With Covid-19 and injuries ravaging Juve’s 2020/21 compact season, we’ve seen quite a number of U23 players regularly pop-up in our squad lists. If memory serves, it’s been a while since any youth team players actually made the team: Claudio Marchisio, Paolo De Ceglie and Sebastian Giovinco in 2006 (Ironically, they probably wouldn’t have made it without Farsopoli). With Andrea Pirlo’s willingness to play these youngsters, much more than previous coaches, I’ve been wondering who’s going to be good enough to be promoted to the first team next season. Not only it will help the team on the field, especially with the home-grown requirements of the UEFA Champions League (UCL), it will also help economically, which is crucial in the early stages of the After-Covid Era.
Is there one? With this article, I’d like to share with you this season’s U23 players and delve a bit into those who have been called up frequently and most importantly, discuss whether anyone has a considerable chance to make the first team.
Before that, for those who aren’t familiar with our U23 team, it was formed in 3 August 2018 when Italian Football allowed the formation of U23 teams and joined Serie C before the start of the 2018/19 season. It acts as the reserve team that bridges the Primavera team (U19) to the first/senior squad. It can be promoted and demoted but cannot be in the same division as the first team. From all the Italian teams, only Juve have taken the opportunity so far.
They train in Vinovo, the first team’s previous training ground and play their games in Giuseppe Moccagatta in Alessandria, around 100 km from Turin. In the future, a new training ground and stadium for the U23 team will be built in Continassa.
Italian Football is far behind their fellow European Leagues like England, Spain, and Germany, who had started the reserve team ages ago. Iker Casillas, Philipp Lahm, Guti Hernandez, Raul Gonzalez, Andres Iniesta, Thomas Muller, and of course Leo Messi are legends coming from reserve teams. The past and present Juve players, like Emre Can and Alvaro Morata were products of Bayern’s and Real Madrid’s reserve teams respectively. Current Serie A players like Achraf Hakimi, Theo Hernandez and Borja Mayoral also came from Spanish reserve teams.
Well, better late than never. In their first season, 2018/19 under Mauro Zironelli as the coach, Juve U23 finished 12th (from 20 teams) and in the second season, 2019/20 under Fabio Pecchia, they finished 10th and surprisingly won the Serie C’s Coppa Italia!
After two seasons, Juve U23 hadn’t produced anyone significant and to me, it’s perfectly understandable. Forget Spain and Germany. Even locally, Juve lag behind Atalanta, Roma, Fiorentina, Milan, and Inter Milan when it comes to promoting youth to the senior side. It will take time. On the other hand, the sales of Han Kwang-song, Mattias Andersson, Eric Lanini, Stephy Mavididi, Simone Muratore, among others, have contributed to Juve’s war chest. Some, like Matheus and Franco Tongya, were swapped with other youngsters Alejandro Marques and Marley Ake respectively and lastly, Manolo Portanova and Elia Petrelli were turned into Nicolo Rovella, a promising 19-year-old midfielder who has become an important rotation player for Genoa this season. If all goes well, he’ll join Juve in 2022/23.
Now let’s take a look at our 2020/21 U23 team. Pirlo was supposed to be the coach but he was surprisingly promoted to the first team so Lamberto Zauli, himself promoted from the U19 team, took over. After 29 games, they are 7th in the table, scoring 43 goals (1st) and conceding 35 (10th). It’s important to remember that the development of the players is at least as important, if not more, as the results of the games.
Important note: This article is based on the statistics of the U23 players and I had only seen the ones when they played for the first team so if you have seen them play in the Serie C games, feel free to share your opinion in the comment section below.
The U23 team is allowed to include four over-age players with the team and these slots are currently filled by Timothy Nocchi (GK, 30 years old at the start of the season), Raffaele Alcibiade (CB, 30), Michele Troiano (DM, 35) and Andrea Brighenti (FW, 32). They don’t have any chance to join the first team but they are necessary in guiding the youngsters.
In general, Zauli uses 3-4-2-1, 3-4-1-2 and 4-4-2 formations where the three CB systems are mostly used, resembling the systems of the first team, and almost always used two DMs/CMs.
