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Bayern Munich v Juventus Champions League quarter-final PREVIEW

1 Apr

Every Juventini who witnessed the barbed 1-2 away victory over Inter in the derby d’italia last Saturday will be confronting Tuesday’s champions league quarter-final with confidence, excitement yet also a hint of trepidation. Whilst its fair to conclude that we never looked like losing, those with any objectivity must concede that the victory was in no small way brought about through two world class saves from Buffon and the decision of the referee to refrain from awarding a penalty after a clumsy tackle by Chiellini in the area on Cassano. We won the game, but few worth listening to would have argued had we drawn.

Turning our attention to Bavaria, to check on the progress of the incredibly strong Bayern machine which blocks our path to the semi-finals, we see that their own warm-up for the big match resulted in a brutal 9-2 mauling of mid-table Hamburg. Sitting top of the bundesliga, twenty points clear of their nearest challenger, Dortmund, having amassed a stunning goal difference of +65, Heynckes’ well oiled panzer unit has enjoyed a season of continued success. The debate focused on the strengths and weaknesses of the major European leagues is not for now. Suffice to say, Bayern Munich have been indomitable domestically. Given our own healthy 9 point lead over Napoli in Serie A, the upcoming fixture will offer an intriguing opportunity for the best of Italy to face the best of Germany.

On the European stage both teams have been impressive. Especially our beloved bianconeri, whose table-topping unbeaten journey through a group which included reigning champions league holders Chelsea and the notoriously tough Shakhtar Donesk, represents a top quality début in the competition for Antonio Conte. An achievement rendered all the more spectacular, given the ridiculous scommessopoli trial, which cruelly and wrongly stole 15 league games and the whole group stage of European competition from the manager (Conte was banned from match days but not from training). We were expected to despatch Celtic in the second round knock-out phase, and did so without hitting top gear. Dealing with their thuggish, high tempo approach to the game alongside vociferous home support in a careful, calculated manner then finishing the job at home comfortably. Bayern had a harder time, going down 2-0 at home after winning handsomely in London in the first leg, sneaking through on the away goals rule to break Arsenal hearts the world over.

For Bayern the league title is already won and with Heynckes leaving his post in the Summer to make way for ex-Barca genius Pep Guardiola, the manager would dearly like to add his second personal champions league trophy to his Bavarian legacy. The 67 year old, who in his playing career scored a phenomenal 243 goals in 394 games, won the competition in 1998 whilst manager of R. Madrid and and took Bayern to last years final, succumbing to Chelsea on penalties at the final hurdle.

The story is markedly different for Juve, with the quarter-final ties representing the deepest we have delved in continental competition since before the ill-fated calciopoli scandal in 2006. Before which we were champions league regulars, having won the competition twice in our history and sharing the depressing title of ‘most champions league final defeats’ along with our German foes.

The strength of Juventus lies in the collective. Conte’s is a team which doesn’t lack individual superstars, but adopts a tactical focus always trumping expansive freedom for individual brilliance. Which is perhaps why we have seen so little of the scorer of a truly beautiful goal in the recent derby d’italia, the one player in our forward line who is capable of the magnificent and magical, often from incredible angles.

Fabio Quagliarella’s wonder strike left as bitter as sweet a taste in the mouth, for as welcome the goal was, it will likely do little to alter the manager’s convictions when it comes to seeing Mirko Vucinic as a better fit for his system. The Montenegrin is a player who infuriates far more regularly than he amazes. Profligate, mercurial, often more hapless than helpful but at times very capable of wonderful creativity and top calibre shooting. Perhaps he appears more selfless in training??Or his natural game as a trequartista/ attacking midfielder rings more of Conte’s bells?? Neither are enough for me to understand fully his continued higher placing in the pecking order above Quagliarella. My own instincts point to the passionate Neapolitan character of the Italian proving abrasive to Conte’s attempts/demands at footballing socialism. With Mirko more willing to tow the party line…Hardly what I would call a meritocracy. And yet still, I believe Conte when he explains how he ‘knows from the look in a players eye’ who is most ready for the battle. It could well be that Mirko simply manages to look more fired up during training, following Conte’s orders with admirable zeal whilst Fabio is concentrating on scoring in the top corner from 30 yards, less interested in the movements of our wingbacks or runs from midfield from Marchisio.

