It’s been a long, tough season for Juventus and manager Andrea Pirlo this season but it’s finally all over for them.
It’s been pretty poor from them throughout the season, but a 4-1 win on the final day of the season meant that they just about secured qualification for Europe’s elite club competition when Napoli failed to beat Verona.
But that win came despite Pirlo dropping Cristiano Ronaldo from the starting lineup, despite him being completely fit for the game. That in itself offered up a lot of questions in the media about the player’s future, but also the manager’s after a very underwhelming season.
Despite just about qualifying for the Champions League, it’s impossible to think that Pirlo hasn’t underachieved. After winning the league for the previous nine seasons, finishing fourth and heading into the final day with their fate not even in their own hands is simply not good enough.
He was able to win silverware though, winning the Coppa Italia thanks to a 2-0 win over Atalanta in the final, but overall you’d be hard pressed to find a Juventus fan content with how the season has gone. Especially if you consider the fact that Maurizio Sarri was sacked despite winning the league due to his style.
Pirlo’s side play uninspiring, dull football and really failed to get the best out of a large section of the squad. He should be praised for the form of Federico Chiesa, Juan Cuadrado, Matthijs De Ligt and even Ronaldo himself, who was Serie A’s top scorer this season, but the decision to often play a rigid 4-4-2 system is certainly questionable.
Add to that the fact the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Paulo Dybala and Alex Sandro have really struggled under him, Juventus could look to move him on a year early in his contract and try to bring in someone better to oversee the rebuild they need.
The biggest question of the rebuild will undoubtedly circle around the future of the legendary Portuguese attacker. At 36 years old, it’s fair to say Ronaldo isn’t quite the player he once was. Despite that though, he has been Juventus’ top scorer every year since joining the club and won the Serie A golden boot this season with 29 league goals in 33 appearances and 36 goals in 44 games in all competitions.
Despite his phenomenal numbers, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that having Ronaldo in your team takes away from the numbers that your other attacking players can put up. For example, Karim Benzema has scored 30, 27 and 30 goals in the three seasons since Ronaldo left Real Madrid. In the nine seasons they spent together, he only bettered 27 once and only bettered 30 once.
Dybala managed to score 26 times in the season before Ronaldo joined Turin, but since his arrival he’s registered just 32 in the three seasons combined.
Ronaldo is currently on around €60m per-season and is entering the final year of his contract, but the chances of another club stepping in to try and sign him this summer is so, so low. His wages are insane and it’s unlikely that a club so desperate for the European Super League because of their financial situation is likely to be able to just pay him off.
It’s hard to see Pirlo and Ronaldo both being at the club at the start of next season and if I had to bet money on one of them leaving it would be Pirlo. But something tells me that Juventus may see next year as another write off campaign.
Focus on securing a better season, then the following season start over without Pirlo and without the huge burden of Ronaldo in the team for the new manager to work with and build from.
It’s certainly a situation to keep an eye on, and one that no matter what way it goes won’t totally be a surprise.
Paris Saint-Germain are not the champions of France anymore, after Lille were crowned the winners of Ligue 1 thanks to their win over Angers on the final day.
The French title race went down to the wire, with PSG needing to better Lille’s result on Sunday to be able to leapfrog them at the final hurdle and win the title for a fourth straight season.
It was never on the cards on the day though, as Lille took an early lead and never looked back. Record signing Jonathan David was put through on goal by Renato Sanches and slotted past the goalkeeper, before Burak Yilmaz smashed a penalty home on the stroke of half-time to all but seal the title in the first half.
PSG had an eventful first half of their own, with Neymar missing a penalty after mind games from the Brest goalkeeper before Angel Di Maria scored directly from a corner. Kylian Mbappe added another in the second half but that wasn’t enough though as Lille stayed firm throughout the second half of their game to be crowned champions for the first time since the 2010/11 season.
It’s an incredible achievement from Christophe Galtier’s side, who have blended youth and experience brilliantly and maintained a very exciting style of play to be able to go toe-to-toe with the billionaires in the capital.
Mauricio Pochettino’s job when appointed in January was to ensure success. While he has won two domestic cups since joining, the club were eliminated at the semi-final stage of the Champions League by Manchester City and now were pipped to the title too, in a league many deem to be a one-horse race.
