Juventus began the Serie A campaign in disturbing fashion to immediately put coach Massimiliano Allegri under intense pressure, yet belief in his own ability to turn around a precarious situation never wavered.
Allegri appeared to have the world at his feet last summer when proudly looking back on a fine debut season at the Juventus helm, which resulted in the domestic double and a Champions League final appearance.
However, whispers of discontent began to surface – externally at least – when the Old Lady languished in the bottom half of the league, due to patchy form that incorporated just three wins from their opening ten matches.
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Despite the team’s early struggles, they bounced back recently by way of a seven-game winning streak that currently has Juve nicely poised only three points shy of table-toppers Inter.
MUCH TO PROVE
Livorno-born Allegri had big shoes to fill when arriving at the Vinovo training base to replace outgoing supremo Antonio Conte, who had presided over three consecutive Scudetti before his departure.
Conte left the Turin giants high and dry unexpectedly in July 2014, while the appointment of Allegri was met with some scepticism.
The one-time Cagliari boss had been dumped unceremoniously by former side AC Milan just six months prior, despite having taken the Rossoneri to the Serie A title in 2011.
Many observers believed Allegri had reached his career peak with that championship victory; but in response to those doubts, he steered a star-studded Juventus side to a relatively easy title triumph by a 17-point margin last term, whilst claiming the Coppa Italia.
Furthermore, their ultimately unsuccessful bid to grab the Champions League trophy ended agonisingly at the final hurdle against Barcelona, but still did enough to put Italian football firmly back on the European map.
Allegri’s tactical flexibility throughout the season was rightly lauded, while his squad adapted quickly to his requirements in order to see off domestic competition.
A summer of transfer upheaval left Allegri shorn of several key performers from his glorious first campaign in charge, while numerous arrivals took time to settle.
The bitter blow of a poor start in Serie A was softened slightly by exemplary displays in Champions League Group D, where they posted two quick-fire victories to lead the four-team list.
It’s not entirely clear whether the 48-year-old would still be in a job right now without that impressive continental form, but the powers-that-be at the club must be glad they resisted any urge to press the panic button.
Certainly, Allegri must have worried that he was headed for the scrapheap again, just as he had been at previous employers AC Milan.
In 12th position after ten league fixtures, it looked decidedly bleak. Then, Juve confounded critics when they blitzed through their next seven outings to grab fourth place, and appear well-set to launch an assault on top spot.
Meanwhile, the Bianconeri booked a last-16 date with Bayern Munich in the Champions League, after just one group defeat saw them finish a narrow second behind Manchester City.
Central to that unstoppable resurgence has been Allegri’s unshakable faith in his tactical nous, which prompts him to work tirelessly in order to find a solution that would suit both his new charges and those already established at the club.
Cavernous voids were left behind by luminaries Andrea Pirlo, Carlos Tevez and Arturo Vidal, which caught Juve cold at the beginning of 2015-16.
It’s Allegri’s outstanding efforts on the training pitch, plus his players’ willingness to listen and learn over the course of many weeks, that has allowed those who initially found it tough to finally flourish.
Paulo Dybala and Juan Cuadrado are fine examples of stars who both joined Juventus amid much fanfare, but had to endure a fluctuation in form and fortune to begin with.
They’re now riding high on confidence after finding a niche within their coach’s desired framework, which has prompted Juventus’ inexorable rise.
Dybala looks assured as a second striker alongside another new boy Mario Mandzukic, while Cuadrado is ideal for the wide-right position in a three-man attack.
Additionally, midfielder Paul Pogba shook off burgeoning concerns over his capability to assume the role of a leader within the squad by producing a series of inspired displays of late.
Allegri is a footballing chameleon; able to strategize according to the talents at his disposal – which has been very much like piecing together a hugely challenging jigsaw puzzle this season – as well as pinpointing weaknesses in the opposition line-up that he can exploit.
Similar to his own ideals, Allegri wants – and expects – his players to showcase adaptability, which is exactly what they’re doing when seamlessly switching formations regularly during matches and also from game-to-game between favoured set-ups 3-5-2 and 4-3-3.
AC Milan may have booted him out following a trio of top-three Serie A finishes, but now they appear to be lacking any direction at all in sixth place – five points behind the Old Lady already.
Juventus directors seem to have heeded such lessons of the past, and are now reaping the benefits of standing by their man.