ICC 2016: Four questions ahead of Juventus – Melbourne Victory
What will Massimiliano Allegri and Kevin Muscat be focused on when Juventus takes on Melbourne Victory at the MCG?
Juventus and Melbourne Victory will open the 2016 International Champions Cup (ICC) on Saturday and both clubs will be looking for answers ahead of their respective league seasons.
Massimiliano Allegri has less than a month to prepare before Juve’s defence of their Serie A title begins, while Victory coach Kevin Muscat has until October 7 before his club’s A-League campaign starts.
But they will both be looking for answers to some key questions in their upcoming ICC fixtures.
Juve face Victory at the MCG on Saturday and Tottenham three days later, while Muscat’s men also have a match against Atletico Madrid scheduled in Geelong on July 31.
Is Pjanic a perfect replacement for Pogba?
Miralem Pjanic is Juve’s star recruit so far in the lead-up to the 2016-17 season, with the Bosnia and Herzegovina international having joined the Italian champions from Roma.
Pjanic hardly has an identical playing style to Pogba but if the Frenchman leaves Turin, it will be the former who will be expected to take over as Juve’s leading midfielder.
Pogba’s future seems to oscillate daily with the 23-year-old heavily linked with Manchester United, although the deal remains unconfirmed.
Regardless, Juventus need to be planning for his potential departure.
Last season, Pogba produced 10 goals and 16 assists in all competitions for Juve, with Allegri seemingly giving him licence to roam throughout the midfield.
Pjanic is more of a classic central midfield playmaker but his return of 12 goals and 13 assists in 2015-16 indicates he could cover Pogba in terms of pure numbers.
Saturday’s match will give Allegri and Juve fans alike the first indication of whether Pjanic can replace the on-pitch gravitas that Pogba so clearly possesses.
What position will Alan Baro play?
When Victory announced they had signed the Spanish defender on July 10 they were keen to emphasise the 31-year-old’s versatility.
Alan Baro is naturally a centre-back but has regularly slotted in as a defensive midfielder and right-back throughout his career in the Spanish lower leagues.
The Big V’s high-profile friendly against Juve will give local supporters an opportunity to see what Muscat’s plans are for Baro.
While Baro seems to be a natural replacement for former Victory defender Matthieu Delpierre, it would be interesting to see Muscat use him in midfield alongside captain Carl Valeri due to the Big V’s struggles to adequately replace former skipper Mark Milligan last term.
Young central defenders James Donachie and Nick Ansell have both cracked the 50-game mark in the A-League, and should be expected to hold down a starting position at the ages of 23 and 22, respectively.
Using Baro both in defence and midfield could provide Victory with much more flexibility throughout the upcoming campaign, and the former Ponferradina man will be properly tested in the centre of the pitch if he lines up against the likes of Pjanic or Atletico Madrid’s Koke this month.
Are any fringe midfielders likely to break into Allegri’s first XI?
Last season, Allegri’s preferred midfielders – in terms of Serie A starts – were Pogba (33), Claudio Marchisio (23) and Sami Khedira (20).
With Pogba’s future uncertain and Marchisio (knee) and Khedira (groin) injured, ICC 2016 is the perfect opportunity for Juventus’ fringe midfielders to stake a claim for more game time.
Kwadwo Asamoah and Hernanes have the experience to settle into Allegri’s starting XI but will need an impressive pre-season to ensure they are at the forefront of their coach’s mind when Serie A rolls around.
The likes of Mario Lemina and Roberto Pereyra will be desperate to make an impact before new signing Marko Pjaca joins the Turin-based club from Dinamo Zagreb.
With Pogba, Marchisio and Khedira all having been left out of Allegri’s ICC 2016 squad, Juventus’ matches against Victory and Tottenham in Melbourne will be the perfect stage for the aforementioned quartet to impress.
Where should Muscat focus in the transfer market?
Having bid farewell to imports Delpierre, Kosta Barbarouses and Gui Finkler – amongst a host of other players – after the 2015-16 A-League campaign, this close-season was always going to be a busy one for Muscat.
Due to the A-League’s restrictions on imports of five per club, how Muscat fills Victory’s final two visa slots will be critical in deciding where the Big V finish this season.
There is no doubt some Victory players are hoping the recent departures will mean they can change roles in Muscat’s line-up or step up as a first-teamer.
Fahid Ben Khalfallah would like to play centrally, Oliver Bozanic would probably suit a more advanced role and Ansell and Donachie – as mentioned earlier – will be aiming to lock down a starting position.
Muscat has a number of holes to fill in his squad ahead of October – the Big V have just 18 players on senior contracts for next season – and his priorities for the next couple of months could be significantly affected by Victory’s ICC 2016 performances.
The original version of this story which was published by goal.com Serie A can be viewed here.
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