Considering he only signed an 18-month contract on arrival, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the Qatari owners decide to cut ties now and bring someone else in this summer with a more long-term view at things.
Elsewhere on the continent in Italy, Juventus were able to scrape qualification into the Champions League on the final day after Napoli failed to beat Verona and they beat Bologna 4-1.
Manager Andrea Pirlo made the unthinkable decision to drop Cristiano Ronaldo from the team for the must-win game, but the choice worked brilliantly as the Bianconeri raced into a 3-0 lead in the first-half. Ronaldo didn’t even come on as Juventus waited patiently, but as Napoli failed to break down Verona and were held to a 1-1 draw their fate was confirmed.
They’ll be joined in the competition by AC Milan, who beat Atalanta 2-0 thanks to two Franck Kessie penalties to finish 3rd and qualify for the Champions League for the first time since 2014.
Milan had led the table for a short period during the winter, but eventually faded away and as injuries and poor form picked up their season threatened to spiral out of control. Stefano Pioli was able to manage the situation well though and saw the team win four of their last five games to secure a wonderful season for themselves.
While Ronaldo’s future will almost certainly now be called into question, Juventus will be delighted to have been able to qualify after a very rocky season. They can now focus on rebuilding the squad, with or without Pirlo and Ronaldo, to try and reclaim their place as Italy’s best.
As for PSG, they also have some big decisions to make this summer. Despite the hundreds of millions spent revamping the squad over the years, they are still in need of some big upgrades at full-back and in midfield. Add to that the fact that Mbappe is entering the final year of his contract and there is a lot going on that needs to be addressed this summer.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus career continued to stall in the Champions League, as he struggled massively and they crashed out of the competition once again.
The Serie A champions came into the tie 2-1 down from the first leg, where Ronaldo was largely invisible and Juventus were saved by an away goal from Italian winger Federico Chiesa. The second leg was much of the same, with Ronaldo barely getting a sniff in front of goal as Porto took the lead from the penalty spot in the first half. Juventus took the game to extra-time though thanks to a double from Chiesa once again, as Porto were reduced to ten-men in between the two goals thanks to a red card for Mehdi Taremi.
The game never made it to penalties though as Sergio Oliveira scored a second goal of the game in extra-time with a long distance free-kick to give them the lead on aggregate and on away goals. Adrian Rabiot pulled one back almost instantly with a header but Porto held on for a historic win on away goals.
It marks the third season for Ronaldo at Juventus where the club have massively underachieved in the competition he was brought in specifically to help the club win.
Ronaldo had previously been the only Juventus player to score in the knockout stages of the competition during his time at the club, but he was largely invisible for both legs of this tie against the champions of his homeland.
With the team so heavily structured around getting the best out of him, when he doesn’t perform it can be counter productive. In recent games, he has been the one let down by his teammates but on this occasion it was he who failed to live up to the standards he has set for himself as Portugal teammate Pepe kept him at bay for the three-and-a-half hours of football they played against each other.
At 36 years old, with Juventus set to surrender the Serie A title for the first time in ten seasons and having literally got worse in Europe, it may be time for the Old Lady to think about time after Ronaldo.
Andrea Pirlo almost certainly won’t see next season after losing the title and not making any progress on the continent and having Ronaldo a year closer to retirement probably won’t do the next manager any favours either.
As he enters the final year of his contract, the likelihood of finding a buyer for the legendary attacker is slim considering his wages. But Juventus could look into paying him off a year early and letting him head for another league that he can dominate, such as France or even the MLS.
92 goals in 120 appearances so far for Juventus plus two Serie A titles and other domestic trophies mean Ronaldo has been far from a full on flop in Italy. But barring a miracle turnaround next season, if he stays, the sole goal of Ronaldo’s transfer to Turin will remain unfulfilled.
This is the worst Juventus side in recent memory and while Pirlo is the biggest reason for that, Ronaldo’s lack of influence is beginning to show too.
Being a 90’s baby means I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing some of the G.O.A.T footballers, from Zidane to Ronaldinho and more recently Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
All of them have different abilities and excellence in different areas – so without using a single player for more than one attribute, I’m going to build my perfect footballer.