With Giovinco taking a brutal knock on the ankle from the GBH tackle of Cambiasso on Saturday it remains to be seen whether la formica atomica will feature. It seems horrid to write, but most likely correct to assume that Mirko Vucinic will be playing from the start. Alongside him we should expect the only pure prima punta in our squad, Allessandro Matri, whose form took a turn for the better as 2013 washed across our shores. He is an intelligent player, content to lead the line, poach in the box, drag defenders wide and link up with the marauding midfield en-route to goal. With Llorente arriving in the summer break its a good time for Matri to be championing his own cause to remain a regular first team player.

Our midfield is magnificent. Pirlo remains one of the finest deep lying play-makers in the world game, yet as we saw against Inter, he is prone to mistakes and when they occur, it is of ultra importance for there to be adequate, pacey cover (for his regista position). The manner in which Palacio sliced through our defence, very directly, was worrying, with too many players caught ball watching. Still, Andrea oozes all sorts of class, and will require man marking. Marchisio and Vidal can both play box to box, involve themselves in the final third to devastating effect and appear in fine physical and mental shape.

The strength of the midfield triumvirate is mirrored in defence with Chiellini, Bonucci and Barzagli offering immense muscle, sharpness of mind and confidence in the tackle. The latter two are both useful on the ball, with my only concern gazing upon Chiellini, whose mad dashes forward and occasional awkward challenges at the back could well land us in hot water. Regardless, he remains the strongest centre-back in the competition and always brings more to the table than he takes.

The wing-back situation is of more interest with the Lichsteiner steamroller sure to return at RWB, but what of the LWB spot? Asamoah has been poor since returning from ACON duty in South Africa, although he looked slightly improved in his last outing. Peluso offers more defensively. In the away fixture this may well be of too great to ignore importance with Ribery and Robben attempting to own the flanks, high up on our list of potential problem areas. Asamoah gives more offensively, and with Chiellini so robust on the left side of the rearguard trio I’d probably opt for the Ghanaian.

Quagliarella’s record in the champions league this season is nothing short of a joy to behold. Played 251 minutes, scored 4 goals, made 1 assist. Especially after both scoring scintillating goals at the weekend and linking masterfully at times, I hope the duo start up-top.

My hoped for line-up::::>>>>>

Buffon

Lichsteiner Barzagli Bonucci Chiellini Asamoah

Vidal Pirlo Marchisio

Quagliarella Matri

Conte’s main talents as a manager are preparation and the ability to inspire, inject, infuse into his team the same confidence, belief and winning mentality that he possesses in spades. Lest we forget that he lifted the trophy as a player for Juventus in 1996.

We seem to play better with our backs against the wall, and my major worry is that we will be welcomed and made to feel cosy by the Germans, lulled into a false sense of security. Still…the greatest contribution Conte has made to the club, as manager, is to reignite the flame of self-belief, which has spread like forest-fire throughout the ranks. We may not be the 300 at Thermopylae, but we do have a Leonidas as our leader. This game, like every other, is a war. And I smile at the chorus in my heart and soul singing of Conte sending out soldiers who refuse to die…

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Inter 1 – 2 Juventus

31 Mar

Buffon-

An excellent showing from Santo Buffon. Far more involved than in previous outings, he showed that he remains world class and a vital part of our team with two glorious saves; firstly tipping at full stretch Cassano’s drive from outside the box just wide of the post and then later in the game, reacting with ocelot reflexes to save point blank on the goal-line from Palacio’s header. Not at fault for the goal, and was one of two major reasons for our victory. Its wonderful to have a living legend between the sticks, a legend which continues to grow…9/10.

