The wait is finally over, as the new-look Udinese will take on the largely unchanged Juventus in the 2023/2024 season opener.
Serie A Week 1 – Sunday 20 August 2023 – Dacia Arena | Preview by Enrico Passarella
Udinese’s summer would be extremely strong if Lazar Samardzic stayed after the whole ordeal with Inter, but it would still be sound even if he left, which is more likely. They have lost two key pieces, Rodrigo Becao and Destiny Udogie, whose sale was arranged last year, and they went with quantity over quality to substitute for them, but with a touch of intrigue.
Rather than putting all their eggs into one replacement hoping he pans out, they signed multiple ones. They’ll have a much deeper squad. The Brazilian was one of the best braccetti around, so they might need time to recover from his departure. Still, one among Christian Kabasele, Adam Masina, and Enzo Ebosse should eventually take the baton in an adequate enough fashion.
They have gone with a mix of experience and youth also on the left wing, adding Jordan Zemura and Hassane Kamara, in the midfield, where the newcomers are Oier Zarraga, Domingos Quina, and Etienne Camara, and in the frontline, where they already have veterans, purchasing Brenner and Lorenzo Lucca. They probably thought Beto would be gone by now, but there’s been little traction concerning his departure. They’d be well-equipped for that event but would surely be happy to keep him. He has more levels to go to, even though he’s no longer a prospect.
They could look like a work in progress in the first couple of months, but coach Andrea Sottil will have new toys to play with. The displays in the early matches will determine the hierarchies. The scheme and the posture won’t change. They’ll continue to be a fundamentally sturdy squad that doesn’t mind sitting back and countering but also like taking command from time to time and has more technique than the average minnow.
They wouldn’t have the same flair without Samardzic, but Sandi Lovric, while less flashy and more unheralded, is a great weapon too. Zarraga has reportedly looked good in the preseason, and so has Florian Thauvin, who’ll attempt to fill Gerard Deulofeu’s shoes better than how he did last season. If that’s not the case, they have three alternatives waiting in the wings. Isaac Success has already proven to be a capable creator and a respectable second fiddle.
Their big advantage in 2023/2024 is that they won’t be excessively reliant on anybody. They used to be in trouble when there were injuries or suspensions. While the deputies might not have the same quality, they won’t need to come up with unusual solutions. That’ll also help in second halves and throughout the campaign. They often struggled to hold on to leads because they rode their starters hard and ran out of energy.
That comes at the expense of some pizzazz, as their only splurge was Brenner, who was supposed to be Beto’s heir, but he’ll have time to adapt to a very different league given the situation. Udogie’s departure will be felt, but they might look a little less lopsided, as he drew a lot of touches and attention. Festy Ebosele could become their leading man on the wings after a redshirt year where he showed interesting offensive chops but was a little rough around the edges.
Expected XI (3-5-2): Silvestri; Kabasele, Bijol, Perez; Ebosele, Lovric, Walace, Zarraga, Kamara; Beto, Thauvin
Doubts: Zarraga/Samardzic, Kamara/Zemura.
Injury Report: Deulofeu (knee surgery), Ehizibue, Ebosse (ACL tear), Masina, Padelli (muscular injuries).
It feels like nothing and everything happened for Juventus at the same time throughout the summer. The rumors abounded, but their only moves were a pair of youngsters, and one probably won’t even be part of the squad. After preaching cost-cutting measures for a couple of years, they have actually enacted them, primarily by not doing anything too fancy and offloading fringe players than selling linchpins.
The Romelu Lukaku deal would have gone in such a direction too, on top of bringing something different to the table. There’s no doubt that it’s way better to have Dusan Vlahovic, but he’s been hurt a lot, he hasn’t performed as expected, and Massimiliano Allegri struggled to put him in a position to succeed. The last part wouldn’t be an issue for the ex-Inter man, who’s plug-and-play and would enhance the other forwards, something the Serb has yet to show to be capable of. The deal would have been more enticing than on the surface, provided it fetched a hefty sum, which was ultimately the sticking point.
Instead, signing Domenico Berardi would be weirder, both for his tactical collocation since Federico Chiesa is still in town and because they’d have to spend a pretty penny for a veteran, which is counterintuitive. The coach switching to 3-4-3 after showing little tactical advancements in the last two seasons would be a surprise, even though they’d have the horses to pull it off properly. Sassuolo seem definitive in their stance to keep him, but the only true deadline is the end of the window.
There’s the sensation that something big will still occur down the stretch, but in the meantime, Timothy Weah, Andrea Cambiaso, Facundo Gonzalez, and the returning Weston McKennie are the only new pieces heading into the opener. The first two looked very good in the friendlies and bring some more juice on the flanks, which was necessary since Juan Cuadrado was on his last legs and Filip Kostic was run into the ground last season.
Failing to sell the USMNT staple and other outcasts in the midfield earlier cost them juicy opportunities, such as Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Davide Frattesi, and especially Franck Kessié considering the low price tag. They are pretty much standing pat at the position, which is underwhelming. Shipping off Nicolò Rovella instead of other pieces was surprising. Keeping him would have finally freed up Manuel Locatelli for a more dynamic role, where he fares better. Perhaps it was a matter of physicality because the free wasn’t that great. Hans Nicolussi Caviglia is a maestro in waiting, but he’s not as far along in his progression after losing a couple of years due to a massive knee injury. It could be serendipitous, but Allegri trusting talents that haven’t fully developed is a long-shot proposition. Unless there are surprises, the hope for improvement will come exclusively from Paul Pogba staying healthy, and good luck with that, and Nicolò Fagioli and Fabio Miretti taking a step forward, which is more likely. A quality reinforcement would help a lot.
Chiesa finally has his legs fully underneath him and, despite some early buzz, the idea of selling him never gained much pace. His fit in a 3-5-2 isn’t perfect, and he sometimes gets bottled up or lost wandering if he doesn’t have the flank serving as a reference point, but there’s no reason he can’t learn the position. He did okay even as a false-nine with Italy. It’s not exclusively a schematic problem. As is the case for Vlahovic, he needs many touches to be a threat, as he’s far from surgical. If their overall attitude is overly cautious like in the past, the former Viola duo will be in for a long season. Instead, they could thrive as a combo if the gaffer was willing to up the tempo and be more practice. They are perfectly assorted and have exquisite chemistry. There were hints of that in the only real preseason test versus Atalanta.
With the off-the-pitch drama finally in the rearview mirror and without the cups, which are a nuisance if it’s not the Champions League, Juventus have a clear pathway to contend for the title and can lean on a ton of consistency, unlike other teams, but whether they have the quality to actually do is a question only the pitch can answer to.
Expected XI (3-5-2): Szczesny; Gatti, Bremer, Danilo; Weah, Miretti, Locatelli, Rabiot, Kostic; Chiesa, Vlahovic
Doubts: Gatti/Sandro, Miretti/Fagioli, Kostic/Cambiaso.
Injury Report: Kean (knock), De Sciglio (ACL tear).
Juventus Win, Under 2.5 Goals