Brain Andrea Pirlo
Pirlo had the ability as a player to almost stop the game in real time and scan the length of the pitch in the middle of an attack. If he was a yard behind in pace, he made up two anticipating the ball and was fascinating to watch. He even himself famously said, “football is played with the head, and your feet are just the tools.”
Heading Ability Didier Drogba
A man mountain on the pitch and a character off it, Drogba ranked very highly for me in terms of players who had an eye, or rather a head, for goal. Scoring some of the greatest goals of his career with his head, Drogba had as much skill up top as he did down at his feet. With heading being almost a dying part of the modern game, an aerial threat like the Ivorian’s is hard to come by. Huge mention to Alan Shearer in this category as well.
Physique Zlatan Ibrahimovic
I have to go with Zlatan for this one. It’s hard to ignore the slender, ripped physique of the man that has allowed him to play at the very highest levels of the game worldwide for over two decades. Not many players have the longevity and the strength to compete like Zlatan has.
Hands Gianluigi Buffon
One of the greatest goalkeepers of all time who has consistently performed at top level for over 20 years, you cannot deny the shot-stopping ability of this Italian beast. Buffon made incredible saves with ease in his pomp and that makes him my top candidate for this category, alongside being the most capped player in Italian history. A testament to his greatness.
Tackling Carles Puyol
This Spanish international had a defensive career matched by very few, and in terms of trophies is as decorated as any. Puyol was a master tackler and timed challenges with precision we could only dream of seeing today, meaning he only received one red card in his whole career.
Known for the silky way he dribbles past defenders and his showboating, Neymar for me just simply floats across the pitch with or without a football at his feet. He can zip effortlessly all ways around a defender, has a wicked change of direction and on his day is a sublime watch.
The man who is known for completing the vast majority of his passes in every game and controlled the tempo when the ball was at his feet, Xavi was another easy pick for me here. Any type of pass – short, crossing, through balls; he could do it with ease and accuracy and was a joy to watch for me.
First Touch Andres Iniesta
Iniesta for me is one of the best to ever do it when receiving a ball. It didn’t matter if it was a long or short pass, the ease with which he could bring it under his spell on the first touch was a thing of beauty to see.
Speed Kylian Mbappe
This category was one of the hardest to choose because the fastest players change year on year, but I went with this man due to the heights he has reached at such a young age, and consistently for the past 3 years has ranked as one of the fastest players in the world.
Dribbling Franck Ribery
In the 2000’s, this Frenchman was massively underrated in certain areas of the game, but was amazing to watch when taking on defenders one on one. Stats also don’t lie – for dribbling attempts in a single year, Ribery attempted an enormous 1084 dribbles (2013), compared to Messi’s 331 and Ronaldo’s 252.
If you know and watch football even the tiniest bit, you still know how great this man was. One of my favourite footballers of all time, he had the ability to get you off your seat with the way he moved a football, gracefully but with purpose anywhere on the pitch. He is a master of the art of football.
Crossing Kevin De Bruyne
A lot of people would’ve opted for Beckham here, so to be different I opted for one of the best attacking midfielders in the world right now, Kevin De Bruyne. He has lit up the Premier League with his accurate passing, eye for goal and electric crosses and has statistically ranked in the best crossers amongst Europe’s top leagues for a few seasons now.
Right Foot Cristiano Ronaldo
I don’t think this list would even be complete without including the two greatest players of this era. The albeit contested greatest goalscorer of all time, the weapon that is CR7’s right foot has allowed us to see some amazing goals for club and country, and has cemented him in history.
Left Foot Lionel Messi
As above, these two categories practically picked themselves for me. You cannot deny the prowess these two possess in front of goal, and it’s hard to even ever imagine a player with the ability in both feet of the two greats.
Before we get too far into it, “all-time” is defined by the life span of the Premier League in this instance to try and keep it as fair as possible. Anyone who played in Serie A or the Premier League between August 1992 and today was eligible to be selected, but I selected the players I saw most of and believe were the best.
I think it’s widely accepted that in the 1990’s, Serie A was the place to be if you were a world class footballer.
