Five seasons and five successive Serie A titles later, ex-Juventus coach, Massimiliano Allegri opted for a little sabbatical at the end of last season.
With Juventus, the Italian had achieved pretty much everything you’d expect, except for the elusive Champions League.
He came agonisingly close in 2015 and 2017 but was denied convincingly by Spanish powerhouses, Barcelona and Real Madrid, respectively in the finals.
His departure marked the beginning of a new era. The era which was meant to be full of explosive football and audacity — the era of Maurizio Sarri.
Fresh off the boat from west London, Maurizio Sarri got the privilege of working with the dynamic duo of Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala.
While the aging defense, too, saw a significant overhaul with the arrival of Dutch sensation Matthijs de Light. The former Chelsea manager had all the pieces of the puzzle, all he had to do was create a masterpiece.
Accustomed to Allegri’s conventional system, it took time for the Juventus players to settle in, to find meaning in Sarri’s dynamic style of play.
The team started their campaign with a slender 1-0 win against Parma and followed it up with a closely-contested 4-3 triumph over Sarri’s former club, Napoli.
Their first convincing win, with a two-goal margin, came against SPAL on matchday 7, but that, too, didn’t give the Bianconeri the sense of relief they were craving.
Their first defeat of the season came against fellow title contenders Lazio on matchday 15.
The Old Lady were thoroughly outclassed by the Biancocelesti, who cruised to a commanding 3-1 win.
The defeat saw Juventus drop down to the second position, putting more pressure on Sarri.
Fueled by criticism and hunger, Juventus managed to bounce back strongly, recording five wins on the trot.
However, despite the encouraging performances, Sarri couldn’t find it in himself to lead his side to a win at Napoli’s backyard.
The Partenopei would’ve sealed a comfortable 2-0 win against the visitors, but a 90-minute Cristiano Ronaldo goal soothed Juventus’ pride.
Only two weeks later, Juventus picked up their third loss of the season, succumbing to a 2-1 defeat at Hellas Verona.
On Wednesday, in the Italian Cup final, Juventus were once again outplayed by a spirited Napoli side. Sadly, the Partenopei couldn’t manage to get a goal in regular time, but they were, by far, the better team.
Maurizio Sarri, despite having some of the most sought-after players at his disposal, couldn’t find a way through Napoli’s resistance and watched helplessly as his team were bested on penalties.
Returning to the pitch after the COVID-19-enforced sabbatical, Juventus have lacked the much-needed sharpness.
Their passing has looked poor, support runs have been missing, and the team’s talismans — Ronaldo and Dybala — are nowhere near their ruthless selves.
The shortcomings are glaring, of course, but a coach’s of Sarri’s caliber should be able to handle such lapses without breaking a sweat.
The Italian was also caught on his heels during the deciding penalty shootout. Juventus right-back, Danilo, doesn’t have a reputation for holding his nerves, which makes him a liability during shootouts — not an ideal candidate for the second spot-kick.
Ronaldo, on the other hand, is arguably one of the best ever from the spot, making him an excellent choice to start the shootout with.
Sure, the Portugal captain loves to take the final spot-kick, but that doesn’t make much sense when the team’s already trailing.
The Old Lady also have a 1-0 deficit to overturn in the return leg of their Champions League Round of 16 tie against Lyon.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s love for the competition could give Juventus the edge, but it’d be foolish to write Lyon off, just yet.
Domestically, Juventus still sit pretty at the top of the league table, but only with a slender one-point advantage over second-placed Lazio. Given the form Juventus are in, Lazio would be licking their lips, preparing to pounce.
Coming off a demoralising defeat, Sarri will need to gather himself as quickly as possible and prepare for the upcoming hurdles.
Judging by Juve’s current form, Champions League seems like a distant dream — a luxury they cannot afford.
League fixtures, too, won’t be easy to manage, especially with such an ageing squad.
Squad depth, lack of match fitness, dipping form, and a tight schedule — the next few weeks will test every aspect of Sarri’s managerial prowess, and the Italian will have to pass with flying colours to retain the hot seat for next season.
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