how they'll line up on Saturday, when they kick off their Serie A campaign at Parma.

Sadly, there's even some doubt as to whether new coach Maurizio Sarri will even be cleared to sit on the bench, given he is presently struggling with a bout of pneumonia.

As such, there's even more uncertainty surrounding the Bianconeri than would be natural after a change in leadership.

Replacing the pragmatic Massimiliano Allegri with a self-confessed "dreamer" like Sarri created enough intrigue as it was, without the unexpected and unwelcome concerns over the latter's health.

However, it is the club's attempts to put together a squad capable of winning the Champions League that is really responsible for the sense of unease among Juve fans right now.

As we'll outline below, the Bianconeri have been busy this summer, but not busy enough, as sporting director Fabio Paratici still needs to offload a number of big names before the close of the transfer window in order to balance the books.

Consequently, Juve are likely to begin their bid for a ninth consecutive Scudetto with players that could well be sold before matchday two, which only adds to the cloud of confusion hanging over a club that have for so many years been synonymous with stability and sensibility.

An interesting season lies ahead for everyone involved...

GOALKEEPERS

The big news is that Gianluigi Buffon is back. After his surprise and ill-advised decision to move to Paris Saint-Germain last year, the 41-year-old has rejoined the club he helped win nine Serie A titles. 

However, Buffon returns after a dismal season at Parc des Princes, best remembered for his error-strewn display against Manchester United in the last 16 of the Champions League. So, he is not expected to mount a credible challenge to Wojciech Szczesny for a starting berth.

Indeed, it is telling that the ever-humble Buffon politely declined when offered both the No.1 jersey and the captain's armband by Szczesny and Giorgio Chiellini, respectively. "I just want to do my bit for the team," the World Cup winner explained.

Buffon should certainly see some game time as Mattia Perin has been ruled out of action until November with a shoulder injury that scuppered his chances of a move to Benfica in July.

DEFENDERS

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of Juve's acquisition of Matthijs de Ligt. We're talking about one of the best defenders to emerge on the scene in years, a player wanted by Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona.

In addition, when one considers that Manchester United paid €85 million for Harry Maguire, an inferior centre-half to De Ligt in so many areas, the Dutchman should prove a bargain at €75m.

The 20-year-old old is certainly an incredibly valuable addition to a Juve defence that was in dire need of a rejuvenation, given Andrea Barzagli has retired, Giorgio Chiellini is now 35, and Leonardo Bonucci just three years younger.

While Bonucci retains a wonderful range of passing, he hasn't been the same player since returning from AC Milan and struggles in a back four, anyway, meaning De Ligt will partner the still-brilliant Chiellini in the heart of the defence, especially as Daniele Rugani appears to be heading towards the exit door despite the success of his previous spell with Sarri at Empoli.

However, it will be worth keeping an eye on another new signing, Merih Demiral, the 21-year-old Turkey international who has impressed in pre-season and could force his way into the starting line-up sooner than expected.

Worryingly, though Juve are well stocked in the middle, they now look short on quality out wide, and particularly on the right-hand side.

The decision to let the dynamic Joao Cancelo join Champions League rivals Manchester City was bad enough, but taking Danilo in return was downright bizarre. Given Mattia De Sciglio and the versatile Juan Cuadrado are the only other options at right-back, Juve will have an obvious weak link no matter who starts.

As for the opposite flank, Alex Sandro is obviously an excellent attacking full-back but the complete lack of quality cover is a serious concern.

MIDFIELDERS

Juventus have long been regarded as the masters of the free transfer and they've reminded everyone of precisely why by picking up both Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot for nothing (if we exclude wages and signing-on fees!) this summer.

Both should go straight into the starting line-up, as Ramsey is the kind of goal-scoring midfielder the Old Lady has been lacking for years, while Rabiot, for all the concerns about his temperament, is an immensely talented player with the requisite mix of physique and technique to belatedly replace fellow Frenchman Paul Pogba.

Miralem Pjanic will be again charged with pulling the strings in the middle of the park, despite ongoing concerns over his efficacy in the biggest games.

Emre Can is obviously a viable alternative, after impressing all and sundry with his drive and versatility last term, but the perception remains that the Germany international is not as good as he thinks and will never be anything other than a useful utility player.

Rodrigo Bentancur, meanwhile, has shown plenty of promise and is still improving. The same cannot be said of Blaise Matuidi and Sami Khedira, both of whom are 32 and very clearly in decline. The pair have undeniably served the Old Lady well but that both are still at the club is surprising.

FORWARDS

There is just one certainty in attack: Cristiano Ronaldo will start. But where will he play? And who will start alongside him? That we do not know the answer to either question just three days before the start of the new Serie A season will be of as much concern to the Portuguese perfectionist as Juve fans.

The Bianconeri have spent the majority of the summer trying to offload Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic and Gonzalo Higuain – yet all three are still at the club. Of course, all three could yet depart, meaning Sarri still doesn't know which forwards he'll be relying on this term. Hardly surprising, then, that he recently labelled the situation "embarrassing".

Of the three, Dybala appears to have the best chance of starting, at least on Saturday, as he has played well in pre-season and Sarri has spoken optimistically about deploying 'La Joya' as a false nine.

Then again, Mandzukic worked well with Ronaldo last season, regularly swapping positions with the five-time Ballon d'Or winner, while Higuain is the most orthodox No.9 Juve have and has a good rapport with Sarri.

The market will probably decide everything, though. If Juve were to land Mauro Icardi, the exiled Inter striker would obviously lead the line, with Ronaldo on his preferred left flank.

However, if no No.9 arrives, expect Ronaldo to play through the middle, with Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi on the flanks.

Both wingers had their issues last season but both are being tipped to excel under Sarri this season. Costa has, at times of late, looked like his old unstoppable self, while Bernardeschi appears finally ready to become a Juve regular.

COACH

Napoli fans were understandably upset by Sarri's appointment as Bianconeri boss, given the Tuscan's previous ties to the Partenopei.

The bitter response from some Juventini was more surprising, though.

"Sarri has no class, regardless of whether he dresses in a suit or a tracksuit," former Juve president Giovanni Cobolli Gigli told Radio Kiss Kiss.

"I won’t forget the middle finger he flashed at the Juve fans when he was on the team bus. He can stick that finger somewhere else...

"I don’t think Gianni Agnelli would’ve chosen someone like Sarri. He is a fine coach, but in terms of communication, he was never able to say anything less than unpleasant and malevolent towards Juve."

Cobolli Gigli certainly doesn't speak for all of the fans but it would be far to say that many will have to be won over by a coach who only won his first trophy, the Europa League, last season, with Chelsea.

Still, while Sarri may not have a stellar CV, he does have a well-earned reputation for playing good football - which is something that was lacking during Allegri's final season in charge at Juve.

The chain-smoking 60-year-old is expected to go with his tried-and-trusted 4-3-3 formation as he looks to not only deliver a ninth consecutive Scudetto but also claim Juve's first European Cup since 1996.

It won't be easy but given Sarri's attractive style of play, and penchant for creating controversy, this season should certainly be exciting.

HOW JUVENTUS COULD LINE UP