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Lyon are banished and Benfica beckons…

11 Apr

Whilst we continued our poor and worrying form, we got through without any major hassle. We could say that about so many games since late January. We certainly have the telling trademark of a great team, as in, we keep winning when we play below full steam. More on that shortly…

For now, let’s peek at Benfica.

Any of the remaining sides would have been a far sterner test than we have faced so far in the Europa campaign. We have drawn the toughest opponent of the three, but I feel its a blessing in disguise to face Benfica over two legs rather than the final of just one match. We have Udinese away, who are safe, with nothing to play for and in generally poor to okay form. And then Bologna at home before the first tie v Benfica. Whilst Bologna are fighting for survival, they should prove a perfect warm-up; lambs to the slaughter. The second of two games we have to regain our confidence before aiming for glory against the Portuguese.

I hope that by that point we have regained momentum. Whilst Caceres has come good, after a few understandably shaky at times showings, I miss Barzagli. His poise, confidence, muscle, and brilliant reading of the game. The sooner we return to our ideal starting trio at the back the better. Its the foundation of everything we attempt and those three know each other’s games perfectly.

In between the europa ties we face Sassuolo away. Another infinitely winnable game.

Clearly, our own league schedule plays out as well as could be hoped for. No huge games. A chance to rest key players as much as finally score more than 1-2 goals per game. With Andrea back in the mix, I suspect everything else will fit into place. He has been conspicuous through his absence.

Benfica have Garay, who I have liked for many moons. Also there is Cardozo, whom we were interested in last Summer, yet his season hasn’t been amazing, in no small part due to a back injury which placed him on the sidelines for a couple of months. Lima and Rodrigo are solid options in attack, but the danger man is potentially Gaitan.

Its their league form which worries me somewhat. For their lead at the top is solid and they definitely have the winning habit. What is to be taken into the reckoning is the strength of the portuguese league. Other than Sporting and Porto, there is no real competition. Whereas Serie A seems much stronger. The top seven teams, which I would like to add Milan on top of, have some brilliant players. Whilst Italian teams have not been particularly vibrant in europe for a while, the quality is there.

We have scored 17 more goals than Benfica, having played 6 more matches, in a tougher league.

As for their european adventure…

They really should have escaped their champions league group. Despite beating PSG at home (they got mauled 3-0 in the reverse) their efforts were not enough against the weaker opponents in their group (Anderlecht and Olympiakios). So, like us, thrust into the Europa league, they exorcised their greek demons by demolishing PAOK 4-0 on aggregate, achieved an outstanding 1-3 away victory over Spurs, then found little problem in ending AZ Alkmaar’s european adventure with a comprehensive 3-0 aggregate victory.

On paper, we look like the favourites. On form, its a different matter.

My final point is regarding the managerial battle. This is where I fear we could be bettered. I am far from religious but there is something wrong about setting out to destroy Jesus. hohoho!..Joking aside, Jorge Jesus is clearly a talented, passionate manager. Not only has he returned Benfica to the top of the pile domestically, he has also endeared himself to the fans and squad, through such antics as fighting off policeman as they attempt to grab hold of a Benfica fan invading the field. He has also set records for a portuguese club’s defensive shut-out record (918+ minutes without conceding a goal at home). All the more remarkable an achievement given his penchant for attacking football.

He has won the league title with Benfica in the 09/10 season. Three domestic cup titles in the last four seasons. And taken his side to a Europa league final defeat in the 12/13 season. He knows how to reach the final, and is capable in cup competition. He also knows his squad intimately. And has their respect.

There are certain parallels to be drawn between the managers, notably in terms of passion and loyalty to the club. Although at 59, Jesus is vastly more experienced. Though it must be noted, his experience has been gained solely domestically.

My problem with Conte is his lack of malleability. When was the last time we saw first-hand or read of intelligent analysis detailing how Conte isolated an opponents weaknesses and exploited them??? His game plan seems to be tactically narrow, with the formation always the same, our game plan always the same. All that changes are personnel. Which seems blinkered.

How often do we see him change formation mid-game?? Its something he must and will learn with experience. For he must, as once the stakes become sky high, we cannot rely upon athleticism and organization, hoping for a moment of genius from Pirlo. This is what has put us in the Europe league. A lack of ingenuity.

It is instructive to read and hear comments from club and fans regarding the lack of tools at Conte’s disposal vis-a-vis trying a different formation. For he hasn’t tried (other than in friendlies). If we play 3-5-2, every single game, we are predictable. Teams know how to defuse our game.

In short, at the top level, its often tactical ingenuity which wins games. Not solely quality in the players chosen to take to the field. Look at how Martinez deployed Lukaku last weekend. How Mourinho’s substitutes against PSG worked supremely. This is an area where Conte needs to improve. And fast. If we are to have any confidence in winning the tournament.

Juventus v Livorno Preview

8 Apr

I expect Llorente will be starting given his absence from the Lyon match. As for who starts alongside him, logically it will be Giovinco or Mirko. Hopefully Seba, for I would very much like to see him given a run of games before the end of the season, and really stake a claim for his continued presence in our squad next season. For he is a player who I feel is as much at risk as Mirko and even more so, Quagliarella, when it comes to making space for attacking improvements in the Summer.

We crushed local side Ivrea 10-1 last Friday afternoon with Agnelli, Conte and Beppe Marotta all in the stands. Conte deployed an interesting 3-4-3 formation-
Storari
Caceres Bonucci Ogbonna
Lichtsteiner Padoin Marchisio Peluso
Giovinco Quagliarella Vucinic

Not sure of all the scorers, although Mirko, Quags, Giovinco and Juve fans favourite Padoin were amongst them.

It would be a surprise to see the above formation, although it makes sense to offer a break to Pirlo, Chiellini and especially Asamoah as well as giving Ogbonna and other strikers the chance to gain some much needed match fitness. Any team we place on the field should be good enough to crunch Livorno, but with the gap down to 5 points presently, I expect to see Pogba and Llorente added to the first XI (at least).

Whilst local piedmont side Ivrea are far removed from a serie A side, winning any game so handsomely breeds confidence and re-invigorates the winning mentality. So the more of that crowd that play, the better.

Any doubt whatsoever regarding the fitness of Tevez must preclude even a cameo. The enforced break for Vidal will surely do his muscles if not his head the world of rejuvenation for like others, he has appeared jaded of late.

I hope and expect that whoever we choose between the sticks enjoys a quiet evening, and with that in mind, I’d rather pick Santo Buffon. Keep the old man fresh and sharp.

The presence at the friendly match of the president and directors was surely designed to give the team a jolt.

Livorno have only won one of their last five but will be buoyed by holding Inter to a draw last week and are scrapping for survival, so expect no easy ride. However, this match is one of our easiest (on paper) of the end of season run-in and we must be expected to win and win well. Give our fans something to cheer for from their hearts, not just their throats.

Juve Back Room staff

6 Apr

Following on from my appraisal of squad depth I now turn my focus towards the staff tasked with coaching and conditioning.

 

Fitness coach of the year yet again, Paolo Bertelli

Bertelli was recently awarded his second  Cronometro d’Oro award (stopwatch of gold) for his sterling work as our fitness coach.  The first accolade came through his time at Roma in 2008 and he has reclaimed the crown after guiding our squad to their second scudetto in 2013.

Paolo has also worked with Fiorentina and his efforts certainly seem to bear fruit given the manner in which we have pushed on after Christmas, maintained our fitness levels when other teams around us have faltered.

Tough physical training may also offer some insight into why we rarely seem to start at full speed, but by the second half, when the opponents begin to tire, we continue at the same rhythm.