Italy started the decade by hosting the World Cup and losing in the semi-finals to Argentina in extra-time. It was the end of an era but also the start of one, as they began to bring through incredible youth players all over the pitch that would go on to become world champions in 2006.
Their domestic league was as competitive as always too. There have been five different winners since the 1992/93 season but a huge 12 clubs have finished in the top 3 positions since then too.
They have been blessed with some of the greatest talent of all time, and yet the majority of them won’t make it into this team.
The likes of Cafu, Chiellini, Thuram, Davids, De Rossi, Gattuso, Zidane, Kaka, Ibrahimovic, Shevchenko and Baggio all saw their primes in Serie A and yet they won’t make it into this lineup for me. I’m aware you’ll all shout at me in the comments or on Twitter, but it is what it is.
The Premier League on the other hand has managed to grab the tag-line “best league in the world” over the last 20 odd years and it’s hard to argue sometimes. Some of the all-time great players plied their trade in England, while some of the greatest teams in recent history have also come from England.
Much like Serie A, some superstar names will miss out in this team too. Players like Schmeichel, Irwin, Lauren, Campbell, Van Dijk, Carvalho, Evra, Vieira, Giggs, Gerrard, Lampard, Yaya Toure, David Silva, De Bruyne, Fabregas, Beckham, Owen, Fowler, van Nistelrooy, Cantona, Bergkamp, Suarez, Hazard and Salah won’t be involved.
So lets take a look at who is involved, shall we?
In goal, it’s a battle between two legends. Gianluigi Buffon was the only logical pick for Serie A’s team, with over 650 appearances. He has won the title a record ten titles too, making him the only possible option.
For the Premier League, Petr Cech gets the nod. The former Chelsea and Arsenal stopper’s prime was one of the most unreal things I ever witnessed, with Cech conceding just 15 goals in his first Premier League season followed by just 22 the following year and won the title four times.
In front of them will be two of the greatest defences you could possibly build from that generation.
Javier Zanetti and Gary Neville are two long-serving, former captains of their respective clubs where they spent almost their entire careers. Zanetti is the Inter Milan player with the most appearances for the club in history, while Gary Neville came through the academy and retired at Manchester United. Both were excellent defenders in their prime, too. Zanetti was an athletic, strong full-back who’s technical quality allowed him to move into midfield for a spell in his career. Neville was a bit more basic without the athleticism, but had a wicked delivery and was a solid one on one defender.
On the left, you have two of the best defenders in history. While Paolo Maldini is most often referred to as a centre-back, I saw him mostly at left back for Milan and he was incredible. Strong in the tackle, an excellent reader of the game, perfect timing and great technically. He’s only bettered in that role in history to me by the Premier League’s pick – Ashley Cole. The former Arsenal and Chelsea man had a very short spell in Serie A with Roma, but his peak came in the Premier League as part of Arsenal’s Invincibles and then with Chelsea’s Champions League winning side.
In the middle, I can’t think of two more complete central defender pairings you could make in my lifetime. Alessandro Nesta and Rio Ferdinand are, to me, the two best centre backs I’ve ever seen. Alongside them you’d have Fabio Cannavao, the 2006 Ballon d’Or winner and World Cup winning captain, and John Terry. Terry was incredibly underrated for his ability on the ball with both feet, but was also imperious in the air in both boxes and willing to put his body on the line to block a shot like any Italian defender would be proud to do.
Central midfield was probably the hardest decision I had to make for the Premier League team. So many world class options, but in the end I opted for a duo that won more Premier League titles together than any other.
Roy Keane and Paul Scholes were the perfect blend of force, finesse, intensity and goal threat that you’d need in a side. Keane was a stud of a ball winner, but also had energy to go box-to-box, while Scholes was able to be a threat in the final third or dictate play from a deeper position if necessary.
For Serie A it’s a mixture of finesse and technique, as Andrea Pirlo and Clarence Seedorf reunite. The two played together for both Milan sides, but most notably in the red half for AC. Seedorf was the total package and could play any midfield role to perfection, much like Scholes, while Pirlo was more about keeping the ball moving and using his technique rather than physical attributes in comparison to Keane.
