Last week, Mario Mandzukic picked up a thigh injury in training that will likely keep him sidelined for another four weeks or so. He will miss several domestic matches as a result and potentially even the first leg of Juventus’ tie against Atletico Madrid. His injury has also exposed Juventus’ lack of depth upfront. Although the Croatian was not expected to be a hugely important player this season, his absence poses some key issues for Allegri to address.
Last summer, Juventus let Higuain, their main striker from the past two seasons, leave on loan to AC Milan. This was not considered a huge deal given that Ronaldo was arriving expected to play through the middle. However, it became clear fairly quickly in the season that Ronaldo and Juventus were both better off with him on the left and Mandzukic through the middle. Although Ronaldo’s goalscoring numbers are down from his time in Madrid, his general play has been much better in this role and Mandzukic has filled some of that scoring void on several key occasions.
With Higuain gone, Ronaldo better on the left, and Mandzukic now injured, Juventus do not have a player perfectly suited to play through the middle. The 18 year-old Moise Keane could be a good choice in some matches, but a player who has hardly played all season and has just six competitive goals to his name should not be the main option for a club of Juventus’ standing. Using Ronaldo as the striker is another option, but the Portuguese has never been at his best playing as a lone frontman. Not only does playing there make him easier to mark for the center backs, but it also takes away the space for him to drive at the opposition with the ball. He would still be very good in that role, but partially neutralizing the team’s biggest attacking threat makes little sense.
Unless Allegri switches to a 442 or 4231 system, the only viable option left is to play through Paulo Dybala through the middle. This would allow Ronaldo to stay in his best position and also give Douglas Costa a run of games on the right to try to recapture his form from last season. Dybala might be better with a striker ahead of him, but he has all the attributes to play a false nine type role. Juventus also faired quite well with this setup earlier on in the season, especially in their convincing 1-0 win at Old Trafford.