Chiellini-

’twas a pleasure as always to see his name included in the starting line-up when many had suggested he could miss this one through injury or simply to rest him in preparation for Tuesday’s jaunt in Bavaria…Threw himself into every challenge as if the existence of everything he loved depended on the outcome, bombed forward with regularity, once losing the ball in a dangerous position, tearing back to recover, happy to see Asamoah covering and sweeping up in the 18 yard box. At times not one of the opposition players could find the bravery or belief needed to commit themselves into an aerial duel with Giorgio! Which certainly helps us keep the skies safe and dominated in vital areas.

A touch ragged in the final third, but defensively, he was monstrous. It must be noted, however, that he was lucky yo get away with a bizarre back heel hack on Cassano in the box…a coming together of legs which could very easily been given as a penalty.7/10

Barzagli-

Impeccable. Rarely stretched. Always comfortable in possession and constantly covering, marking, intercepting. Andrea has grown in stature over the last 12 months, fully justifying the special potential everyone saw in him during his Palermo days. Now surely ranked as one of the finest centre-backs in the world game, alongside Bonucci and Chiellini. Great in the air, mobile on the ground, continues to prove himself as a world class signing by Marotta. 8/10.

Bonucci-

Brought the ball out of defence Beckenbauer style, truly growing into the libero/sweeper role. His passing requires improvement, but his all round defensive game is phenomenal. As with his chums in the rearguard triumvirate, Leo is quick on his feet, brutal in the tackle and incredibly strong. Even managed to follow an attack to the opposing penalty area finding his own head on the end of the final ball into the box! A typically swashbuckling display. 7.5/10.

Padoin-

Seemed out of his depth in a role which demands greater technical ability. The rough and tumble part of the position are of no problem, neither are the stamina demands, but he lacks the technique of all our other more natural options for RWB (Lichsteiner, Isla, Caceres). He was unlucky with a first time shot which flew straight at Handanovic, but was otherwise invisible or ill at ease on the ball for long periods of the game. 4th choice in that role and he showed why…Still, no major mistakes and he proved belligerent and dependable if not much else.6/10.

Asamoah-

Finally regaining the fine form of his pre-ACON juve career, the blackest man on the pitch gave a commendable performance. Stretching the Inter midfield wide, popping up in defence to clean up after Chiellini’s error, supplying the ball to Quagliarella for the opener, exchanging delicate passes with Marchisio to work the ball up the left wing…He was all over the place, bringing more dynamism to the LWB role than Peluso has managed in the run of games he has enjoyed since signing in January. 7.5/10

Marchisio-

Fought gallantly, kept himself involved in the thick of the action from start to finish and looked in solid shape. He seems to prefer playing next to the technically stronger Asamoah instead of Peluso and the link-up play between the two is improving. No injury and a fair contribution, both offensively and defensively, to a victory which will mean more to him than most, given his time with the club during our darkest calciopoli days. Satisfactory…6.5/10.

Pirlo-

It was his error high up the field which directly led to Cassano playing in Palacio for the equalizing goal. Apart from that costly mistake he was generally imperious, chasing hard, tackling hard, pressing, pressing, always pressing for an opening. The most comfortable player on the ball of either team. He was given a generous amount of time to play, but with the rest of the Juve offence well marshalled by the Inter defence and midfield, sometimes its a sound routine to thwart our plans; mark all obvious options and make Pirlo go it alone or pass sideways and backwards. His grit and determination were as welcome as his eagerness to move the ball intelligently, but he needs to raise his game on Tuesday. No fancy footwork assists to the Munchen outfit, please Andrea…6.5/10.

Vidal-

Started so brightly and the two week break from competitive action has clearly done him the world of good, with his energy levels astonishing. With the 0-1 lead we held, he was content to push forward but maintain his midfield enforcer presence more readily. I am impressed with his self control, and ability to change the tempo of his own game to suit the circumstances. On occasion, he really does look world class. Passing, tackling, hustling, truly a box to box beast of a midfielder. And still only 25 years old…7/10.

