Since the day Andrea Pirlo was promoted from Under-23 coach — a job he held for all of a week — to the helm of the first team, everyone has wondered what Juventus would look like under his stewardship. This being Pirlo’s first-ever coaching job at any level, there was literally nothing to go on. He hadn’t even presented his coaching thesis until last week. The last month has been consumed with trying to puzzle out the greatest enigma in club history.
But really, it all came down to one question: Would Pirlo actually be any good at this?
The sample size is still incredibly small, but early indications are yes, he just might be.
The opening game of Juventus’ 2020-21 season came hot on the heels of the close of the 2019-20 campaign, and for the most part it was the opposite of last year’s soul-numbing slogs. Juventus played with energy. They were direct. They moved to regain the ball immediately after it was lost. They created a lot of really good scoring chances — so much so that it was only by dint of sheer bad luck and good goalkeeping that Juve didn’t go into halftime up three, even four goals against Sampdoria. The first-half goal they did get was an absolute beauty by my large adult son, Dejan Kulusevski. Samp came out of the second half looking to get back into the game, but ultimately didn’t end up forcing a save out of Wojciech Szczesny until there were 10 minutes left in the game, by which time Juve had picked up an insurance goal on a corner. A textbook Cristiano Ronaldo strike from the channel put things away late, giving Juve a 3-0 win and starting off the Pirlo era in style.
There was a huge amount of speculation over how Pirlo would set the team up, and when the lineup did come out there was a wide variance as to how it was reported. When Juventus sent out their usual pre-match lineup tweet, it was referred to as a 5-4-1. ESPN’s graphic ran it as a 3-5-2. In practice, it functioned more like a 3-4-1-2. Szczesny began his third year as the Juventus No. 1 as he took his place in goal. The back three was made up of Danilo, Leonardo Bonucci, and a returning Giorgio Chiellini. Juan Cuadrado was the right wingback, while on the left a surprise start was given to 21-year-old Gianluca Frabotta. Weston McKennie was another surprise starter, as he was paired with Adrien Rabiot in midfield. Aaron Ramsey was given a start in the hole, with the freedom to roam behind Ronaldo and Kulusevski up front.
Claudio Ranieri began his first full year at Sampdoria after replacing Eusebio Di Francesco last year and righting the ship after a bad start threatened to put them in the relegation race. In contrast to Pirlo, there are few with more experience than Ranieri, and on Sunday he marked his 400th Serie A game as a manager. Continue reading