Julio Tous, our sports performance innovation specialist alongside Llorente

Julio Tous came to the club first on a part time basis and more recently in a permanent role. His sports fitness work is of the highest pedigree having worked with Rafa Nadal, Carlos Moya and Svetlana Kuznetsova in tennis, Racing Santander, Real Zaragoza and Real Sociedad in football and also various hockey and basketball teams.

The spaniard is highly qualified, and aided Roberto Sassi in developing and implementing the Training Check program which ties together the many Juve squads into an alignment of fitness coaching doctrines. All players work-loads and training regimes are recorded, and altered according to their age and first team requirements.

Tous seems particularly interested in Pogba…and he had this to say on the player in May of 2013.

“Coaching Paul Pogba is a little like coaching Carl Lewis. I don’t know what kind of career [Pogba] will go on to have, but as an athlete he is extraordinary,” 

“I’ve encouraged Pogba to concentrate on running 400 meters. We are definitely trying to push him in that direction.”

His onus is on muscular strength, aiming for power above all else, which allows athletes to run for longer and become less susceptible to injury. Need we look further than Andrea Pirlo for evidence of his effect at the club, a player whose fitness levels sky-rocketed after joining the club from a Milan side where he was far from a first team regular.

Some of Julio’s work elsewhere includes the collection and nourishment of blood platelets. The science behind which appears to be the decrease achieved in recovery from injury if a player is injected with his own blood, enriched with proteins, when suffering from injury. This subject has caused a small stir on occasion, but how much such routines are in place at Juve is impossible to tell, and the nut of the matter is that no rules have been broken and I expect that other elite clubs are making the most of science as I hope we are in turn.

The main methodology of Tous is muscle power and associated muscle resistance.

Roberto Sassi and a prime example of the results of bringing in top drawer professional fitness conditioning experts…Andrea Pirlo.

Roberto Sassi boasts an impressive CV which includes experiences with some of Europe’s finest clubs.

After beginning his career in 1978 with Varese, Sassi travelled across the continent working with Lecce, Lazio, Avellino, Torino, Verona, Salernitana, Fiorentina, Valencia, Athletico Madrid, Chelsea, Parma, Sampdoria and Dynamo Moscow.

During his spell with the Blucerchiati, Sassi focused on youth development and devised the highly successful Training Check initiative.

Sassi then brought his methods to Juventus, with the club now reaping the rewards of his innovative blueprint.’

(juventus.com)

Sassi indeed appears another venerable member of our fitness coaching staff. Highly experienced in various footballing cultures and co-founder and now manager of our Training Check program.

However, my research unearthed something interesting…

During an interview with Mourinho in late 2005 after taking control of Chelsea from Ranieri, the self annointed special one was asked, as were others at the club, of the difference in coaching methods. Sassi had been in charge of fitness matters under the italian. It was suggested that Sassi worked the players incredibly sternly, running harder and for longer than they were used to or perhaps comfortable with.

Mourinho’s words were as follows…

“Just to run you don’t need to think…sometimes you just close your eyes and you just do what they tell you to do. ‘Ten times 200 metres.’ On the seventh repetition, you are full of lactic acid, you close your eyes, but you do it. ‘They pay me for this, so I have to do it.'”

(guardian.co.uk)

We are in 2014 not 2005 and its fair to assume that Sassi has adjusted his methods, especially after working in concert with Tous.

With the major players dealt with I will briefly mention the rest of the known coaching staff.

Constantino Coratti has been in the business of fitness coaching for twenty years. His career includes spells at Frosinone, Sora, Casertana, Potenza, Viribus, Ascoli, Spezia, Grosseto and Arezzo. Other than which, very little can be known.

Whilst listed as a first team coach, Mauro Sandreani, as all football manager fans will know, is a scout. I assume he is our head scout. Whether his job is weighted more towards scouring the globe for new talent or isolating weaknesses and strengths of our opponents, I am unsure. Someone does that job. But who???

Sandreani – First team coach or Juve spy???

Sandreani appears to my eyes and connected facets as an italian Sergie Lavrov. A man who says little, but when he speaks, he means every word. A wily figure who prefers to remain in the shadows. He strikes me as a man to set to the task of asking awkward questions without asking them. Of digging well below the topsoil and unearthing weaknesses at the root.

There is also Massimo Carrera, former Juve centreback, who is part of the first team coaching unit. We all saw him take the reigns during Conte’s ban. His passion for the club and uncompromising defensive stature are surely useful to the club at all levels.

Claudio Filippi is our goal-keeping coach. He is apparently held in high regard across the continent and has been responsible for several innovations in our coaching/ training regime which incorporate the latest technology of improving shot-stoppers. Given the wonderful form of Buffon, as well as his back-up Storari, Filippi appears a quality element of our coaching set-up.

Angelo Alessio – Conte’s Hephaestion.

Born in Capaccio di Scalo (Salerno) on 29 April 1965, Angelo Alessio is no stranger to the Bianconeri faithful, having represented Juventus 142 times, from 1987 to 1992, winning the UEFA Cup and the Coppa Italia in 1990.

Alessio hung up his boots in 1998 and immediately embarked on a coaching career. He worked as a coach with former team-mate Antonio Conte from the start of their successful adventure in Siena.

(juventus.com)

Here is clearly a man whose heart beats in time to the Conte salsa. As mentioned above, Angelo has been by his side since the Siena days and its fair to assume he is an extension of Conte’s ears and eyes in all matters Juve. What skills he brings to the table are tricky to isolate, but without any doubt he is an unwaveringly loyal ally to Antonio.

I am of the opinion that the incident involving Quagliarella muttering harsh words in response to his substitution by Alessio in a game played in late 2012, truly marked the striker’s card, not just with Angelo, but also with Conte. Such is the bond between the dynamic duo. One for all and all for one…

In conclusion, we appear to have a well balanced mixture of high quality professionals and Juve faithfuls running our coaching staff. Which should be a perfect marraige. The technical gurus meshed with the highly experienced not just in the game itself, but of the Juve DNA. A well prepared plan.

(The only men I have neglected to mention are Beppe Marotta…who we know mightily well…and his commander in chief, Fabio Paratici. As far as I can fathom, Paratici is involved solely with transfers, so I will leave his story for another outing)

Suffice to say, we are well equipped on the staffing front, and must now hope that the set-up is fertile and capable of making the best of whoever Conte, Beppe and Paratici bring into our ranks.

 

 

Juve Slump – Is fatigue the culprit???

5 Apr

Looking at our form over the past few months on paper leads to a very different impression to the perception gleamed from watching the matches. Whilst we have maintained consistency in our results, with the loss to Napoli at the weekend our first league defeat since the débâcle in Florence last October, the form of the side has been often worrisome, at times harrowing. 

After the 4-2 reverse away to Montella’s vibrant Fiorentina side, we reacted brilliantly and went on a magnificent run of victories in Serie A. This wave of fine form did not abate until the coppa italia quarter final against Roma. Which we lost. That match proved a turning point with our formerly imperious momentum stopped in its tracks. Our 13 game winning streak in the league ended with the next league fixture in Rome, in which we played well enough, but something seemed different. 

That 1-0 loss to Roma came about in no small part due to Conte’s decision to start no less than six second string players. 

The results kept coming and injuries began to play a prominent role in our output but our confidence on the field had altered. The comprehensive defeat in Napoli had been coming for many weeks. And I can only hope it serves as both inspiration to add fire to the blood of our first XI, and also, serious suggestion to Agnelli, Marotta and Conte, to improve the quality of our squad.

Transfers and Money – Its time for the three muskateers to step up our game.

An appraisal of our reserves to the first XI is tricky and lengthy…but I must begin and hope to finish.

