How do you solve a problem like Diego?

Mr Del Neri

Gigi Del Neri

New Juventus coach Gigi Del Neri did an impeccable job with Sampdoria last season. The port city side finished 4th, claiming a Champions League berth at the expense of Del Neri’s new employers in the process.

Juventus’s woes stemmed from the fact that rookie coach Ciro Ferrara struggled tactically, and constant tinkering with his system cost Juve points and Ferrara his job.

Short-term replacement Alberto Zaccheroni also tried implementing too many formations after he came in, and after losing 15 times in a 38-game season, Juventus were lucky to eventually finish in 7th.

Sampdoria, meanwhile, found a system, stuck by it, and soared beyond their pre-season Europa League-spot target. Yet rather than enjoying the fruits of his labour with the 1990/91 Scudetto winners, Del Neri will lead Juventus’s revival.

The Bianconeri failed at incorporating central-playmaker Diego at the core of every system wheeled out last season. Worryingly for the €24.5m signing, Del Neri would have no room for him in his 4-2-2-2. So does this spell the end for the ex-Bremen man’s time at the club already?

Sampdoria, 2009/10

Watching Sampdoria last season, you couldn’t interpret how they set out as 4-4-2 – there were four distinct banks.  Although the Blucerchiati players showed discipline in enacting their manager’s ideas, they were nonetheless free to manouevre.

Set-piece specialist Angelo Palombo would sit and snap with similar enthusiasm to Andrea Poli’s flanking of the attackers. The full backs probed, but also tucked to form a flat and tight back-four. In front of that pair, Franco Semioli and Stefano Guberti played as actual wingers. Such is modern football, you might even have called them old-fashioned players.

Giampaolo Pazzini was the bulky threat on the end of that duo’s crosses, along with Nicola Pozzi when superstar Antonio Cassano briefly fell out of favour. Nevertheless, Pazzaini, the former Viola starlet, has other qualities to his game too: hard-work, a neat touch and vision, for example.

Yes, I hadn’t forgotten him… Cassano. Enfant terrible et al, but on-form, one of the sport’s fantastic players. Cassano is capable of the impossible, but weighs in with his fair share of regular assists and goals too. Last season, he played off Pazzini, most often working a channel.

A 4-2-2-2 working at Samp doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll revive Juve’s fortunes, of course. But as the old adage goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. With several dips into the transfer market – compounded with the tools currently at his disposal – Del Neri could easily implement the 4-2-2-2 at the Stadio Olimpico to great effect.

Juventus, 2009/10

The Juventus of 2009/10 mainly positioned Diego behind two strikers. With Alessandro Del Piero looking to split onto the left-flank, Claudio Marchisio had something of a free-role, albeit a deep one. He was a left-sided midfielder-cum-centre midfielder, dependant on the situation. With Fabio Grosso offering width on the left, the gifted and patient Marchisio wasn’t required to treble up as a winger.

Mauro Camoranesi is equally versatile. Unlike his left-sided Italian colleague, the oriundo was comfortable as winger or tucked-infield midfielder. Diego corresponded to Del Piero’s left-peels by working the right channel with Camoranesi. In-game therefore, Juve’s system would veer between 4-1-3-2, 4-3-1-2, and 4-2-3-1.

Diego’s energy takes him all over the final third, with the lumbering Amauri feeding him knock-downs. With the brutal Felipe Melo sitting as defensive screen, there seemed little superficially wrong with how Juventus set up.

Alas, individual interpretation of the system(s), fallibility of ageing superstars, frequent and sloppy errors, poor distribution from the back-6, plus the attackers failing to play on the same wavelength led to the abysmal campaign. Zaccheroni didn’t help matters either by briefly flirting with a back three.

A 4-2-2-2 involving the current playing staff could see Juventus challenging for honours again. Personnel must be acquired to accomodate transition to a new style, and also as compensation for the fading superstars of yesteryear.

The title of my post relates to many viewing Diego surplus to requirements in a 4-2-2-2. But as Wesley Sneijder and Diego Milito showed in the Champions League final, Diego could operate behind (a fitter) Vincenzo Iaquinta.

Juventus, 2010/11?

The 25-year-old may be energetic, but he’s not an up-and-down wideman. Diego’s game is off-ball hustle, long-range shooting, and threaded through-balls to well-timed darts. Behind the canny, tall, and mobile Iaquinta, the Brazilian could thrive.

Despite their many deficiencies, Melo, Christian Poulsen and Momo Sissoko specialise in long-legged carries and crunching wave-breaks, and Del Neri may see them as advancements on the limited Palombo, Fernando Tissone, and Poli.

Yet only one of the aforementioned Bianconeri midfielders would earn a starting jersey because Del Neri says Italian international Marchisio will be focal to his Juve. Along with Giorgio Chiellini, he’s now first name on the team-sheet.

Camoranesi might prosper with his solitary midfield function being as a winger, but the left-channel will need investment – Sebastian Giovinco, although gifted, is not a winger, and dislikes that role anyway.

One hopes Grosso, overlooked for a spot in Marcello Lippi’s World Cup 2010 squad, will enter the new season with a prove-you-all-wrong attitude. Chiellini is still one of the league’s best, but Fabio Cannavaro (RCB) and the right-back position will need replacing/filling.

Therefore, just three world class purchases could help the Old Lady offer a genuine title challenge to Internazionale.

Del Neri is an experienced tactician. Boasting 18 clubs on his coaching CV, including Porto and Roma, he knows the league inside-out, and is arguably better than anyone to take on the Juventus job right now.


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