Hal Walker gives his views on Maurizio Sarri and the pressures he faces at Juventus.
From the moment the Serie A fixtures were released, this was the early fixture that all media broadcasters were drawn to, the game full of sub-plots.
Kalidou Koulibaly – current Serie A defender of the Year no less – uncharacteristically slicing a routine clearance into his own net in stoppage time to conclude a see-sawing seven-goal thriller certainly defied even the most cynical of Italian football critics, who routinely label the league predictable and mundane.
The encounter proved quite the contrary but what Juventus fans will take away from their 4-3 win over their Neapolitan counterparts and what their new manager Maurizio Sarri will infer will be two entirely different things.
To the club and supporters in recent decades, the result has been all that matters. The performance and manner of the result would naturally matter somewhat, but winning by order of defensive solidarity would never be an issue; in fact, it has arguably become an integral part of the club’s hegemonic make-up.
For Sarri, his vision for the team is quite different. The former Napoli manager focuses on entertaining, a philosophy totally inverse to his predecessors in Turin. Winning is vital too, but the idea of winning ugly is foreign to Sarri.
The fact that Juventus shipped three goals at home to Napoli and initially surrendered a three-goal lead will undoubtedly have left the supporters feeling a bit uneasy. This team is also looking unrecognisable to the familiar conventional, systematic Juventus identity.
Tactically speaking, his vision is almost entirely based on the legacy left by Arrigo Sacchi, winner of two European Cups with Milan in the late 1980’s and viewed by many outside of Italy as not only the greatest managerial product of the Serie A but the last great European football revolutionary.
Sacchi’s methods, which derived from the Dutch “Total Football” model, frequently divided opinion in Italy. He favoured an unconventional, fluid style of football that prioritised a high-pressing flat back four.
Sarri’s rise to top-tier management, whilst being far more circuitous than Sacchi’s, was markedly parallel in the meticulous and perfectionist approach. His three-year spell in Naples, where he transformed a fairly rigid and uninspiring side into a relentless, possession-centric, free-flowing unit, put him on the world coaching stage. The standard of intensely tutored movement and quick interplay was unseen on the continent outside of Europe’s dominant clubs.
An example of Sarri’s micro-management was evident at the Juventus Stadium prior to kick-off. Blaise Matuidi, more known for his defensive duties as a holding midfielde, spent the warm-up working individually with coaches on intense, one-touch passes. Sure enough, the 32-year-old was one of the first-half shining lights, his use of the ball and energetic pressing a constant thorn in Napoli’s midfield.
Sarri’s season-long spell at Chelsea resulted in a Europa League trophy and a third-place league finish, but he was unpopular with the club’s supporters and was criticised for possession play and a dogmatic tactical approach.
Therein lies a warning for the season ahead; having arrived at the biggest club in his 29-year coaching career, Sarri is unlikely to ditch his long-standing principles that got him this far, but he is under pressure to enforce a change in style against an already deep-rooted club philosophy whilst ensuring no drop-off in trophy success.
If Juventus win the league in style, he will be lauded; win without the thrills and spills of Saturday’s 4-3 win and fans will question the point in his arrival, but if the style shift is established this season and fails to retain the Scudetto, then the focus will be how one of Europe’s most results-orientated clubs will judge him.
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