Clearly our ideal starting team is –

Buffon

Lichsteiner Barzagli Bonucci Chiellini Asamoah

Vidal Pirlo Pogba

Tevez Llorente

GK-

Buffon is no slouch. He remains a legend and continues to confirm his reputation as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time. Storari is a brilliant back-up option, but at 37 years of age, he is likely to be replaced in the Summer. Gianluigi is 36, but with constant selection added to his demi-god talent, I feel he has another year or two at least, at the very top level. The subject to raise in regards to Storari is…Would a young, talented, unproven keeper be a better option??? A keeper desperate to prove himself, desperate to show he is the legitimate heir to Buffon??? I think so. Which is why I expect us to bring in another portiere over the Summer. Leali looked amazing last season in Serie B. Inexperienced, but oozing with natural talent. His current season at Spezia has been solid, yet our plans are too intense to replace Marco with a keeper yet to save a shot in Serie A. Kevin Trapp of Frankfurt seems an interesting option. 

DF-

Caceres and Ogbonna are fine reserves for our ultra solid (when fit) trio at the back. Whilst I would have liked to have seen more of Caceres as a wingback in our present formation, he has performed at least competently whenever called upon to step into the breach and with a lengthy run of games, I suspect he could prove top drawer. My issue with his game is mainly positional, for whilst he is always gung-ho in the challenge, and loves to move up the field, at times, he is suspect when the ball finds its way into our rear-guard region. Our major talent in the making, recently given his debut in the Italy U21 squad, in a game in which he scored, Daniele Rugani, looks a wonderful prospect. Calm with the ball at his feet, capable in physical battles, and a useful option at set pieces. It may be too soon for the 19 year old to step up to our senior squad. If Empoli gain promotion, I suspect he will remain with them to gain valuable top flight experience next term. Which leaves me pondering that solely Ogbonna is a dependable reserve. However, I suspect we will change formation for next season. And that could lead to a back four. With Bonucci, Chiellini, Barzagli and Ogbonna battling for the two spaces available, I feel we are very well covered.

WB/FB-

Lichsteiner – Fullback or Wingback???

Lichsteiner is a natural RB. He has done tremendously well as a marauding RWB but his natural game is as a fullback in a back four. Isla seems to be gaining familiarity with the club and match fitness, but has yet to produce even a semblance of the ultra promising form which persuaded us to invest EU9m for a 50% share of his registration in the Summer of 2012. With such a huge outlay, and taking into account his injury nightmare of last season it is understandable that the club do not yet wish to accept a major loss on the financial front, but also potentially on the playing front, for if we sell him to a rival, and then he returns to his Udinese form, we will have lost millions of EUROS for the privilege of offering a rehabilitation program. Still only 25, and a regular for the Chile national side, I suspect we will give him another season. Which would leave us a little short in the RB/ RWB area if Maurico continues to falter, yet Caceres can do a job there. Perhaps Beppe’s plan is to keep him fit, hope Chile do wonderfully in the World Cup, and watch Isla’s price tag rocket. With the remaining 50% likely to be purchased outright over the off-season later this year, rather than pay the expected EU9m, Juve may be considering inserting into the deal a number of our youngsters, with Udinese showing interest in Daniele Rugani, Simone Zaza and Luca Marrone (most likely these would be co-ownership deals).

On the opposite flank the situation is less jolly. Asamoah has produced phenomenal form since finding himelf shor-horned into the LWB role, yet I yearn to see him given more opportunities in his natural dynamic CM position. He is good enough as a LWB for Serie A, but for Europe, I am less convinced, and its Europe where we have failed this season, so it must be brought into the reckoning. Other than Asamoah, Peluso is average defensively but hugely less potent moving up the pitch. I see him as closer to a reserve for Chiellini, for which we already have the stronger and more versatile Ogbonna. I expect to see Peluso move on come the transfer window. Which leads to the opening for a new LB or LWB. A specialist in the position.

MF-

Pirlo is ageing, yet remains often incredible and the bearded wonder does not appear to be losing pace and stamina. Regardless of such pondering, we have no natural alternative to his regista role in the squad. Marchisio can play there, and produce an acceptable showing. For Pogba, it demands too big a step away from his wonderful ability to move forward and take up positions high up the field. The young frenchman is already superb at 21 years old and with the finest club sides on the world stage as his suitors, I hope he stays with us for at least next season, hopefully beyond. Vidal has enjoyed a great season. In terms of box to box midfielders, only the monstrous Yaya Toure exceeds his quality. Il Principino has stuck to his task from the shadows, and shown the same impeccable call to duty whenever called upon.

 

Is Asamoah wasted on the left flank???

Which for me, leaves Asamoah, who I firmly believe could step into either of the Pogba or Vidal roles. Much hinges on our ability to liberate the african from the flank over the Summer. I would be confident with Asamoah and Marchisio not just backing up, but challenging, Pogba and Vidal for a starting spot. Essentially, we desperately require another regista. Marrone has not done enough in a Sassuolo squad lacking character. Which means we must look elsewhere…Alonso would be my ideal choice, but why would he swap sides??? Then there is Verratti…but to bring him into our fold would surely mean the departure of Pogba. For me, that is too high a cost. Daniele Baselli of Atalanta has been talked about, but has yet to show the form required to warrant his purchase.

PP/SP-

The integration into our squad of Tevez has done wonders for a front line which lacked creativity as well as top drawer penetration. We are far more threatening with Carlitos in the ranks. And he has proven the difference many times in his maiden campaign for the club, in games which last season we may have drawn or lost. Alongside him, after a slow start to adjusting not just to Serie A but regular football in general (after his odd year at Atletico), Fernando Llorente has been a relative success. His ability in the air and on the turf – especially in terms of holding up the play and bringing others into the final third – has been a useful addition to our attacking repertoire. I strongly believe that he will become even stronger next season. 

As for the others…Mirko, whilst injured until recently, was clearly on his way out in January. It must be assumed he will leave. Giovinco has shown true quality solely against weak opposition and I feel his time is up at Juve. Quagliarella has been frozen out of proceedings, and his card seemed marked many moons ago when aiming nasty words towards Alessio. He has not been given the run of games required for any striker to hit full stride, and apart from that incident, his individuality doesn’t fit into Conte’s intense focus upon players who work first and foremost for the team ethic. Out in the Summer. 

Which by my reckoning, leaves three gaps in our roster. 

Is Berardi ready for Juve???

Berardi is an option. His output has suffered as his side has struggled to confirm their adjustment from the second tier to the first, but in flashes, he has displayed incredibly promising form. My suspicion is that Sassuolo will go down, and we will find another Serie A club to continue his development. Next on the list of possible additions to our strike-force, is Ciro Immobile. 17 goals from 23 Serie A games cannot be ignored. He deserves consideration. Yet deeper analysis beckons the question…Whose place could he take?? I would be intrigued to see an Immobile/Tevez tandem, yet what would provide greater excitement would be to see his partner in the Torino attack join our ranks. 

Alessio Cerci is a player I am keen to see us purchase. Even for a discounted price involving selling off our half of Ciro. He has pace, trickery, dribbling and can shoot. He can be deployed in various positions, allowing us to add some presently absent natural width to the final third. Its Cerci I want from Torino, not Ciro. Both would be welcome.

There have been plentiful rumours of the potential acquisition of Jeremy Menez, who is available on a free in the Summer. The french international has the talent. Of that there is little doubt. Its the application of that talent which has been questionable in his career to date. He is a player who can be deployed across the front line, on the flank, driving through the middle from an advanced midfield position, capable of using both feet to sometimes dazzling effect. Breaking down well marshalled quality sides is a problem we now face since returning to the top of the pile domestically. Adding another element to our offensive phalanx who can dribble, beat players and passes beautifully makes Menez perhaps our major target of the mercato.

Recently he told the press that he admires Juventus, and would find no issue in acclimatizing to Italian football once again (after his previous stint at Roma). Promising signs, yet we are certainly not his only suitors, with Arsenal likely to challenge and Monaco another option.