Quagliarella-

I’ve been campaigning for many moons for the increased inclusion in our starting XI of the player I feel is by far our most potent in the final third. And in this match of huge importance against our most bitter rivals, Fabio delivered. His opening goal was tremendous, in terms of quality and execution. Expecting the dummy from Matri, picking up a smart pass from Asamoah, one touch to kill the ball, one touch to turn, and a final touch to strike the ball beautifully past Handanovic into the top corner of the goal. All from 30 yards out…Later in the game, when Inter had us on the ropes for several periods, Vidal’s probing through ball found the striker near the byline, keeping it in on the line, delivering a perfect cross to the near post for Matri to finish clinically. Superb. 9/10.

Matri-

Allessandro found it hard to link up with the rest of the team, and looked out of sorts, or perhaps just well marked. Certainly has an easier time of things with Vucinic in the team, for the montenegrin supplies a direct link between midfield and attack, but nevertheless, Matri scored the winner…A true strikers finish. Near post run, ghosting past the defender who didn’t realize the threat until the ball was in the net. His job is to score goals, and despite managing only 7 starts in Serie A this term, his 7 goals represent a good return.7/10.

SUBS-

Peluso-

Brought on to save Asamoah for Tuesday’s game, Frederico tried hard to get stuck in but his efforts culminated in a niggly foul or three and little else. His presence in a more defensive LWB role than the ghanaian, helped the back three settle down and shut up shop. 6/10.

Pogba-

A strange substitution given it altered our shape to 3-5-1-1 (at best), or more realistically 3-6-1, as nobody appeared keen to dive into a trequartista role. Paul was solid, much more concerned with adding a layer of muscle and tenacity to protect the 3 points than launching waves of attack in the opposing half. Not much to judge him on really…6.5/10.

Giovinco-

Arrived in a very unfamiliar position of leading the line, but he did ever so well, until Cambiasso tried to break his ankle with the last kick of the game. Sebastian was all over the front line, winning plenty of free kicks, helping to frustrate an already angry, bothered, desperate opponent, even earning himself a yellow card complete with shrug of the shoulders when hacking through an opponent. His job was to find a late goal or give Inter something to worry about, taking the wind out of the sails of their late assault. On these measures, he did very well. 8/10.

Conte-

Some will say that he rested Giovinco and Vucinic, although I think Mirko is sick, but I see only Lichsteiner as a definite first XI starter who was rested for this battle. The rest of the team was full strength. He made his substitutions carefully and logically, and will have been happy to see his troops hold out for a welcome rebalancing of the scales against the team which ended our majestic 49 game unbeaten streak last November. It would have been interesting to see Anelka come on for Matri, and Pogba give Marchisio or Vidal a break but yet again, Conte has emerged from a fierce war unscathed and victorious. 8/10.

Cambiasso, John Rambo, Giovinco, Beppe Marrotta

The death of Cambiasso

Conclusion-

Make no mistake, this was a very hard fought victory. I could have no complaints, only anger and furious rage, had the referee given the penalty for Chiellini’s awkward challenge in the area on Cassano (who to his credit, didn’t make much of a meal of it). Buffon also was called into action to make two galactic class saves from goal-ward efforts that would have surely found the net and changed the complexion of the game were it not for our captain’s immense ability.

Inter’s tactics were thuggish, spiteful and at times I wondered why the referee was allowing the challenges to go unpunished. Perriera is a nasty piece of work. Palacio’s too close together eyes suggest in-breeding and the rat-tail hair cut is clearly designed to wind up the opposition. The challenge of Cambiasso upon Giovinco would result in a very lengthy ban in the premiership, or bundesliga, or la liga, but in Italy??? A challenge completely born of viciousness and frustration, which could very easily have ended Giovinco’s career, will probably incur only a 3 match suspension. Which is a joke…its especially dark comedy when I hear fans talk of the italian game ‘full of pansies, all falling over each other when they break a nail’, for the premiership is hugely more cosy and soft in the modern era. Due to the commercialization of the premiership football product the nastier side of the game has been stamped out…No more Vinny Jones or Duncan Ferguson or Dennis Wise types. Whereas in Italy, brutal thuggery is commonplace.