Attack for the Premier League was probably quite easy in the end. While some top stars missed out, there were no four players who deserved their spot more than these.
Recently retired Wayne Rooney was the ultimate number ten in the Premier League and to this day is the only player to have ever scored over 200 goals AND assisted over 100 goals. Around him, are the three of the best to ever touch the league. Cristiano Ronaldo started his career on the right but moved to the left and became a goalscoring demon before joining La Liga and eventually Serie A.
His ability to go either way while also being a threat aerially and from range mean he can play anywhere along the front line and still produce, so he slots in there. On the left is arguably the most complete striker of his generation in Thierry Henry.
Normally I’d put Henry up front because that’s where he became Arsenal and France’s all-time top goalscorer from, but he had a preference of drifting out wide and using his lightning pace to get in behind defences. That also allows me to put Alan Shearer up front.
The all-time top goalscorer in the division with 260 goals, nobody has come close to matching that number. He holds almost all the goalscoring records you can think of in England’s top flight and in his prime, was one of the best strikers in the world.
For Serie A, the conversation is much the same. Two of Italy’s golden attackers of all-time will sit just behind the strikers, with Alessandro Del Piero and Francesco Totti taking the creative mantles in the side. Agility, skill, vision, technique, power and finesse, between them they had it all.
Ahead of them are probably my two favourite strikers ever. Batigol, Gabriel Batistuta, who made a name for himself by trying to rip nets when he scored goals because of the pure power he could hit a ball with, had everything in his game to trouble a top defence on his own. Now pair him up with the GOAT, Ronaldo Nazario. El Fenomeno. R9.
The man was at his absolute best for Inter Milan during the 90’s before a knee injury took away his explosiveness. Even after that he scored goals for fun wherever he went and his inclusion was a no brainer.
When you think football, you almost certainly will think of the Brazilian national team and it’s glittering history.
The famous yellow shirts are linked heavily with some of the greatest attacking players in the history of football, while defensively they’ve probably never been blessed with the best options. They’ve had a few stand outs but nothing like when you look at the history of the Italian side.
Arguably the greatest defensive nation in footballing history, Italy have had some of the best defenders in history prior to my lifetime including the likes of Franco Baresi. So what happens if you pit the best attack against the best defence over the most recent generations?
Much like in the ‘France vs Holland Fantasy Match‘, several top players have missed out on the lineups simply because I can’t pick more than 11 players. The likes of Rivaldo, Christian Vieri, Giorgio Chiellini, Gilberto Silva, Cafu, Marcelo and Gennaro Gattuso have been left out either because I believe these are better or I’m trying to get more of a balance of past and present.
In goal, Italy’s choice was obvious. Gianluigi Buffon is likely to go down as one of the best goalkeepers ever and up until recently is the only Italy number one I’ve know. For Brazil, I’ve given Alisson the nod over two legends in Dida and Claudio Taffarel. The Liverpool man is arguably the best of the lot with his feet and is comfortable sweeping up behind a top heavy team, so he fits in well here.
At full-back, Brazil have arguably had the two best pairs of right and left backs of my lifetime with Cafu and Roberto Carlos as well as Dani Alves and Marcelo. I’ve decided to split the difference with this and take on from each era, with Dani Alves and Roberto Carlos taking the spots here.
For Italy, their full-backs pick themselves. Paolo Maldini is recognised as one of the best defenders the world has ever seen and while he could play at centre-back, he often was used as a left-back for the national team due to the plethora of top central defenders they possessed. As for right-back, Gianluca Zambrotta is comfortably the best Italian I’ve ever seen in that position and that makes his inclusion easy enough.
At centre-back Italy’s pairing is arguably unfair. Alessandro Nesta is the best defender I’ve ever seen in my opinion while Fabio Cannavaro is the last defender to win the Ballon D’Or following Italy’s World Cup win in 2006. A combination of speed, strength, intelligence, aerial ability and leadership they would be a nightmare for any attack.
Brazil’s options don’t have the same quality or reputation, but Lucio and Thiago Silva is also a pairing that would strike fear into any attacking lineup. Aerially dominant, good on the ball and aggressive as they come I would ultimately back the Brazilian’s to make an error before the Italians.
