Something isn’t quite working at Juventus.
Sure, the Bianconeri lead Serie A by seven points. But Maurizio Sarri’s first chance to win silverware ended with defeat to Lazio in the Supercoppa Italiana. Last week, Juve lost consecutive finals, going down to their coach’s old side Napoli in the Coppa Italia final.
Losing those finals won’t make-or-break Sarri’s Turin tenure. But they add to the feeling it hasn’t worked out for the former Chelsea coach since his return to Serie A.
A big summer awaits for Juventus. Miralem Pjanić, Gonzalo Higuaín and Aaron Ramsey are expected to depart. In terms of arrivals, Dejan Kulusevski has already signed. He won’t be the last addition. However, it’s up front where the most serious work is anticipated. With Higuaín off, Juventus need a No.9 they can hang their hat on.
Mauro Icardi has long been linked for some time. But after his loan spell at Paris Saint-Germain was made permanent, Juventus will have to look elsewhere. The most recent reports claim the Old Lady are looking to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The Arsenal captain is entering the final year of his contract.
The Gabonese has already been linked with Barcelona, Real Madrid, PSG and Internazionale. If the Gunners fail to tie their No.14 to fresh terms this summer, he will surely walk away for nothing in 12 months’ time.
Does Aubameyang suit ‘Sarri-ball’?
The so-called ‘Sarriball’ system is a tactically nuanced and playing in it is demanding. The first question is what the parameters of that system are.
By looking at Napoli in 2017/18, Sarri’s final season in Naples, we get a pretty clear idea. In finishing second to Juve the Partenopei led Serie A in the following:
|Big Chances created||2.08|
|Shots on target||6.76|
|Possessions won in attacking third||5.92|
|Possessions won in middle third||34.66|
|Final-third passes attempted||198.74|
|Final-third passes completed||150.63|
|Lay-off passes attempted||25.29|
|Lay-off passes completed||23.82|
|Long passes into opposition half attempted||75.42|
|Long passes into opposition half completed||57.76|
In short, they passed opponents to death, created chances galore and (mostly) stuck them away, converting 2.03 per 90 (third in Serie A).
Jorginho‘s role in that side was to conduct the play. Collecting the ball from the back four and starting moves from deep, the Brazil-born midfielder was Napoli’s midfield metronome. Indeed, Sarri would like to be reunited with Jorginho for the third time in Turin. But he may have to do with Barcelona’s Arthur instead.
Upfront, Aubameyang will be expected to imitate Dries Mertens. Often pegged as a poacher who comes alive in the penalty area or on the shoulder of the last defender, that seems an unnatural fit.
As we can see in the graphic above, Mertens came deep and played between the lines, getting heavily involved in the build-up play. Only three strikers created more Big Chances (per 90) in 2017/18 than Mertens’ 0.39. The Belgian was fifth for final-third passes completed by a striker with 11.32, underlining his link-up qualities.
Any suspicions about Aubameyang’s suitability are confirmed in the data. The former Borussia Dortmund striker makes more passes on the left-wing than anywhere else. That can be attributed to the fact he’s been moved out there to accommodate Alexandre Lacazette as a No.9 in Mikel Arteta’s 4-2-3-1 shape.
Aubameyang has recorded a single league assist this season. His Big Chances created per 90 (0.17) are less than half what Mertens managed in his final year under Sarri at Napoli. It’s no surprise to see the Arsenal forward also averages fewer final-third passes too.
As a general rule, he just isn’t that involved in build-up play
So we’ve established he probably wouldn’t fit the criteria required. Furthermore, Sarri has had to sacrifice his trusted 4-3-3 at Juventus. Instead, he’s tended to use a 4-3-1-2 system in Serie A with Federico Bernardeschi behind a front two of Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala.
No-one is displacing Ronaldo upfront so Dybala would presumably drop back to No.10. As for Bernardeschi, he wants to leave the Allianz Stadium. According to reports, Chelsea are among his suitors.
The more appropriate question might then be how Ronaldo and Aubameyang would work alongside one another.
Given Ronaldo’s tendency to drift out to the left, perhaps Aubameyang would be employed as an out-and-out No.9 instead? That would be closer to his time at Dortmund where he was the focal point of the attack with Christian Pulisic and Maximilian Philipp playing either side of him.
That opens yet another can of worms. Where would Dybala fit in?
Pushing Dybala aside to make room for another 30-something in Aubameyang would create more problems than it solves.
Juventus already have one headline name the team is built to serve. A second simply wouldn’t be smart business.