Inter should be ashamed of themselves for their comportment. But they won’t be. Moratti should apologize for that Cambiasso tackle. But he won’t. Why?? Because they are scum. Classless. And rarely fail to confirm their position as ungentlemanly and uncouth.

This match proved better preparation for the champions league tie than I had predicted. We lost no player to injury, achieved a quality result in a horrid atmosphere against a team unquestionably fired up and out for our heads on sticks. Its fair to look at the performance of both sides objectively and conclude that we were fortunate to win, as its of equal value to suggest that we did what was needed. Grabbed an early lead, defended it until we conceded, then amped up our output enough to pull ourselves back into the lead before settling into a defensive formation to see the game out.

What was of interest was the return to form of Asamoah and obvious advantages of playing two strikers in our attack. With Vucinic and Giovinco both playing, we tend to rely much more upon our midfielders to drive into the box. Because the little man is at best a second striker and Mirko is a trequartista/ attacking midfield, we have little presence in the box. When they are swapped for a much more traditional pairing of Matri/ Quagliarella, prima punta/ second striker, our midfield is more open but we have two players both making runs in the final third which simply don’t occur in their absence. Against a team like Inter, who adopt a very physical approach I prefer to see a true presence up top. It stops their defenders from bringing the ball up the field and keeps the midfield on their toes in the process.

Overall a solid game, with Quagliarella and Buffon my joint Men of the Match. And honourable mentions for Bonucci, Barzagli and Asamoah.

Cambiasso, Perriera and Moratti should all be chain-whipped…or branded with hot-irons.

Juventus 1 – 0 Catania

11 Mar

Juventus v Catania

Buffon-
Showed alertness and his usual classy zeal through mopping up everything thrown at him, commanding in the air, solid with the handful of shots that came his way, comfortable throughout. 7/10.

Barzagli-
He has become a monster. Extremely hard to beat one on one, his physical strength, as with the other two beasts at the back, coupled with a sound footballing mind and fairly quick legs for a big fella make him surely one of the finest defenders in Italy. Also produced several brilliant long passes, a part of his game I have seen emerge more this season. 7/10.

Bonucci-
Leonardo has really matured this term, finally showing consistency in decision making and whilst some of his distribution is wayward, more of it is useful. A fine showing, with little getting past him. In a 50/50 challenge I fancy him every time. And so does the attacker, hence attempts to pass or hold up the ball when faced with Bonucci, rather than attempt to go through or around him.7/10.

Chiellini-
Perhaps due to Asamoah’s awful showing, Giorgio felt it necessary to involve himself further up the field. Whatever the reason, his typically beastly defensive work was marred by the haphazard nature of his forward runs. At times, he bordered on becoming a liability in the opposing half. 5.5/10.

Asamoah-
His worst game in a Juve jersey. Lacking confidence when heading forward, uneasy in the tackle, very few deliveries into the box, seemingly preferring to turn and pass sidewards if not backwards. This wasn’t helped by the lack of presence in the 6 yard area, yet still…Asamoah was poor and with Peluso in such fine form of late, the Ghanaian better up his game sharply or face the bench…5/10.

Lichsteiner-
The old battle-axe fought hard, outshone his opposite on the left flank with his defensive and offensive game. Linked well with Pogba, and was kept busier than hoped for by the pesky little forwards of Catania. Could do with a break against Bologna, but still held the fort in this one. 6/10.

Pirlo-
Another player who didn’t have the best of afternoons, with many a pass going astray. His tendency to lose the ball in key positions is of increasing concern, especially when married to a conviction to turn to the referee whenever he loses the ball, rather than instantly give chase to attempt to atone for his error. Needs a break, or a kick up the arse from Conte.5/10.

Marchisio-
Off the pace, and out of sync with the rest of the team. Claudio seemed lethargic, despite the misfortune of his stabbed effort past the post. A strong case emerged for Pogba/Pirlo/Vidal. However, he is such a wonderful player we can forgive him this poor performance. Did little brilliantly, but nothing woefully. 6/10.

