Is Serie A champion’s era of dominance about to end?
While Pirlo's arrival in Turin as a player started an era of unbelievable success, his return as a coach might well result in the destruction thereof.
Juventus are fifth in the league - although with a game in hand - with just seven wins out of 14. When the champions take enter pitch at AC Milan's San Siro, they will not spark fear into their opponents as they often did before.
Humiliating draws against the likes of recently promoted Crotone and Benevento, not to mention a 3-0 loss to Fiorentina - a team that had managed merely two Serie A wins - has drawn justified criticism and means they are no longer favorites.
Juventus look tactically bewildered, nervous on too many occasions and vulnerable when attacked in great numbers. A team previously famous for their overwhelming control of a match cannot appear to even control their emotions these days.
Five times so far in this season a red card has left Pirlo with just 10 men on the pitch.
Seeking to provide explanations as to why Juve have been stuttering under Pirlo, Agnelli explained that a lack of a pre-season period of training has hindered their start. While the top clubs in Italy have all profited from a level of consistency in these anomalous two seasons, Juventus are one of the few teams who have changed coach and hence not had the time to transmit new ideas during a pre-season.
Pirlo has had to experiment during matches, resulting in some weird displays and choices at the start of the campaign. Players were not used in their usual positions and there were tactical imbalances all over the pitch. Yet, slowly, we have begun to understand the methods behind his decisions.
Pirlo seems to favor an audaciously vertical team that presses high up the pitch, wins possession quickly and immediately delivers the pass to a goal. He intends to attack with five and has no desire to hold unnecessary possession of the ball.
When it works, such as against Parma or Barcelona in the Champions League, it is somewhat beautiful to watch. The Bianconeri are capable of quite unpredictable patterns of play and exhilarating attacks, and they have a defence that has held up quite well under the pressure. Only Napoli have thus far conceded fewer goals in the league.
The problem, nonetheless, is that it does not always work as expected and one is never completely sure which Juve side will show up, especially if they are missing either Serie A top scorer such as Cristiano Ronaldo or Champions League top scorer Alvaro Morata. Both have proved to be indispensable.
Juventus either command the game with the great authority that is expected of champions, or dissolve under the pressure thereof. They are vulnerable when attacked in great numbers and struggle to break down teams who defend in a low block. Additionally, when obstacles present themselves, Pirlo struggles to address them successfully because of his inexperience.