As the Juventus faithful began to flood out of the Stadio Olimpico before full-time on Tuesday night there was an air of mourning around Turin. Whilst former wide man and club legend Pavel Nedved sat in the stands on the verge of tears, coach Ciro Ferrara cut a forlorn figure in the Juve technical area. But whereas your heart had to go out to Nedved, Ferrara’s tactical naivety left him lacking sympathy from the Bianconeri faithful, and before long it is likely to leave him without a job.
Yes, he was missing key players from the spine of his team in Giorgio Chiellini, Momo Sissoko and Vincenzo Iaquinta, but Ferrara’s Juventus have just not cut it in the Champions League this season. Two narrow, unconvincing victories over Maccabi Haifa were the best they could muster as they failed to take control of any of their six games. And the 4-1 defeat to Bayern Munich not only summed up their inability to produce the goods, but also resurfaced many questions about Ferrara’s abilities as a manager which had been pushed aside after the club’s 2-1 victory over Inter three days earlier.
Their home form in particular has been desperate in Europe. Back on Matchday 1 they scraped a draw against a far superior Bordeaux side in a game in which they failed to gain any kind of superiority at any stage. Even their victory over Maccabi Haifa in October came with an element of luck as Gianluigi Buffon pulled off a string of excellent saves to keep them in it before Chiellini snatched the only goal of the game. So this week’s shocking and embarrassing performance came as no surprise to the seasoned Juve-watcher, with Ferrara having failed to address any of the glaring issues that previous performances had thrown up.
Not since their 3-1 victory over Roma in the capital city back in August have Juventus looked like a side who could truly challenge either at home or abroad. On that summer’s evening, new signings Diego and Felipe Melo put in virtuoso displays as they announced themselves as early-season pace setters. But in all truth that form has not been in evidence since, neither from the Bianconeri nor their €41 million combined purchases, with the Old Lady recently having fallen eight points of the pace in Serie A, and Ferrara has shown a clear inability to change his plans in order to kick-start his stuttering side.
But what is it that has held Ciro’s men back from becoming a true title force at home and a last 16 contender in Europe?
For one, the team lacks partnerships. Ferrara has been unable to settle on a first-choice front two all season, and, but for the centre-back pairing of Chiellini and Fabio Cannavaro, this has been endemic of his match-ups around the field. With no true replacement for Sissoko – Christian Poulsen has been atrocious since his move from Sevilla – Felipe Melo has had far too much work to do in midfield. And whilst Fabio Grosso has been exposed too often as the poor defender that he is, the right-back slot has asked many questions that Ferrara has been unable to answer with Martin Caceres, Zdenek Grygera and Jonathan Zebina all failing to cut it as regular starters.
The increasing questions over the roles of Sebastian Giovinco and Alessandro Del Piero cannot be used as sticks with which to beat Ferrara though. Giovinco has been proven to be lacking the physical demands of top level football, whilst Del Piero has returned from injury to find himself short of the fitness needed to force his way ahead of Diego in the pecking order.
So why should Ferrara get the boot if the tools at his disposal have been faulty? Well, the former defender was lauded over the summer for changing Juve’s strict 4-4-2 formation of the Claudio Ranieri days to accommodate Diego in an attacking midfield role, but the 4-3-1-2 has worked very rarely as a tactical plan, and opposition coaches have recently found an answer to the set-up which Ferrara has been unable to counter. As a result he has left himself just as exposed to criticism as Ranieri was, furthermore showing a timidity for changes which could never have been levelled at the ‘Tinkerman’.
The squad also looks like a group of players lacking training ground input from their coach. Whereas Milan have developed as a side over the last two months, with clear new strategies and a renewed mental toughness, the Bianconeri have regressed markedly. They are now a side who rely heavily on the injured Iaquinta, their one striker with power, steel and a deceptive turn of speed as well as that all-important eye for goal. It’s also arguable that Mauro Camoranesi has been the best player in black and white this season as the Oriundo has been freed from the shackles of playing for Ranieri, a man he clearly didn’t like or respect. But quite how much praise can go Ferrara’s way for Camoranesi’s upturn in form is unclear.
So what is the way forward for Juventus, and why would a change of coach rescue their season? Well, for a start, this is far from the worst group of players in Serie A. There is a depth within the first team squad which suggests that with the right guidance and a coach who is willing to adapt to different opponents and situations with different tactical plans, the Bianconeri could get back on track and push Inter close for the Scudetto this spring.
Who is this illusive figure? It’s hard to say. But it certainly isn’t Ciro Ferrara.
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Kris Voakes, Goal.com