GK: Franco Israel, 20 (Uruguay U20) is the starting GK and has started all of his 12 games. Unfortunately, he suffered a cheekbone fracture and had to miss 11 games. Nocchi (Italy) and primavera player Matteo Bucosse (Italy, 17) are his backups. So far, Israel has been called up two times for the squad for Serie A and one time for the UCL when Gigi Buffon was injured. I don’t know how good he is but he’s already a List B player for UCL and next season he’ll be eligible for the Club-Trained (CT) list. He has just recovered from a significant injury so presuming Buffon and Pinsoglio are extended, I reckon he’ll stay another year at U23.
List B is a list of players who were born after 1 January 1999 (or after 1 January 2000 for next season) and have been with the club for two years. CT is a list of maximum four players where the players are owned permanently and have been at the club for a minimum three years between ages 15 to 21.
CB: Radu Dragusin, 19 (Romania, U19 captain, also broken into the U21 squad), Alcibiade (Italy), Riccardo Capellini (Italy, 20), Paolo Gozzi (Italy, 19), Filippo Delli Carri (Italy, 21). Dragusin is still in the primavera age group but he’s already a member of the U23 team. He’s also the best CB prospect as he’s been called up by the first team 25 (!) times: 16 times to Serie A (playing once), four times to Coppa Italia (starting twice), one time to SuperCoppa, and four times to UCL (playing once). Giorgio Chiellini’s long absence plays its part but it’s still impressive that he’s been the one called up, not others who are all older than him. He’s already a List B player and will be a CT next season so presuming all parties agree to extend his contract, my guess is he’ll either join the first team or stay at U23 for another year. The FIGC mandates that if an U23 player has played FIVE times for the first team with a minimum 30 minutes each, the player cannot return to the U23 team. Seeing that Dragusin has only played over 30 minutes twice so far, he can still return to U23 next season and occasionally help the first team both in local competitions and, as a List B player, in UCL.
With Dragusin spending so much time with first team, the starters at CB are Alcibiade, Capellini and Delli Carri. Along with Gozzi, they just combined for two call-ups, all belonging to Capellini: Once to Serie A and once to Coppa. Gozzi is a cautionary tale. Two seasons ago, he was called up and started once for the first team but now, he’s the last choice at CB. He is just 19, though, so hopefully he can pick up where he left off and improve.
RB: Alessandro Di Pardo (Italy, 21), Lucas Rosa (Brazil, 20), Tommaso Barbieri (Italy, 19). Di Pardo is the starter in all the 13 games he’s played for U23 this season. He’s been called up to Serie A 13 times (playing four times), twice to Coppa (playing once), once to SuperCoppa and twice to UCL (playing both times). The lack of cover for Juan Cuadrado might contribute to his many call ups but while he’s been unspectacular, he’s quite solid when he’s given the chance to play. He’s already a List B player and will become a CT next season. My guess is the first team will sign a new backup at RB and loan Di Pardo out or sell him and keep the option to buy back. This way, he can play regularly and return if he improves. However, with the financial constraints and the need to prioritize elsewhere, I won’t cross him out just yet.
Di Pardo’s backups are Rosa and Barbieri. Barbieri just joined last summer and has already played more than the older Rosa. Both have never been called up but Barbieri is still in the primavera age and with Di Pardo gone next season, the starting position should be his. Keep an eye on him.
LB: Davide De Marino (Italy, 20), Matteo Anzolin (Italy, 19). Anzolin suffered an ACL injury before the season started and just came back to the bench on the 29th giornata. In his absence, Juve signed De Marino. His original position is CB and often played as the left CB (and I presumed LB when U23 defend). Although he’s just been signed this winter, he’s been called up to Serie A once. Another player to keep an eye on.
DM: Daouda Peeters (Belgium, 21), Filippo Ranocchia (Italy, 19), Giuseppe Leone (Italy, 19), Troiano (Italy). Peeters and Ranocchia are the starters in the middle of the field with Leone replacing the Belgian when he’s called up to the first team. Peeters has been called up eight times to Serie A and twice to Coppa. Ranocchia is two years younger and has been called up once to Serie A and once to Coppa but instead of those three, the one who has actually played in midfield for the first team is Nicolo Fagioli.