At 26 he still has time to smooth out the rough edges to his game, which in his case appear mainly, if not solely, focused in his mentality. If there is one area where I feel Conte is absolutely superb, it is his man management abilities. It could be a perfect marriage.

Squad rotation and the accumulation of fatigue have been high on the agenda of Juve related discussion over the last two months. A comparison between Juve and another top club seems the best way of performing an analysis. I choose the Germans of Bayern Munich.

Does Guardiola rotate more or less than Conte???

Minutes Played (outfield players only)

JUVENTUS

  1. Pogba – 2444
  2. Vidal – 2421
  3. Bonucci – 2250
  4. Chiellini – 2234
  5. Tevez – 2226

MUNICH

  1. Rafinha – 2024
  2.  Lahm – 2024
  1. Alaba – 2013
  2. Dante – 1984
  3. Boateng – 1900

I could go deeper, but the above clearly demonstrates a major difference between the two squads. Five of our outfield starting XI have played at least 200 minutes more than their Bayern counterparts, with Pogba over-worked to the extreme.

Guardiola is able to use his finest talents more sparingly because the squad depth is considerably stronger. There is not the same obvious division between first XI and second string, whereas with Juve, there is. A fully fit Juve gives a tried and tested selection. The same is not true of our bavarian rivals.

A more simple method of comparison is to look at which of our players would find any minutes at all in the Bayern war machine. Outside of our first XI its fair to assume that the following players could challenge for a second string role at the Allianz stadium – Marchisio and Caceres. It could be argued that Vucinic and Ogbonna might get a sniff of action, but its a stretch.

We have made major progress under Conte. The first team has become capable of dominating Italy, yet has been far from impressive on the continental stage this term. Much of the reason for this failure is our reliance upon a core group of players, with the others not meeting the required mark.

Since I have come this far I will take the final step and suggest who I feel is dragging us down, through no fault of their own or of the club; its more a matter of money as well as the present lack of allure of Serie A. The predominant factor is spending power.

Quagliarella, Peluso, Padoin, Isla make up the first group. After which I would ear-mark Vucinic, Giovinco and Osvaldo are others potentially in need of upgrading.

The other burning question is focused on our formation. Were we to lose the 3-5-2, we could adopt a flat back four allowing greater rotation of our centre-backs. Lichsteiner would be a better player as a fullback, yet we would need to purchase a specialist LB for the opposite flank. Adding in Cerci and Menez would allow us to attack with far greater quality on the flanks, and our reliance upon a regista would be lessened. As would the need to find another Pirlo.

Admittedly our potency up top has been upgraded dramatically. Regardless we remain often one-dimensional. Opponents are well aware how to contain us – through blocking our regular channels of attack – and our ability to dominate and destroy has been reduced. Rather than improve the quality of those deployed in the 3-5-2 which has served us so well over the last three seasons, its high time we evolved tactically. A decision and responsibility which rests solely on Conte’s thick shoulders.

 

Antonio Conte – You have returned us to the throne of Serie A Kings, but how will you conquer Europe?

 

The comparison with Munchen was interesting, the results as expected. A similar contrast appears when looking at Man City, although clearly Zabaleta is a certainty to start whenever fit. As is Toure, but Yaya cannot be included in the study because he is half lion/ half devil. Fatigue is not in his blood-line.

Over at Chelsea, the situation is markedly different. With Hazard, Terry and Ivanovic all having played more than Pogba (our outfield player with the most minutes pitch-side this campaign). Which suggests that either the premiership is less energy sapping (which I would contest with vigour) or that Chelsea have acquired players with superior natural stamina or that their training methods and sports science models are more advanced than our own.

Eden Hazard has played 2700+ minutes and yet remains world class. Another freak perhaps??

Real Madrid seem similar to ourselves with a comparable range of numbers for their top five used outfield players.

Other factors are at play. Spain is an easier league for attacking players and possibly for defenders with the onus generally appearing to be more on offence than a balanced game. Premiership football is more hustle and bustle, frenzied, hectic which would sap physical energy more quickly, but perhaps leave mental energy levels less affected. Which is where the italian game, still wily, slower-paced yet intelligent, tricky, could well prove the biggest consumer. Players need to think more to break down teams in Serie A. Not just because of how your opponents are set up, but how your own side is deployed. Whilst times are slowly changing, especially with la nazionale, there remains a sense of catenaccio. Especially when teams play us!

Mourinho’s right-hand man, conditioning and fitness coach Rui Faria. Does Alessio provide the same expertise for Conte???

The issue of fatigue, I feel, is not as confirmed a reason for our slump as some commentators assert. Moreover, its the quality of our squad that is the problem. And possibly, our sports science modelling should be improved. Do any of us have any idea of the scientific elements in place vis-a-vis squad conditioning?? Its something many of the elite clubs incorporate to a high degree, with players monitored and conditioned in ways which to a manager of yesteryear would seem laughable. It would be interesting to find out who we have employed for this clearly important work.

Juventus 3-1 Chievo

17 Feb

Could Pirlo steer the troops to victory against Chievo???

Player Ratings-

Buffon – 6

His fate was tied to that of the defence in front of him, which was lacking confidence and security throughout the match. Thankfully, Bonucci put in a solid shift leaving Buffon with very few direct shots to deal with. Several of his decisions to parry and punch rather than catch the ball could of put us in danger.

Lichsteiner-6

We are used to so much more from our swiss nazi. His energy levels seemed fine, but the final ball was profligate and I felt that he lacked confidence in Caceres (especially after that horrible own goal!). An off day for the marauding wingback.

Caceres- 5.5

Hardly one of his best showings for the club. I am fond of the lad, for his tackling and determination, but am close to concluding he is best deployed on the flank (where he plays for his country). Needs to work on his positional awareness.

Bonucci-7

He was the rock we needed in absence of his two regular partners at the back. Cleaned up, covered brilliantly, distributed the ball carefully and made his presence felt in both boxes. Five interceptions, five clearances and two shots blocked. A mature performance from Leonardo.

Ogbonna –6.5

Still yet to persuade me that he is worth the money we spent, but in his defence its his first season and he hasn’t had many games. Perhaps a run in the side would settle him down and bring out his best form. Deserves praise for keeping things simple and the ball moving whenever he received it. He made 98 passes, but the vast majority were over 5-10 yards, which suggests his plan was to sit deep. Which is different to how King Giorgio plays, who despite his lack of technique on the ball, loves to bomb forward and try to get involved.

Pirlo-8

The most talented man on the field. Drove forward constantly, made himself available as the fulcrum of all our attacking play. Put himself about defensively. Two assists…always a danger from set pieces. He ran the Juve show from start to finish. Tremendous, but its what we have come to expect from the great man…

Marchisio-7

Never stopped running and gave great support at the back to Ogbonna and Asamoah. I was so happy to see him get on the score-sheet. Never one to complain, just gets his head down and gets on with the job. As mentioned further down, he is a definite second choice for me behind Pogba, but few teams will have such a wonderful back-up.

Vidal-6.5

Dogged in the challenge, but offered little moving forward. Maybe this was partially due to an awkward outing by Lichsteiner, forcing the Chilean to hold the fort more than forage in the final third. He appeared low on steam, yet still dependable. His season has been magnificent, its to be expected to find a run of games where he is below his best form.

Asamoah -8

Probably would have been closer to a 7 but that goal was magical. We don’t see that much of his prowess in that position driving through the middle, and it was one of those moments which made me think he is somewhat wasted out wide. His defensive work was average, and with Chievo heavy in numbers in both fullback areas, he found it hard to make headway in the final third. Wonderful strike though.