Pogba-
By far the best player on the field. His physique, drive, bravery, pace and heart are all developing at an astonishing rate and its become now, common-place, to see too much class in the 19 year old to believe anything other than he is going to be a world class player. Hopefully, in our colours. Man of the Match for his endeavour, responsibility to defend as well as support and become the attack al aligned with considerable tenacity in the tackle. I haven’t seen such delightful technique and Spartan muscle combined so beautifully since Viera made his debut for Arsenal in the mid 90s…raw around the edges, a true legend in the making..9/10.

Vucinic-
He managed one decent shot. Link-up play was abysmal. Won very little in the air or on the ground, seemed sick, and on occasion it felt like the team gave a collective sigh when yet another ball was passed to him and he either fluffed his lines or ran the wrong way. Should have brought Quags on to replace him after half time. 5/10.

Giovinco-
Appeared more alive than his poorly partner in the final third and certainly buzzed around more, won some useful free kicks, showed good pace and determination, yet ultimately offered nothing more than an eager to please link-man operating between our midfield and the opposing defence. I don’t like these two playing together, no matter what the statistics suggest. Never enough presence in the box for my liking, which narrows the channels of our play going forward. 

We are never going to get the best out of Giovinco if we continue to play him in a role which demands more running back than is natural for his best game to appear, and also, to make matters worse, placing a strike partner alongside him who blows far more cold than hot. 5.5/10.

Matri-
Excitable and desperate to get involved in the fray, with the clock ticking he didn’t once refrain from hustling the opponents and his good work helped in the build-up to the goal. Not long enough to settle into a comfortable flow but did what was asked of him. 6/10.

Quagliarella-
One save at point blank range which he could have done better with, and then a decent shot from just outside he box. A shame not to see him arrive on the field far sooner, preferably from the start. More at ease playing with Matri than Giovinco was with Vucinic, whatever that may means…though we had tired our opponents by this point in the game. Which counts for something, to some people. 6/10

Giaccherini-
I proudly take the credit for adorning the squeaky imp with the nickname ‘the little goblin’ many moons ago, which I have seen since adopted by many others. One of those moments of inspiration which come regrettably too seldom…The same winds responsible for my attempts to disseminate Frederick’ Kruger’ Sorensen, given his apparent idolization of Nightmare on Elm Street hero Freddy Kruger…Still, back to the little goblin…
…He was useful last season. I concluded quite quickly that he was not a great footballer, but extremely fit, pacey, a bit of a wriggler and capable of doing exactly what Conte tells him, in terms of where to run and when. He managed some very useful goals in games when our lack of outstanding talent in offence was directing us towards a draw, and he kept pestering and hustling and sliming his little goblin paws all over the opposition, until finally, he triumphed. His major value is persistence. As proved the case yesterday. I was cursing him, watching him lose the ball time and time again, his passing not good enough for Pro Vercelli let alone Juventus. I almost started to feel sorry for him, but settled upon cringing. Shaking my head in disgust, he scored the goal…from a 4 he jumped up to a 9, because that goal, for which we had been hunting high and low for the best part of 93 minutes, put us 9 points clear at the top of Serie A. 9/10.

Conclusion-
We dominated -mostly- but Catania held their own admirably. A little more luck and we would have won the game long before Conte made the substitutions and Giaccherini scored the amazing winner right at the death. It must be especially demoralizing to have played so well, often pinging the ball around with pace and accuracy and intelligence, and then, be undone so late on, by of all players, the little goblin. I have sympathy for our opponents. Only teams like Inter and Napoli and Lazio to some degree, deserve to suffer ‘defeat by Goblin’. 

Pirlo, Vucinic, Marchisio and Asamoah were all off the pace, with Pirlo looking worse only because he is the main pivot of our team, with everything flowing through him. Perhaps I have been a bit harsh on the marvellous gypsy-queen, but he has set very high standards and I expect more of him than the repeated petulant turns to the ref whenever he is tackled and dispossessed. 

