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A gulf of class?

I watch more premier league football than any other domestic competition. Makes sense given my upbringing is very much english and despite finding myself marooned here in Melbourne for the last decade, I have not lost that part of my nature and nurture, steadfastly consuming MOTD every weekend, and keeping abreast with the major happenings. Its a connection beyond merely football, as the game in my homeland is deeply engrained in the culture.

One of the few countries, and cultures on Earth, where you can meet another chap who is a complete stranger, and at some stage in the conversation, the question will emerge of ‘who do you support?’. It is what some would call an ‘ice-breaker’ yet I can’t stand to speak or write in platitudes, my haughty haphazard zeal despises this as lame, the precise opposite of the creative beastliness which governs and guides my self self expression to the world. Still, suffice to say, football is inherently part of the brutal and inspiring, good and ill, culture which has nurtured and natured me…so I keep that part of my essence nourished.

I watch all of Juve’s games, more of the CL than merely our own misfortunes and as many highlights of other Serie A as possible. It is tricky to judge quality. The main measure should be the CL, where the strongest face off against each other, and it certainly does serve as an accurate barometer of quality. And yet, after playing and following the beautiful game for several decades now, I feel confident and comfortable I can judge to some degree the quality on show, no matter the competition.

One of the perennial discussions that abounds with my chums from back home when we speak football is the following…

How many players from Juve would walk into the first XI of the strongest teams in the PL?

And so I will try to expand this question, to include my own ideas of the current sides – of the last few years – I consider elite, the upper echelons. As a curious leading discussion of how close we are to these elite sides. Which must be where we are aiming.

Well aware that others will have different measures of what constitutes an elite side, and admittedly, I am talking not just of silverware, for there is more to ponder. At least in my own mind. And also in mind is the steady conclusion I hold that our squad is so superior to the rest of the league, that we should be regularly trouncing opponents rather. We never do.

My reference points, for this vague-ish idea of elite sides are-

Man City, Liverpool, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Barcelona.

I am unsure whether to include Barcelona of this period, as despite still enjoying an immense wealth of talent in their squad, they are clearly on a downward spiral, or at least have been. Old man Koeman may be slowly correcting this? Briefly…he was a superb player who the younger fans should peek for>>>

Thinking more deeply on the topic, it seems too much a stretch for me to accurately contrast Bayern and Real with our beloved Juve, for I only see those sides in snippets in the CL and am appalled to point exclusively at stats and silverware without including knowledge of watching their players week in, week out. Which leaves the two PL clubs, City and Liverpool. Both of whom I know well from watching steadily throughout every season.

GK

Tek is a solid keeper. He is extremely reliable, makes some stunning saves sporadically, and it is very rare indeed to find him clearly at fault for a goal conceded (I cannot recall even one of such incidents). On the negative side, he does not seem to command his defenders, his distribution is not great and he is reluctant to stride out from his comfortable zone near the sticks, though he does so well enough for I cannot recall once moaning and groaning of how he held back when he should have sprung and narrowed the gap.

Buffon remains a superb back-up; athletic, mentally alert beyond his years and his impact vocally and through his sheer presence cannot be understated.

Still…I find both Ederson and Allison more rounded in their quality overall. Both seem as reliable, more often making amazing saves, superior at emerging from goal, intelligent with distribution and comfortable with the ball at their feet.

Result – Neither Buffon or Tek would usurp either.

CBs

Chiellini remains a titan, though is ancient and creaking and nowhere near reliable enough fitness wise to be considered for a season ear-marked as a regular, to build around, as one of the first names on the team sheet. Yet given his form of late, and with fitness holding (for now!) I have to mention that I still find him world class. His reading of the game is second to none. Many times he feels the flow and is in the right place at the right time to prevent any serious opening, which rarely can show in the stats of the sites the modern social media drones call upon to ‘validate’ their assertions. He also still possesses enough pace in his old legs to ensure he is never in a position to sprint against men many moons younger. So strong a player, that if he were to remain fit for the remainder of the campaign, we would be favourites for the scudetto. Different story in the CL, more is required than one world class player at the back, one at the top.

Demiral has raw talent, and yet has regressed this season under Pirlo. May be fitness, it could be that he doesn’t fit Pirlo’s tactical demands. Regardless, he his nowhere near the monstrous blockade we saw last term.

Big Leo is slowing down, has never been at his best in a back four – which we often become – and does not have the duties to sit in front of 2 deeper lying stoppers at Juve. Fairly consistent but has been fast fading this season.

It is true that Danilo has shown his best form for us this campaign in the hybrid role on either flank, as a CB/fullback, yet when he is a fullback, he offers next to nothing in the final third. So to judge as a CB, I can only appraise him as of a decent yet not outstanding level. He is rarely prominent. His versatility fits Pirlo’s system, which is welcome, though rarely presents as a powerful, let alone pivotal performance on the field.

De Ligt, however, is already a world class talent. Working his way back to full sharpness, and I have no doubt he will prove immense. Whilst Pirlo has mentioned of late that he could play with Chiellini, the current evidence is that the coach prefers Bonucci. The latter must give way to the former, for he is too special a talent to be regularly starting on the bench. He will leave…sooner than any of us had assumed likely unless implemented as a mainstay of the side.

Result – The young dutchman would assuredly own a place in the first XI of either club under focus. Chiellini, if fit, would likely also feature.

FBs

For me, this is the weakest area of our squad. In the modern game, a team needs superb width or a powerhouse industrious and/or balanced and creative midfield. We have neither, rely hugely upon a very talented front line.