Llorente- 6.5

Well marshalled by the Chievo rear-guard, chances were running at a premium for the spaniard. Took his goal well enough but his link-up play with Giovinco was non-existent, the two of them often found far too close together. I hope that Osvaldo’s arrival doesn’t affect his form negatively.

Giovinco-5

Displayed great enthusiasm but was simply out-muscled or ran into a group of players too many times. His movement was out of sync with the rest of the team, but what can we expect when he hardly plays. Ran out of tricks or into a Chievo wall whenever a good chance seemed possible. The critical reception of the crowd when he was subbed off will have done his confidence no good, which shouldn’t be happening, especially when we are winning a game at home, top of the league and unbeaten in 15 matches. He deserves more respect, yet I assume, the fans feel they deserve more from him…

Osvaldo- 6

Instantly at ease on the field, Danni was given twenty minutes to impress when Chievo were shutting up shop and fatigue was setting in for both sides. He found two chances, one of which he nearly put away, the other, rather wayward. His link-up play with Tevez was present throughout and I suspect he has a chance of starting one of next two games.

Tevez-6.5

Showed eagerness to involve himself and linked up well with Osvaldo. Merely a run-out to prepare him for our tie with Trabzonspor on Thursday.

10 goals and 3 assists from 17 starts in his maiden Serie A season…

Overview-

The early stages of the game saw Chievo forced back and a lot of possession at our feet, as to be expected. It became quickly clear that our opponents were making up for their deficit of quality with brute force, with several of their tackles bordering on atrocious. What pleased me was to see how we reacted to the onslaught of hacking and scything, trips and barges. It began with two brilliant fouls by Pirlo and Marchisio, which demonstrated that if they wanted a scrap, we would be happy to oblige. I like that about our team, its one of those those vital ingredients which have been gradually creeping back into our game since Conte appeared on the scene. Its grinta…

The Asamoah goal was a thing of beauty. How often would we see such incisive penetration were he deployed as one of our central midfielders?? It is a good question, which cannot be answered until/unless we employ a specialist LWB. The one-two and the finish were sublime.

Marchisio got the goal his efforts deserved, threw himself into challenges, made himself available all over the field and gave as good a performance as I have seen of him for many moons. However, it was evident for the entirety of the game that our midfield was noticeably weaker without Pogba. It was suggested, by myself as well as many others last Summer, that this season could see il principino deposed from the starting XI and its easy to see why. Claudio is a wonderful servant to the club, technically solid, intelligent, but a weaker player than Pogba, in all areas of the game other than covering and moving around un-noticed. Yet I feel that despite Pogba’s understandable inexperience and greater comfort in the offensive phase of the game, the frenchman is not far off the italian defensively, due in no small part to his physique and robustness of bone and gristle. Whereas Claudio reads the play, senses danger with more zeal, I would always rather be facing him in a challenge on the ground or especially in the air, than Pogba. As with the player I measure as the only central midfielder superior to Vidal, (Yaya Toure), when Pogba has the ball, players literally bounce off him…He is very hard to stop once driving forward. His natural advantage of height and strength allow him more time to think before passing or shooting.

Speaking of Vidal…he is suffering from a lethargy of sorts. I would have preferred to see him rested for this game. He tackled well, but was far from his usual swashbuckling presence moving forward. Part of that problem could well be down to Caceres and an off game by Lichsteiner, both of whom I did not feel played well. Its tricky at times to see how he could ever get into our starting XI, certainly as a CB. He loves to tackle, but positionally, he is often suspect, and can tend to stand off players when worried about what is behind him. Which worries me even more!

Without Pogba to create from the centre and Tevez fighting his way all over the pitch, we became, at times yet again one dimensional, with literally everything going through Pirlo. Adding in another creative force makes us a far more dangerous team.

Llorente toiled hard but often found himself in the same area as Giovinco, which didn’t help matters. Regardless, he got his goal, well taken in the air, where he will become absolutely lethal I am sure, in time. The front two were not working in tandem, which had a knock-on effect for the rest of our play. Not just Llorente, but also Tevez, both act as reference points in the final third. The Argentine is a dwarf, but he not only has superb body strength but he uses it very smartly. Asking Seba to muscle it out with uncompromising centre-backs is a waste of his talents and our tactics. There seems no room for him in our 3-5-2.

If we want to make the most of his natural abilities, we would place him in a role between midfield and attack, not ask him to fight to even receive the ball against giants. That role does not presently exist. Whilst it seems reasonable to assume he will be heading out in the Summer, his final chance at Juve finished, I do wonder how he could perform in a 4-3-3 or 4-3-1-2. And then there is that extremely successful stint at Parma to consider…Something along the lines of 15 goals and as many assists, when deployed often as one of a front pairing in a 3-5-2 (although equally often as an AM in a 4-2-3-1).

Pirlo seems in fine fettle and the Tevez/Osvaldo axis seemed far more dangerous a pairing in the brief time they had to shine, yet some of that was due to their freshness. I get the impression they could be rather handy together.

Defensively we were far from stable. Ogbonna was more impressive than Caceres, but the absence of Chiellini and Barzagli was palpable and at times a major concern. Let’s hope they are both ready for the Europa tie mid-week.

Overall, a 3-1 home victory, with 4 of our starting XI rested, with the only goal conceded something of a freak occurrence, is hardly worth whining about. Still, I have to admit that I felt that same unease as from last season, when we would sometimes dominate games but find it hard to turn our dominance into clear cut chances. Llorente’s goal was fortunate, given the keeper’s position, who should have cut out the cross. Marchisio’s was off a rebound, always a luck affair. One other clear chance for Osvaldo…other than which, not much to show for 64% possession.

We struggled in aerial challenges, no doubt due to the absence of Pogba in the middle, who towers above most players, and also Tevez in attack, whose ability to win the ball in the air, bring it down and play it on, is rarely mentioned but always valuable.

Essentially, we were disjointed in defence and attack. Had we started with Pogba, Tevez, Chiellini and Barzagli I suspect we would have pummelled Chievo. As it stood, we were still worthy winners, yet were scrappy and lacking ideas/ intelligent movement for much of the game.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsZ0pDjrySw

 

Simone Pepe back from the dead…

15 Dec

Image

A certain Simone Pepe played his first 90 minutes in many moons, when turning out for our Primavera yesterday in their irritating 1-0 defeat to Sampdoria. With all the talk of our lack of wingers…it seems positive to see Simone deployed out wide (in a 3-5-2) and come through unscathed. Expect a detailed update on the youth sector before the new year. A half term report of sorts.

As for the game tonight…I would very much like to see Asamoah play through the middle. Whilst he came to us as a marauding, dynamic central midfield player, he has outdone every other player in our squad who can play at LWB, time and time again. To say he is not a winger is fair enough, but he most certainly is a left wing back and has been there for two seasons now, and doing fine. Are we wasting his talents by placing him out wide and asking him to cut in and put good balls into the box??? Probably yes, but the needs of the team come before the needs of the player and sometimes, in this situation, when for one reason or another we simply have not been able to procure a classy, natural LWB, we have to play players out of their natural roles. It is especially sensible given the brilliant emergence of Pogba and phenomenal maturing of Vidal. The two non-regista roles in CM are well and truly taken. Not today though…so let us wait and see what Conte decides.

Against the likes of Sassuolo, minus Berardi, I am content to see De Ceglie given a game out wide left. Should be good for a cross or three which Llorente can put away. Also, its a chance to alert potential suitors to De Ceglie’s small slithers of talent, for surely, in the winter mercato or at latest in the summer, he will be moved on (finally).

Peluso would be a more sturdy option, immensely so in defence. His crossing isn’t that much weaker than De Ceglie’s hooked, lofted balls into the box, and he is a far harder man to knock off the ball or walk through. Still, seems better to try get De Ceglie in the shop window.