Peluso must come back into the line-up next week for the ghanaian has returned from south Africa, not even half the player he was when he left us. We can’t afford to be nursing players back to form in this crunch period at home and in Europe. Conte may well have to make some tough decisions. Peluso for Asamoah isn’t one of them, but the following will be-

Vidal has been in fine form, arguably one of the best midfielders in the champions league this season. His league efforts are of comparably high standard. Pirlo has to play, given his incredible technique on the ball, but what of Pogba? The Frenchman oozes class and completely over shadowed Claudio in this game. I am not suggesting he is a better player than Marchisio, only that he is in brilliant form physically and mentally. 

Vucinic was poor yet again, at times atrocious. After bearing witness to the basic but potent connection between Quags and Matri in the week, it was horrible to see Mirko so unable to connect well with anyone in the final third. One wicked effort is all he had to show other than plentiful poor dribbles, failed hold-ups and slothful runs. Matri and Quags both seem more eager, more determined and more capable than both Mirko and Giovinco. La formica atomica played well enough, but he needs a stronger running front man, to really show his best, and also, better support on the left flank coming out of defence. Asamoah’s horrors-how didn’t help matters there.

I’d be tempted to go for a-
Buffon
Lichsteiner Barzagli Bonucci Chiellini Peluso
Vidal Pirlo Pogba
Matri Giovinco/Quagliarella
next week, away to Bologna.

With our attempts to bite and rip up-front lacking incisors, I focused instead on the positives, which were all about the defence. Bonucci, Barzagli and Chiellini are one of the greatest back lines I have known, not just at Juventus, but of all teams. Their physicality was a nasty experience for the Catania forwards and wingers, as it often is for whoever faces them. Barzagli’s passing was worthy of Matthaus. Or Beckenbauer. Bonucci remains jagged at times, but that famous lack of composure has improved dramatically and his calmness and tackling abilities make him immensely more valuable than when we first snared him. Nothing much needs to be said of Giorgio. His attacking play is sometimes useful and sometimes wretched, the latter today, but in his own backyard, he was his usual indomitable behemoth. As a unit they keep getting better…The purchases of Bonucci and Barzagli both now seem like genius business by a much maligned transfer director…

A hard fought win, which came about with several key players performing well below their high standards. Constructive moves from the bench by Conte, and I can’t fault his selection. We haven’t played amazingly well very often since the new year, but have found ourselves 9 points clear with 10 games left. Many reasons to be cheerful…

Juventus Striker Analysis

7 Mar

When asked of areas of weakness in the blossoming Conte Juve, the general consensus amongst juventini the world over points towards our attacking department. The defence is world class. Our wing backs are quality, the midfield is phenomenal, but in the final third…such superlatives are regularly absent. Whilst we all have our opinions on performance levels and its clear that statistics alone can rarely be used as sole indicators of value, in the case of strikers, whose prime work is focused on scoring and creating goals, the figures can prove useful. Its a lot easier to gain an accurate idea of how well a striker is performing from his stats, than it is with a midfielder, or defender when passing ranges, time on the ball, urgency of the challenge and many other factors come into play. So, without further ado, lets peek at what the season has told us so far in terms of our strikers getting the ball in the net.
(I have stuck with Serie A and Champions league performances, since the coppa italia is the only tournament in which we have not once put out our strongest team…I have also crunched the average for assists and goals combined)

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Vucinic
8 goals and 5 assists from 1803 minutes in Serie A and Champions league – scores a goal/assists a goal every 138 minutes. (1 goal per 225.4mins)


Giovinco
9 goals and 7 assists from 1936 minutes in Serie A and Champions league – scores a goal/assists a goal every 121 minutes.(1 goal per 215mins)

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Matri
7 goals and 2 assists from 1012 minutes in Serie A and Champions league – scores a goal/assists a goal every 112.4 minutes. (1 goal per 144.6mins)