AM: Fagioli (Italy, 19), Hamza Rafia (Tunisia, 21), Ferdinando Del Sole (Italy, 22). Fagioli and Rafia took turns starting for Zauli and Del Sole back them up. Rafia has been called up three times to Serie A and once to Coppa, playing and even scoring once but this article is partly a love letter to Fagioli.
Fagioli has the second highest call ups after Dragusin (Di Pardo is a close third) with 12 times to Serie A (playing once), four times to Coppa (starting once), once to SuperCoppa and twice to UCL. How was he? Of all the U23 I’ve seen this season, Fagioli is by far the best. Pirlo played him as a regista or one of the two CMs and oh how well he delivered! Not only the technique, vision, and clean passing, he possesses the calmness defying his age. He also has the speed and short burst of pace to attack the empty space. He still makes mistakes but to me, he’s the best prospect since Marchisio and Giovinco. If he develops well, he has the chance to surpass those two primavera legends. He’s already a List B and CT player and, with the gossip of Juve’s interest in Manuel Locatelli, hopefully we don’t let him go. If we do, I actually don’t mind if he goes on loan or even sold as long as we keep the option to buy back. He can play regularly and develop elsewhere, say Sassuolo, and return in a year or two when he’s ready.
Winger: Abdoulaye Dabo (France, 19, left-footed), Mattia Compagnon (Italy, 18, left-footed), Felix Correia (Portugal, 19, right-footed), Marley Ake (France, 19, right-footed). All four just joined this season and three of them in the winter. Two are still on loan: Dabo from Nantes and Compagnon form Udinese. Zauli mostly starts Correia and Ake. Correia, the only one who joined in the summer, is the undisputed starter as the left winger and has started 24 games with only two as substitutes. He’s also been called up once to Coppa. Ake plays as the right winger and although he just joined in the winter, he’s been called up three times to Serie A, more often than Correia. Is it because Correia plays in the same position as Cristiano Ronaldo, a right-footed left winger/forward? Or is it that he plays in the same position as Federico Chiesa, a right-footed left winger who’s more and more significant to Pirlo? I don’t know but at least from the statistics only, Correia produces goals and assists. In the end, these two are the most expensive U23 players so while they won’t make the first team next season, let’s keep an eye on them.
FW: Giacomo Vrioni (Albania, 21), Alejandro Marques (Spain, 20), Brighenti (Italy), Emanuele Pecorino (Italy, 19). Vrioni has been called up five times to Serie A (playing once) and Marques has been called up once also to Serie A but it’s not possible at the moment to analyze them. After a few games early in the season, Vrioni suffered a fibula fracture and will miss the rest of the season. Along with Brighenti, Marques is the starter either playing one or two forwards. However, he also missed a chunk of the season because of injury. U23 added the sicilian Pecorino in the winter but he too, after only two games, was injured. Funnily enough, there’s a silver lining in these mind-boggling injuries. In comes a primavera player Cosimo Marco Da Graca (Italy, 18). I’ve seen Vrioni and Marques play but I have to say I didn’t see anything extraordinary. Da Graca, though, is different. His movement, link-up plays, and other little moments of obvious skill were quite eye-catching in the one game he played in Coppa. He even almost scored if Chiesa didn’t cut him off to find the net himself. Along with Morata being the lone no.9 in the first team, it’s probably not a surprise he’s been called up seven times to Serie A, once to Coppa (and playing), and twice to UCL.
So as of today, my guess is these are the ones who are ready to make the jump to the first team:
Aside from Dragusin and Fagioli, there are a few I’d like to keep an eye on:
There you have it. You never know with youngsters but hopefully, at least Dragusin (next season) and Fagioli (after he’s repurchased or returns from his loan) can make the jump and more will follow season after season as the U23 team develops. Forza Juve!!!
More zonajuve YOUTH focus pieces can be found here>
(Also please note that the majority of the players highlighted have long represented their national sides at youth level)
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