Preseason reason to worry?

Posted by Mina Rzouki

Preseason results have not been kind. Juventus have struggled to perform adequately while racking up several defeats, finishing last in the International Champions Cup after Tuesday's loss to Inter on penalties in Miami.

Suffering from an abundance of individual errors, the Bianconeri's build-up game is both slow and imprecise. Passes are too short, movements are not well-thought and possession is lost much too easily. The glitzy new attack fans have been desperate to see has yet to perform to expectation. The midfield has failed in making the right runs forward, often gave up possession and lost focus at important moments.

Meanwhile, the defence has proved problematic, if not as bad as other Italian squads during preseason. The majority of goals conceded during these friendlies have been a result of individual errors.

Of course, these matches count for little and are simply played to grasp the tactical ideas of the coach as well as improve chemistry and fitness. As such, one can understand the lack of interest displayed by certain players, the fatigue of the international ones who only recently returned to train and the mistakes committed by the new arrivals.

In assessing them one by one, new centre back Angelo Ogbonna has impressed with his physicality and tenacity. However, there is much he can learn with regards to tactics and composure. Easily overwhelmed, certain movements of his are rushed leading to several errors. He has often been caught either out of position or ball-watching and will need time to adapt to manager Antonio Conte's tactics.

Carlos Tevez has proved exciting with regards to his movements. Consistently roaming whilst demonstrating his low centre of gravity and deceptive physicality, he knows just how to bully defenders. The problem is that playing him with Mirko Vucinic Tuesday left Juventus with lots of movement in the final third but no decisive action.

Consistently lost amidst Inter’s defensive force, there was no real target to look for when passes were delivered to the top, while the midfield’s disinterest in making timely runs forward left the front two without the required help.

With so much running, fatigue has set in for the Argentine, who admitted he’s never been asked to train so hard. Physical fitness is of the utmost importance at this stage and Conte is sure the player possesses all the qualities needed going forward.

Physically, Fernando Llorente is not at the level required to make the necessary impact. Having barely played last season and forced to cope with the exhaustive physical demands of preseason, he has yet to score goals to delight onlookers. Often failing to exploit good opportunities, the lack of efficient wide play has also hindered his performances.

One can only be hopeful that Llorente will improve, but deep down there is that ever so slight worry that much like several Spaniards before him, he will fail in overcoming the Serie A sides’ defensive organisation.

Another concern is the apparent indifference of the squad. The cusomary Juve hunger and will to succeed has been replaced by lethargy and disinterest. It’s often said that Italians never perform unless they have to and we have seen evidence of that both with Juventus and the Italian national team.

Friendlies inspire few Italians but when the time comes, Italy usually delivers. Last season, the Bianconeri started successfully but they lacked that desire to succeed. Only the minimum level of energy was expended to achieve the necessary result. However, Juventus would do well to remember that while these games mean little, they are still a useful method of raising foreign interest and attracting new fans.

Commercially, trips to America to take part in competitions such as the ICC are a source of prestige and a perfect marketing opportunity to enchant audiences and improve brand awareness. With such dismal displays, few will want to follow the team when the season kicks off and Juventus actually start to care.

Conte has consistently reminded anyone who will listen that winning a third consecutive Scudetto will be difficult. Keeping that hunger alive is of the utmost importance to him. Having achieved domestic targets, Conte hopes the side haven’t lost that will to succeed.

Worries exist, as they do for many other clubs who fail to impress during pre-season. Nonetheless, it’s too early to precisely judge just how competitive Juventus will be when the season kicks off. As goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon pointed out, “The results of these games don’t worry me, I would have been more worried had we been brilliant.” Well if he’s not worried. . . .

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