If Conte goes berserk, which I highly doubt, and changes our formation…4-4-2 could be interesting. 
Buffon
Lichsteiner Barzagli Bonucci Chiellini
Isla Vidal Pogba Asamoah
Tevez Llorente

if 4-3-3
Buffon
Lich Barza Bonucci Chiellini
Vidal Pogba Asamoah
Giovinco/Quags Llorente Tevez

Forza Pepe. Forza Juve!

Copenhagen 1-1 Juventus

19 Sep

There is much to be said in favour…

…of sticking to a system which has claimed the lion-share of two domestic titles and laid the foundation for our re-emergence as any kind of force in Europe last season. Its too hard to even write the word LION without Llorente appearing in my thoughts and demanding a mention…

In a match where very obviously our opponents had set out to play to their strengths and our weaknesses, ceding control of the flanks and placing muscle and determination in a compact wall in front of their goal, we are left with two choices-
1. stick to our system but fight fire with fire, so take what is given, own the flanks, put in cross after cross after cross. Now to make something of this tactic, we must put into play our finest finisher from crosses. Ideally a target man, who can either score himself, out-jump/ out-muscle the defenders, or present a chance for a fellow player from a knock-down.
2. change tactics to attempt to draw our opponents out of shape and create openings to drive into and capitalize upon.

Matri was our best aerial threat in attack prior to his departure. If you are not Barca its always useful to have a strong man in the box. In his place, we have a new, potentially much more useful prima punta in the spaniard. The problem here is that Conte doesn’t deem him ready. Maybe he is correct. We have to take into account that its not simply a case of Llorente adjusting to our systems and players, there is also the rather poignant issue to ponder of his immense lack of playing time for the last year of his career. We are not Barcelona, although we do create and score some beautifully conjured goals. I prefer the old school approach of our forward line incorporating a duo of prima punta and fantasista. Considering we play with a huge amount of effort focused on owning the flanks and getting quality balls into the box from the flanks, it adds even more weight to the argument of playing a prima punta, a player adept at winning aerial battles, to create or finish. I remember, ever so fondly, the best of Del Piero and Trezeguet. Whilst its incredibly optimistic to suggest that Llorente is of Trezeguet’s class, we do have the option now of deploying a similar duo, for Tevez is, for me, as talented a player as Del Piero. Perhaps less fantasy, but a huge amount more work rate, muscle and clinical end product. The two are perfect for a Big man/ Little man combination. And I am sure we will see that given a run out closer to christmas…such appears Conte’s caution.

And its this idea of Conte’s caution which is the only observation, not criticism, I can offer on a coach I loved to watch as a player, and who has, more than anyone else at the club, taken us from two 7th place finishes to domestic powerhouse and respected opponent on the european stage.

The major point to focus upon is that tactically, we made a huge amount of good chances. The system was working. It was not a case at all of a failure to create goal scoring chances. If there is anything I question, its the determination and belief of the players. On the team we put out, on the large amount of chances, on form, we should have won this handsomely. We did not…Because we came up against a resolute, very well organized side and failed to convert more than one of at the very least five very good chances.

So onto this 4-3-3 discussion.

Every time I see Pogba play I believe more strongly that he is simply too good, and getting better by the week, to be left out of the midfield. Vidal is scoring goals and by now well established as one of the best box to box midfielders in the world. Pirlo’s form has been rusty, but if we take his distribution capabilities out of our line-up, our creativity, from open play and set pieces hugely diminishes. I am interested to discover the player who misses out when Marchisio returns to full fitness, regardless of a 4-3-3 or 3-5-2. I like Marchisio, yet when even taking into consideration the poor form of Pirlo, I would be strongly opposed to Pogba dropping out to bring the italian back IN. Pirlo may well need a breather, but unless he is suffering from injury I see him as starting whenever fit. So how can we integrate four top drawer midfielders?? I’d be tempted, were I the manager, to make a stab at it. For I always lean towards looking at the squad, identifying your best players, putting them in a line-up and only then picking a formation around them. Which for me, would lead us to something like this…

Buffon
Lichsteiner Barzagli Bonucci Chiellini
(flat back four…Giorgio is a monster left back and with added presence through the middle the wingback focus is greatly lessened)
Pogba
Vidal Marchisio
Pirlo
Llorente Tevez

Its a diamond midfield. My only uncertainty would be whether Pogba plays in Vidal’s role or vice versa. Even with Vucinic instead of Llorente I would go the same way.

a 4-3-3 seems viable, but who drops out of the midfield? By far our most capable on the ball Pirlo I will stick to my guns and include the strongest players in the starting XI, so avoid the issue of leaving out Pogba or Pirlo or Marchisio and play to our strengths.

On a side note, Peluso has been fine. I do not rate him highly as an offensive threat, but defensively, once he has found his feet, he is stronger than Asamoah. De Ceglie is not even worth mentioning at any length. And to continue this side note routine…Giaccherini’s insatiable hustling and potency near to goal and in the box has not been replaced. I am unsure as to why that transfer was authorized and above all else, Who had the final say, but regardless of his lack of physicality, his effort and direct focus on scoring goals has proven brilliant so many times for us, and now…he is conspicuous by his absence. I expect us to sign an attacking midfielder in January, for as much hope as people put into Pepe, of the two, the little goblin was always the most potent to my eyes and juve heart.

To finish…the humbling Real Madrid gave the Turks is encouraging. They are surely lesser opponents than Donesk. So we need not repeat our heroics of last season to progress.

Should Mirko Vucinic be sold?

23 Jul

Will Mirko get the chop…or someone else?

Mercurial he may be…

and at times a wonderful footballer, but of all our forwards he is the one I would prefer to sell. Given his high amount of selections, clearly he works hard in training and Conte values his technique, in particular his talent for linking the play from midfield to…well mainly forward running midfield and wingbacks. However, he has seemed for a while now our weakest finisher, and when he is not on his game, which is at least 50% of the time he plays, he is a player the rest of the team has to carry. Many will say, and rightly so, that Giovinco could be spoken off in a similar vein, but he is younger and offers greater pace which is very important in Conte’s system; if a game needed an injection of energy in the final third I would rather see Giovinco appear than Vucinic, especially now we have vastly improved our finishing potency with Tevez and Llorente in the final third.

Using one of our two strikers as basically a trequartista was required when we were struggling for clinical finishing, leading to a formation much closer to 3-5-1-1 than 3-5-2. Llorente is certainly in the Matri mould, but more polished, stronger in the air, muscular on the ball and possessing that all important knack of ghosting into goal scoring opportunities before a defender has realized, which we have lacked in the final third since Trezeguet left the fold. As for Tevez…he is truly a world class player and at a good age in terms of maturity and condition. The Argentine’s ability to create and finish has improved our goal threat immeasurably. He is a player who can win games single-handed. He can also dribble. Far more purposefully and trickily than anyone we have had since DP departed for the country where I normally dwell.

In one fell swoop Beppe and Paratici have delivered both a potential new Trezeguet and establish fantasista cum powerhouse striker. How many of you have regularly watched Tevez I am unsure, but regardless of his off field traumas at City, his work rate on the field is second to none. Whenever he is fit, Vucinic won’t play. Its really that simple for me. Which means he will be vying with giovinco for the second striker role whenever tevez is unavailable…or playing golf!

Would his sale create a potentially dangerous or even noteworthy deficit in our creativity in the final third??? I don’t think so. Such is my confidence in the huge improvements to our creativity brought about by Tevez firstly, but also Llorente in terms of his movement, ability to hold the ball up and clinical finishing skills.

