Maurizio’s midfield headache: Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala were caught on camera criticising them and Sarri admits he can’t ‘get the players to understand’ his tactics… Juventus’ men in the middle are the root of all their problems
- Juventus have struggled badly at times this season with midfield to blame
- Maurizio Sarri has failed to solve the problem of their underpowered midfield
- Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala criticised their lack of service in Lyon loss
- Miralem Pjanic looks fatigued and can’t fulfil Sarri’s Jorginho role
- Blaise Matuidi is past his best and Rodrigo Bentancur can be slow and clumsy
- Aaron Ramsey’s first season in Turin has been badly affected by injuries
Cristiano Ronaldo barely draws breath in public without a camera or smartphone recording him, so the Portuguese star might have known his derogatory comments about the Juventus midfield would go viral.
It was half-time during their Champions League defeat to Lyon last week and Ronaldo was stood in the tunnel at the Groupama Stadium chatting to fellow frontman Paulo Dybala.
‘We are left alone out there, the midfielders are giving us no support,’ Ronaldo grumbled in comments picked up by a conveniently placed microphone.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala slammed Juventus’ midfield during their defeat at Lyon
Juventus were disappointing in France as Ronaldo and Co failed to register a shot on target
Dybala replied, ‘Nobody is getting the ball’ before Ronaldo concurred, ‘I know, not even the second balls, nothing.’
Quite how their exchange went down in the Juve dressing room once it had been made public by RMC Sport we may never know, but the truth is that Ronaldo and Dybala have a point.
Their midfield has been sub-standard for most of the season, reaching that low-point in Lyon when manager Maurizio Sarri looked resigned to some players blatantly ignoring his tactical instructions.
RMC Sport released the video which featured the five-time Balon d’Or winner’s complaints
By their usual imperious standards, it’s been a season of toil for the club that has won the last eight Scudettos.
They don’t typically enter March second in the table but that’s the undesirable situation they’re in with Lazio leading the way and Inter Milan on their tail. It’s been a far from comfortable ride.
And inevitably, there are already stories that Sarri faces the sack the next time they lose and rumours that he has lost the dressing room.
A simmering civil war burst into the open after that abject performance in Lyon, with Sarri ranting: ‘I cannot get the players to understand the importance of moving the ball quickly.
‘This is fundamental, we’ll keep working on it and sooner or later this concept with get into their heads.’
But reports in Italy say the players are struggling to interpret Sarri’s ‘vague, confused and unassimilated’ instructions.
Manager Maurizio Sarri was furious as his players ignored his instructions in the Lyon defeat
Newspaper La Repubblica described him as ‘the teacher who tells parents that he is not able to teach the alphabet to children’ and his time in Turin seems to be going the same way as his season with Chelsea.
Despite Sarri’s best efforts, the issue of midfielders taking too many touches and slowing down the play has been a familiar theme of the season.
Sarri has switched between a 4-3-1-2 and a 4-3-3 set-up without really persisting with either and Juve’s midfield personnel resemble square pegs in round holes.
All the parts of their midfield sum present problems and it all adds up to an engine room considerably more underpowered than you’d expect from a European heavyweight.
Miralem Pjanic has rarely matched his Roma form since moving to Juventus in 2016 and was described as being ‘as soft as mozzarella’ by former club chairman Giovanni Cobolli Gigli last month.
Miralem Pjanic was described as being ‘as soft as mozzarella’ by a former Juventus chairman
Sarri pictured with Jorginho, who is one of the few players to understand his style, at Chelsea
Sarriball famously requires a pin-sharp, ball-playing midfielder right in front of the back four and it remains the case that Jorginho is probably the only player in the world who fully understands this.
Pjanic doesn’t fulfill these requirements and though he started the season brightly, he now looks fatigued and ineffective from the heavy demands placed upon him.
Blaise Matuidi, who appeared to have a hostile exchange of words with Leonardo Bonucci before the Lyon game, has also featured prominently this season.
His season has been solid if unspectacular but all the talk is of the 32-year-old Frenchman leaving Juventus in the summer, suggesting he’s way past his best.
Rodrigo Bentancur, at 22 one of the youngest midfield options, should offer the fizz Sarri is looking for but is all too often slow and clumsy on the ball.
But he’s another player that Juventus seen unsure how best to deploy. Bentancur says he enjoys playing the deeper Pjanic role but vice-president Pavel Nedved reckons he’s better as a more advanced trequartista.
Blaise Matuidi fighting for the ball with SPAL’s Thiago Cionek during a recent league fixture
Rodrigo Bentancur in action during the defeat to Lyon in the Champions League last-16
Either way, he is being judged guilty of slowing Juventus down, exacerbating a tactical problem that Sarri can’t seem to solve – they funnel everything through the middle and desperately lack width and willing wing-backs.
Adrien Rabiot made a slow and unconvincing start to life at Juventus after arriving on a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain last summer but has slowly improved with more time on the pitch.
But he didn’t cover himself in glory against Lyon, failing to spot passes into Ronaldo and Juan Cuadrado that would have set them through on goal.
Quite a lot of Juventus fans question the club’s policy of trying to sign every midfield player for nothing.
Rabiot can be grouped in this regard with Aaron Ramsey and Emre Can, with the latter already moved on to Borussia Dortmund.
Adrien Rabiot was poor against Lyon but has shown signs of improvement in recent weeks
Aaron Ramsey has seen his first season with Juventus hampered by injury
They may have spent £100million on Ronaldo but the perception remains that Juventus are trying to achieve Champions League success on the cheap.
Therefore they’re left with a load of midfield cast-offs, who are too old and lack the necessary verve and vibrancy.
Ramsey has been unfortunate so far with a series of niggly injuries that have restricted him to just eight Serie A and two Champions League starts during his first season.
It’s all been pretty underwhelming for £400,000-a-week and there have been stories that Juventus may cut their losses but hopefully he’ll get some better fortune in his second year.
The postponement of the crunch clash with Inter because of the coronavirus has given Juve a bit of breathing space but Sarri needs to find some kind of quick fix to prevent this season becoming a disaster.
They were due to host AC Milan this Wednesday for a place in the Coppa Italia final, followed by league games against Bologna and Lecce before that all-important second leg against Lyon. However the cup game has been postponed and
Turning over a single-goal deficit with Ronaldo, Dybala and Co in the ranks should be within their capabilities but there can be no disguising the paucity of their midfield.
Ronaldo was right in his remarks and Sarri needs to somehow find a solution.
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