In midfield, Italy have got balance for days. The destroyer vibe of Daniele De Rossi alongside the playmaking skill of Marco Verratti and Andrea Pirlo give the team the perfect base to build their attacks from while also being to compete in defensive situations too.
Brazil’s lineup is a bit more top heavy and I’ve gone with Fernandinho in the holding midfield role. Now I know I could’ve picked Gilberto Silva but I went with the Manchester City man for the simple reason that I have seen him play in top heavy teams before. With Kaka, Ronaldinho and Neymar ahead of him all interchanging positions and causing havoc, Italy will have a tough time containing the quality and invention they have.
In attack, Italy’s attack has got three magnificent talents ready to link up and interchange positions. Roberto Baggio is widely considered as the best Italian attacker of his generation or since, while Francesco Totti and Alessandro Del Piero are the reigning kings of Rome and Turin respectively.
Their passing, creativity, skill and link up play would likely see some of the best team goals ever scored with them on the pitch, although they lack the frightening pace that a side likely to play on the counter attack would like to have.
For Brazil, two of the greatest number nines of the modern generation playing up front together is a terrifying prospect. Romario was the main man during the 1994 World Cup and it was ‘El Fenomeno’ who took the mantle and went on to be one of the best strikers of all time. Together, their combination of pace, skill, strength, creativity and ruthless finishing would surely be too much for any defence.
This would be a battle between attack and defence and it’s hard to see past the attack coming out on top.
Brazil are by no means pushovers defensively and if the full-backs are a bit more efficient with their attacking outlet then you can imagine Italy struggling to break them down with their lack of pace.
With that said, Italy will have the advantage in midfield with three excellent ball-players in there so if they can keep the ball for long periods and keep Brazil’s attack quiet then they would potentially be able to cause an upset.
The likelihood for me however, is that Brazil get on the ball in dangerous areas far too often for the Italian’s to cope and eventually they get broken down for the famous yellow jerseys to celebrate a win yet again.
Despite his inexperience though, Pirlo has reportedly not shown any weakness by making decisions on three big-name players in the squad already. French World Cup winner Blaise Matuidi had his contract rescinded by mutual consent and was allowed to join David Beckham’s Inter Miami CF in the MLS and now Pirlo has asked for two other stars to be released.
According to Sky Italy, both Gonzalo Higuain and Sami Khedira have been told by Pirlo that they have no future at the club and the hierarchy at the club are now in talks with the players about cancelling their contracts a year early.
Sami Khedira had a season plagued with injuries last year, including a heart scare that saw him miss several months. The introduction of Aaron Ramsey and Adrian Rabiot alongside Matuiti, Pjanic and Bentancur meant he was way out of favour anyway and was likely to leave this summer regardless. With Pjanic leaving for Barcelona and Arthur Melo coming in a swap deal, Juventus reportedly want to add Houssam Aouar from Lyon to make up for losing Matuidi and Khedira although a deal isn’t close to materialising yet.
As for Higuain, Juventus paid a club-record fee at the time of €90million to trigger his release clause and bring him over from Napoli back in 2016. He was their top goalscorer in his first year and did okay in his second year before the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo saw them let him go. Loan moves to AC Milan and Chelsea didn’t work out but he returned under Sarri, his manager at Napoli, and was a solid back-up option behind Ronaldo and Dybala. But with Sarri gone, Higuain will follow him now.
The former Real Madrid striker has previously spoken about his ambition to play in the MLS at some point in his career and now at 32 years of age having exhausted his physical peak, it may be time for that move. LA Galaxy are reportedly interested in him, while I’m sure once he’s a free agent other clubs will come to the fore. He is still a lethal finisher, but physically he struggles with the pace of the elite level in Europe now so a move to a slightly less intense league will do him the world of good.
Andrea Pirlo will now look to build a squad with a younger core that can still compete with the elite in Europe for titles. A tenth consecutive Serie A title will be the minimum expectation, although Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan will prove to be stern competition. But as Maurizio Sarri found out, just winning the league is no longer enough for Juventus. They need to compete in Europe and a regeneration of the squad is exactly what they need in order to get back to that level.
The next question is whether or not Pirlo is the right man for the job.