I remain a big fan of both Matri and Quagliarella. Both offer more in the final third than Vucinic, in terms of putting the ball in the net. Also…with the steady development of Pogba, our game is becoming far more multi-faceted. For from a system which massively relied upon Pirlo, sending through balls, wide balls, dictating the play, and our midfielders and wingbacks making forward runs…we now have maturing Pogba, still improving Vidal, old genius Pirlo, quality on the flanks and two strikers who need only a half chance to put a game to bed…

I haven’t yet condemned Giovinco and I see this season as a defining one for his career in general, not just at Juve. With the need for our strikers to forage deep and help link up the play lessened with the arrival of better strikers his chances to play are more limited but his freedom to do what he does best which is attack, is increased when he gets the chance to play. As Matri has shown in training recently, he is stepping up a gear, rising to the challenge of another, more polished prima punta in the ranks. Can Giovinco do the same and force himself more into Conte’s plans this term???? With his position taken by Tevez, I doubt it. So his aim must be to improve his finishing and grab with both arms every opening he is given. I also believe he has a better work ethic on the field than Mirko.

As others have mentioned, it wouldn’t be surprising to find not just one but two strikers leave the club. Quagliarella is wanted…Mirko is wanted…Matri is wanted. I highly doubt that Boakye would arrive. If we weren’t prepared to take a chance on Immobile after his stunning season with Pescara, why would change course and give Richmond a place in the squad, especially when his chances of games will be hugely higher at another club.

I suspect that the most likely outcome in terms of our striker sales will be that one of, if not both Matri and Quagliarella will be sold. And our major signing will be Zuniga or Kolarov. Matri has solid value and is proven in Serie A whereas Quagliarella may well have caused irreparable damage to his relationship with Conte with his spat with Alessio late last year. Its a shame…because I admire Fabio’s talents and feel that since that incident he has not been given anywhere near the chances to find consistency and form that have been afforded Mirko.

Derby della Mole – Torino 1 – 1 Juventus

30 Apr

Torino certainly aimed for a counter-attacking routine, hopeful of taking advantage of whatever chances came their way through the rebounds of our constant, ponderous attacking play and possession. I saw that same predictable pressure game, where we move the ball left, then right, then left, then right, trying slowly, slowly to find a through ball. Its an area where we truly have to improve if we are to develop further as a team. Its not a lack of zeal or tactical nous on Conte’s part…more a reflection of making the best of what we have at our disposal.

Vucinic was yet again, as he is at least 3 games out of every 5; pathetic. His touch, vision, strength, pace were all atrocious for a trequartista/lone striker/attacking midfielder…whatever position in an offensive role you can imagine. And everyone who watches Juve regularly will accept that this was not an isolated incident. I hope he is sold in the Summer.

The 3-5-1-1 is an interesting idea, but Marchisio is far from a world class support striker (his best work is more central in the midfield where he can hustle/intercept/begin and be a part of the attack/arrive in the box late) and Vucinic is never a man to lead the line with any potency (for starters his shooting is regularly woeful and he can’t head the ball)

This lack of dribblers, of flair, of players confident enough to take a man on other than with a quick burst of pace down the flanks, will hurt us when we come up against robust defensive teams and also, teams which can match us defensively and dribble past our players in our own half. We have hugely lacked a fantasista since DP left the fold and I strongly expect Beppe, Paratici and Conte to focus on this gaping hole in our repertoire over the summer mercato period. Muriel would be interesting…Quintero is another option. We can not afford the Riberys and Ronaldos and Hazards, so we must take a punt of sorts on a natural dribbler/ flair merchant who is young, hungry and relatively cheap.

Llorente is a great piece of work by Beppe and his team and also a sign of the progress we have made since Conte picked up the reins. The spaniard would not have been short of better paying suitors, but he has decided to invest what are often a striker’s best years age-wise, into the project well underway at piedmont. Our allure and prestige are growing.

Add to the team a proper left back and allow Asamoah to challenge at CM and back-up at LB. Also a fantasista in the channels between midfield and attack or a Jovetic, and we will be making very sure progress.

As for the formation…If we can add some flair and creativity to the front line, a la Jovetic or Muriel, we could well try a Marchisio Pogba Vidal midfield. Also…we will have Pepe back for next term, so a 4-3-3 returns to the table of options.

We have improved this term when it comes to breaking down resolute ten men behind the ball opponents. However it still often seems at times that we win through on the luck we have forced and through attrition, rather than through a moment of magic. A split second piece of fantasy which would unlock any defence and present a clear goal scoring chance. Pirlo’s passing is often a joy to behold, but its not enough. Pogba takes more weight of responsibility to drive forward from Pirlo’s shoulders than any other in our team. That much becomes more apparent the more they play together. Rather than just worry about Pirlo, opponents have to worry about Pogba, whose distribution qualities are blossoming beautifully. Add his brilliant passing and improving creativity to his immense strength, powerful shooting and eagerness to drive forward with the ball at his feet and we have a player on our hands, who by midway through next season I expect to be one of the the first two names on the team-sheet in midfield alongside Vidal. Both players make their presence and ability felt more heavily and more consistently than Marchisio and Pirlo. It would be interesting to see a midfield-attack combination such as…
Vidal Pogba Asamoah
Llorente Jovetic/Muriel

Such talk can wait.

A welcome victory in the derby della mole. Let’s crunch Palermo and take the title in style next weekend…

Conte’s Juventus – Past, Present and Future…

11 Apr

Two years ago, Juventus were approaching the final stretch of a second campaign of failure on the trot. Sitting 7th in the league on 48 points. Already bundled out of the Europa competition through a wretched string of six draws placing us 3rd in a group which included Lech Poznan , Red Star Salzburg and Man City, manager Luigi Del Neri seemed wholly unable to improve on the poor showing of his predecessors in the Juve hot seat; Ciro Ferrara and Alberto Zaccheroni. Unsurprisingly he was sacked when the season drew to a close and in his place came none other than former captain Courageous, Antonio Conte…

Fast forward to today which finds us in 1st position in Serie A, the tally of 71 points keeping Juve 9 clear of nearest challenger Napoli, and soon to face the second daunting leg of a Champions league quarter-final against Bayern Munich in a beautiful new Juventus Stadium.

The complete turn-around in fortunes both on and off the pitch has been spectacular. Economically as well as in sporting terms, Juve are returning to the lofty position of dominance they formerly occupied domestically. On the European front, huge progress has been made, as witnessed by the sparkling group stage 1st place finish, and yet still there is much work to do if Juventus are to catch up with the upper echelon of continental club sides. Anyone who witnessed the defeat to Bayern last week will be of the same opinion.

The new stadium and associated business ventures are already boosting our revenues and with the footballing product blossoming as a spectacle the gate receipts have risen sharply. Agnelli is finding his feet as a President with dignity and obvious affinity with the memory of his Uncle Gianni, who is still recalled today with great fondness and respect by the Juve flock. On the transfer front, Beppe Marrotta alongside Fabio Paratici have completely renovated the youth sector and continue to procure some of the most promising young talents from Europe and further afield. Their work with the senior team has proven a tougher task, through balancing a desire to enrich the squad with better, younger, hungrier players and at the same time deal with the remains of Allessio Secco’s horror-show of a stint as transfer director.

However, more than any other character at the club, it has been Conte who has brought about the massive improvement on the field, in terms of style, conduct and success. His drive, passion and charisma has led him to become a true leader, a captain on the sidelines, as close to the players as if they were his own flesh and blood. This shows on the pitch. The togetherness of the squad and their bond with Conte is clear and constant.

Despite the lack of natural born commanders in the playing ranks there exists a climate of strong camaraderie that the manager has worked hard to engineer and encourage to blossom. The collective always comes before the individual in his tactics, with nobody bigger than the club itself, other than Conte on occasion. His temperament throughout the scommessopoli scandal was at times, somewhat removed from lo stile Juve, but he is young, passionate and was truly dragged through the mincer for no good reason at all. Even saints can get riled if the conditions are rancid.

