As Maurizio Sarri was presented as Juventus manager, in front of a jostling gaggle of photographers and journalists, the 61-year-old declared that his ambition was to ‘win and convince’.
12 months later and really, barring a smattering of games here and there, Juventus are yet to fulfil their manager’s goal. Having been lumbered with the mammoth task of getting his side to play beautiful, intricate football while winning everything in sight, in the eyes of many, Sarri has (understandably) fallen short.
The former Napoli and Chelsea boss may have guided Juve to the top of Serie A for now, yet the lack of fluidity which has dogged his side throughout the campaign has left I Bianconeri someway short of the ‘convince’ element of Sarri’s declaration.
However, with a home fixture against relegation-threatened Lecce – the side with the leakiest defence in Serie A – on Friday night, this is a golden opportunity to rack up the goals and quieten some of the doubters, for one week at least. Or, if the reigning champions limp to the three points, as has been the custom for much of the campaign, this fixture could just stoke the fires of discontent even more.
With a run of two games a week for the next two months, Sarri is fortunate enough to have a deep squad to draw from in the club’s bid for a ninth-consecutive league title. Whether this rotation will allow the side to find that fluidity and consistency they have so far lacked, remains to be seen.
Wojciech Szczesny (GK): The former Arsenal goalkeeper has blossomed into one of Serie A’s finest between the sticks. Despite a shaky outing against Bologna on Monday, the Pole has accomplished the daunting task of replacing the legendary Gianluigi Buffon with grace and is now Juve’s undisputed first-choice.
Juan Cuadrado (RB): The jet-heeled Colombian has performed well when called upon as a converted full-back, offering width to a side which can become too narrow in attack.
Matthijs de Ligt (CB): The young Dutchman’s introduction to Serie A was made more brutal than expected due to Giorgio Chiellini’s long-term injury and the apparent magnetism between the ball and De Ligt’s hand. With his grasp of Italian improving, so have his performances and at just 20 years of age, there is plenty of time to iron out any minor creases.
Leonardo Bonucci (CB): In the absence of Chiellini, his partner in crime, Bonucci has been ushered into a more prominent role as the side’s leader both on and off the field this season. Bonucci’s raking diagonals from defence could bear fruit against a leaky Lecce backline.
Blaise Matuidi (LB): Here is where the problems lie. With injury ruling out Alex Sandro and Mattia De Sciglio, the Italian’s replacement against Bologna, Danilo, is suspended after a needless red card. Matuidi’s left-footedness and endless energy reserves make him a viable, if less than ideal, fullback replacement.
Rodrigo Bentancur (CM): The 23-year-old has played every minute since Juve’s return to action earlier in the month. Alongside his graceful manipulation of the ball, Bentancur’s mobility allows him to aggressively press the opposition. After one start in Sarri’s first ten games, the Uruguayan has surely played his way into the core of the team.
Miralem Pjanic (CM): As the widely-touted swap deal involving Barcelona’s Arthur Melo edges closer to completion, Pjanic remains a fixture of Sarri’s side, starting all three games since the resumption of play. Although, the number of matches he has left in the black and white stripes seems to be dwindling every day.
Aaron Ramsey (CM): After an injury-ridden start to life in Turin, Ramsey seems to have discovered his best position at Juventus, not as the number ten, but as a midfielder making runs into the box from deep.
Federico Bernardeschi (RW): The former Fiorentina winger has been heavily linked with a move away in the upcoming window, but put in arguably his best performance of the season against Bologna, teeing up Paulo Dybala’s rasping effort with a delicate flick. Douglas Costa is breathing down his neck for a starting berth but Sarri did single Bernardeschi out for individual praise after his performance.
Paulo Dybala (ST): Despite nominally starting as the side’s central attacker, Dybala spends much of his time popping up almost everywhere else. The Argentinian’s quick feet and subtle flicks make him a nuisance to mark, and allow a certain goal-hungry teammate to drift inside.
Cristiano Ronaldo (LW): The Portuguese number seven responded to the Coppa Italia final defeat with a converted penalty against Bologna, taking him to 22 Serie A goals in 23 games – one more than his total return last year. Adding to that against struggling Lecce may not completely dismiss fears of his decline, but it would be a step in that direction.