Our finest fullback is Juan. A converted winger (Allegri and Sarri both did great work to achieve this). He shines often partly due to the absence of any other quality consistently shown on either flank by any other player. And yet…I cannot see him dislodging any of those he is up against.

Sandro is yet to offer anything of his former glory and has long looked jaded. Frabrotta needs more playing time but looks promising. Nothing more, nothing less.

Alexander Arnold and Robertson at Liverpool have for a while now consistently set the benchmark. None of our players are anywhere near them, in terms of defensive or offensive zeal. Both are fast, strong, superb in the final third, ever a threat, and often heavily involved in winning matches with key assists or goals.

Result – I would happily take Zinchenko, Walker, Alexander-Arnold, Cancelo, Mendy over all of our current FB options.

CM

What sparked this rambling piece here in the garden on a friday eve when I should be focused on more nourishing matters such as the strident lady of the forest who finds me as appealing as absurd…or putting into virtual ink colourful tales of my recent escape from the city into the wilderness and majestic marvel of cocoon with all my most valuable senses in awe of the power and beauty and wild, chaotic symphony of nature…was a post on twitter I made, regarding the high praise I find for McKennie.

I like the lad. Have been pleasantly surprised by his mentality, his energy, his enthusiasm, his eagerness to get into the box and put himself about. And yet, I have seen little to gauge him as a top player. Moreover how important he has become to the squad is further validation of what we have long been lacking – energy, hustle, capacity to get forward intelligently and on the end of things in the box. All the elite sides have this, as a bare necessity to their cause. Essentially, I feel he appears potent as much due to the absence of his key qualities around him in midfield as his all round value as a player.

The american has been impressive. No doubt of this. Cheap by modern standards and the scouting network got this one Right. Plenty of room – we all hope – for him to progress. Yet to suggest he is already good enough to walk into the starting XI of the sides above us, in Europe…is extremely muddled thinking to my mind. And I am finding the americans as the sole juventini aghast for me to not consider him some unearthed gem in the mega rough…which makes me wonder if I would be the same were he an englishman? I suspect I could feel some tribal connection/bias and be defensive on his account, yet my overarching cynicism, I believe, would remain the same.

Bentancur was steadily improving season upon season. Yet is another who has regressed horribly under Pirlo. Of late an upturn when played with Arthur who is by far the most intelligent and cunning on the ball in our ranks of the central midfield area.

I suspect that Pep could enjoy Arthur’s possessional prowess and Klopp could make splendid use of Bentancur (who operates more box to box for his country and looks better in that role).

Still, I doubt either could find space in their first XI plans.

Rabiot? A very physical force but of zero understanding of positional awareness and direction, seldom prominent in the final third or any third, at least under Pirlo. He has yet to give a solid, powerful performance from start to finish in any run of games, and this is his second season at the club.

Ramsey is too often injured and not understanding where to play in this formation.

Gundogen, Fernandinho, De Bruyne, Wijnaldum, Henderson, Thiago, Foden, Silva would all walk into our first XI.

Result – Not one of our CMs or AMs would find space on the team sheet when written by Klopp or Pep

Front line

Dybala can be pure class. Still feel we have reduced proper use of his value, yet also he has suffered poor health, so it is hard to conclude much, as of yet. More will be clear after his return, if and when he gets games.

Morata has been a sterling success, and I assume he can further find cohesion and more goals. His work rate and capacity to sacrifice for the team is hugely developed since his last stint at the club, courtesy – I presume- of Simeone.

Ronaldo remains an elite striker, capable of an outstanding potency, for as many chances as he misses, he scores and is immense at finding those opportunities.

Kulu and Chiesa remain larval projects in black and white, both more often than not ill fitting the system Pirlo deploys, yet clearly, the italian has found more potency.

The Giant Swede is a player I have felt all season, we are wasting…Even Chiesa, who can be superb as a right wing forward, is often deployed LM. This is a player who was often deployed as a striker for Fiorentina and was a menace. They are both final third specialists, and I wish they were played in this area rather than expected to learn how to defend a flank, often deep. Why not play to their strengths? Find a system which amplifies rather than shackles the burgeoning abilities already tested and proven of our young attackers?

Overall…when given the choices of our current crop of attackers and those of the other two clubs…I am hard pressed to find any space for anyone but Ronaldo.

Result – our ageing once in a generation superstar would certainly find some playing time, not the others.

To finish this wayward overview of contrasting three sides, a quick formation builder composite routine>>>

I have not the time or interest presently in delving into the money spent, for whilst the outlay of City will likely dwarf our own investments, I suspect the net treasure chest of gold plundered by Liverpool may emerge from the crunching of numbers and then silverware and finally connected to the above reckoning…suggestive of our own recruitment routine as very much achieving less.

My comparison places only two of our first XI potentially able to earn a place in the City and Liverpool sides. If I believed Chiellini could maintain fitness, and was a few years younger, he would easily replace Van Dijk, yet it may well be the case that both are at their best in a CBL role, which leaves only one for selection.

Given neither of the two sides I have used for comparison are the dominant force in Europe, I do wonder what others think of where we find ourselves presently, less so with focus on Pirlo, but on the squad, the talent we have brought into the ranks at considerable cost, certainly ongoing high level wages?

Do others see the difference between Juve and whichever clubs you deign as above us, as the elite…as a gulf in quality?

If so…as I do when I make such comparisons…perhaps I am too harsh on Pirlo. And should pipe down, focus instead on Paratici? My long term appraisal of whom is very negative indeed…

FInally…some wicked beats and rhymes…

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