There is no room in Conte’s Juve for volatile loose cannons such as (former Juve players) Felipe Melo or Zebina and the apparent failure to replace the fantasista qualities of Del Piero is more likely part of Conte’s strategy of employing industry over flair.

It took the manager a short period of altering his tactical ideas to incorporate the talents of Marchiso, Vidal and Pirlo, but once a mechanism was tried, tested and proved to be valuable, he stuck with it. A 4-3-3 formation- which also made use of the hard working and often potent in front of goal Simone Pepe, as well as another Conte favourite Emmanuele Giaccherini – was employed for the majority of his maiden season, yet towards the end of our unbeaten 2011/12 campaign, the 3-5-2 appeared. A formation which continued throughout the summer months and has carried the team all the way through to today.

The manner in which the ‘Old Lady’ were torn apart by Bayern Munich last week hurt and surprised many. Juventus had been touted as a dark horse, a team to avoid, unbeaten so far in the competition, full of energy and belief, dominating domestically and surely on our way back to the top where a club of our historical stature belongs. As supporters we pass, tackle, kick with the team, revel in the highs and cry ourselves into oceans of despair when we are horribly undone. Its part and parcel of supporting a team with all your heart and soul. And I am surely not alone in mentioning the ugly reactions frothing up inside me during the aftermath of the Allianz stadium education.

Although the 2-0 defeat was painful, it was also wake-up call. For we are very much still a work in progress. As is Conte as a manager. His experience of managing a top club stretches to less than two seasons. To retain the scudetto in style, bow out at the quarter-final stage of the champions league at the hands of one of the strongest teams in the world, see Llorente appearing on the horizon, perhaps also Jovetic or Sanchez, the Super Cup victory still fresh enough in the memory to savour…all of this remains a wonderful achievement for the manager and players. Nothing but increased belief, pride and confidence of a strong future should be our stance.

Looking beyond the senior team, although the primavera haven’t fared amazingly well in the Viareggio and NextGen knockout competitions, their league form has been top quality, spending most of the season in 1st place of the U19 league. Several of the brightest youth prospects have found success at other clubs. Gabbiadini, Sorensen and Immobile in Serie A. Boakye, Leali, Appelt, Masi and Rossi in the second tier have all impressed this term.

The present is ever so rosy! But what of the future?? What does the senior squad need to kick on to the next level?

Conte will be wiser for the defeat against Munich. It was the only time a team has completely dominated us from start to finish since Antonio returned to the ranks as manager. As my Sri-Lankan comrade at work always says, with odd glee…’I like complaints…it sheds light on something which can be improved’, and I suspect Conte understands this. He has changed the shape before to accommodate key players and the lack of them. His 3-5-2 has been good enough to place us in a marvelous position in the league, and I am of the opinion that merely adding Llorente to the starting XI would distance the team even further from the chasing pack. Profligacy has been a common concern, with the talents of Mirko Vucinic needed to help create chances in the box, but the same player’s terrible tendency to waste goal-scoring opportunities and often perform shockingly makes him hardly a shoe-in for a team we wish to build for the long term future. The attack has problems, and this must be addressed during the Summer, not only with the arrival of the Spaniard but also, I hope, Conte will push for a second striker who can play to his strengths consistently.

Giovinco has struggled to impose himself on games as much as he did whilst at Parma. Matri has only really come to life in 2013, before which his form was pasty. Quagliarella, a player I personally find the finest marksman, has not been given many chances to find momentum and match sharpness. Why? Well, his Neapolitan ego may have something to do with it, as could his disrespectful rant towards Alessio late last year. Conte projects an impression that there is only room for one strong ego in the club and that is the ego of Antonio Conte!

Much of the swagger and vigor of our success has been down to the magical M-V-P (Marchisio-Pirlo-Vidal) triumvirate in the middle of the park. Pirlo will soon be 34 and other than Marrone, whom Conte has deployed as Bonucci’s apprentice/back-up in defence, there is no other regista/deep-lying play-maker in the squad. Something which must be addressed in the Summer.

The revelation of the midfield, of the squad as a whole this season has been Paul Pogba. Signed for a nominal fee from Manchester United last Summer, via Mino Raiola, the French midfielder has proven a wonderful purchase, offering plenty of high velocity first team appearances, fighting hard for the cause, scoring several wonderful goals and leaving nobody from Juventus or any other club unaware of his dazzling potential. At 19 years old he truly has the world at his feet, and we can only hope that Conte has the means to bring out the best of a player who surely ranks as one of the most promising in Europe.

The defence and goalkeeping situation is perfect, although the wing-back areas remain in need of fine tuning. Asamoah, playing out of position as a left wing-back, was a monster before jetting off to South Africa to represent Ghana in the ACON. Since his return his form has been generally miserable. The signing of Peluso has done little to help the matter other than to put a more competent player in between the ideal starter (Asamoah) and the worst possible option (De Ceglie). On the opposite flank Isla has failed to find the match sharpness and form which persuaded us to earmark 18m for his signature. The jury remains out on his value, and the hope must be that with a solid pre-season he will hit the ground running next August.

To truly make the step up in quality I believe that Conte needs two extra ingredients in the mix. Firstly there appears a lack of natural leaders. When the Bayern bombardment was in full swing, it seemed that every Juve player on the pitch suffered mentally, as well as physically. All except one player; Arturo Vidal. That is simply not good enough for a team built in the image of the former Captain whose never-say-die attitude was a hallmark of his glittering playing career in his colours. The question is not whether we can find the kind of mentality I am referring to in a quality player willing to join ranks, the question is whether Conte actually wants characters in the squad as strong as himself. Conte as a player would spit blood for the cause, his head would never drop, there were constant winds in the sails of his determination to succeed. Juventus lack that special kind of tenacity on the field at times and its something which needs to be addressed, for the more deeply we venture into European competition, the higher the chance of us facing teams who on their day will tear chunks from us. In such circumstances we need a Conte or three on the field.

The major problem of profligacy in front of goal will be remedied with Llorente. The Spanish international should be the nearest we have found to a replacement to Trezeguet. A player of top drawer talent anywhere in the box. As comfortable scoring with his head as his toes. The transition from Spanish to Italian football may well prove testing, but given the player’s problems with his present club and subsequent seclusion, its fair to assume that Fernando will be champing at the bit to get out there and score come goals. He will also be fitter and more injury-free than players who have been slugging it out for a whole season.

My own appreciation of the differences between the best teams in Europe and ourselves is focused mainly on the lack of players available to Conte who are both comfortable on the ball and superb at moving forward and past players with the ball at their feet. There are no natural dribblers, and at times it shows. The ball is worked to Pirlo, he looks for runs in the box. The ball moves left, right, left, right, perhaps Marchisio or Vucinic can play a clever lay-off; they grind teams down through sheer persistence more often than through moments of magic. Generally the game plan is rather predictable and solid opponents can pull back into their own half and frustrate. Its common knowledge that the most simple way to hurt Juve is to mark Pirlo out of the game and play at a very high tempo, applying constant pressure to the back-line. Taking into account Conte’s unerring demands to play the ball out from the back, Juventus often run foul of opponents who send runners high up the field to cut off the supply between defence and attack. In essence there is a need for greater quality on the ball across the squad and ideally a player capable of breaking a deadlock with a moment of genius inspiration.

Regardless of how we fare in Turin on Wednesday, in our bid to overturn the 0-2 deficit presently in favour of the Germans, I will remain mightily content with the immense progress Conte has brought about in such a small space of time and look forward to the future with welcome enthusiasm. He has has not only transformed the style of football and ethos, he has created a Juventus which brings us all so much pride to feel a part of. In Conte I trust.