Quagliarella
10 goals and 2 assists from 949 minutes in Serie A and Champions league – scores a goal/assists a goal every 79.1 minutes. (1 goal per 94.9mins)

My expectations before making these calculations were that Mirko would come out the worst, as in he would prove our least efficient striker on paper. There is also the consideration of his duties on the field, for Conte’s strikers are tasked with aiding defensively, which is always going to eat away at their opportunities to score and create goals. He has appeared, without the stats to be the weakest link of our major quartet in the offensive ranks. And the stats confirm this…For all his wonderful moments, there are many more moments of irritation. For all his smart runs, there are plenty more jogs and shimmys into nowhere. Never sure which Mirko is going to turn up, I would happily see him sold in the Summer, to make way for a player with either more consistent quality or greater potential and determination to succeed.

La formica atomica has been more efficient in the final third than Mirko. That much has been clear on the field, and the little man should be commended, not lambasted, for to be bettering a more established striker, in his first season in Conte’s Juve is solid progress. He can still get better, and does seem to find himself in goalscoring positions at least once or twice in every game he plays. The difference between him and Mirko, given they are both more naturally SS type players is that his work rate and pace are already superior and he has potential to improve his shooting. Mirko is too long in the tooth to change now. Its been a big enough ask to get him moving around more, approaching somewhere near the minimum levels of effort demanded of every player in the squad.

Now as our only prima punta (its of little use to anyone including Bendtner in this analysis), it is to be expected that Matri would be our most efficient at scoring goals. Also getting in on the act of assisting since he is most active in the 18 yard box and as often looking to get on the end of things as to be the reference point in attack for the marauding midfielders and wingbacks to play off. His form at the start of the season was not great, leading on from a worrying period towards the end of the previous term. However, with the new year arriving, and team form as a whole dipping, Matri regained some confidence, and has since gone a steady run of improvement all round. The 2013 Matri is valuable to our cause and proves the importance of having a player in the team who can not only shoot clinically in the 6 yard box but also, of huge value to the team, make intelligent runs across and behind opposing defences. His lay-offs and positioning have jumped up a level since the dark days of late 2012 and I hope he can maintain his fine form.

Fabio Quagliarella is by far the most efficient striker this season. And yet he has played the least amount of time of the four under the spotlight. His achievements are all the more remarkable considering the lack of playing time, and in turn the lack of opportunity to gain match sharpness and momentum. There is also the small matter of his horrid injury sustained in January of 2011 which kept him out of action for a large part of that year. He featured a fair amount in the last campaign, but not as a starter (9 starts/14 sub apps) and it was hoped that this season, after a string pre-season he would return to the high levels shown before his injury.

It seems that he is returning to those high levels, but his relationship with the management is a more powerful consideration than his value to the team on the field. Ever since those angry words disguised through his jacket, when subbed for Giovinco by Alessio, has our most potent striker been punished???

Now and then I feel a wave of unease wash over me. A wave which hints at a personality cult. For our commander in chief has at times, shown flashes of something a few shades away from what we know as lo stile juve. 

The Elia case seemed reasonable, although more information regarding his lack of suitability would have been welcome. It wasn’t small change we paid for the lad and he had shown flashes of brilliance in his pre-juve career. However, his attitude upon signing seemed…at best youthful and several reports suggested his professionalism was suspect. Ziegler however was a different case entirely. His reputation was one of a solid, hard working LB, which was exactly what we needed. Conte didn’t even give the swiss international one competitive game to prove his worth. He barely attended a training session before his bags were packed, perhaps by Conte himself, and he was shipped off, and that was his Juve career over, before it had even begun. What the hell happened there remains open to debate…

Its understandable that the Mister was wired and volatile after the incredibly unjust ban dished out by the FIGC. Justice has since been done, in a loose, optimistic way, with the same man charged and convicted of ‘failure to report’ recently voted manager of the year by his peers after the amazing team transformation and unbeaten march to the scudetto last year, but nonetheless during and after the suspension, Conte was pushed to the limit. And it showed.

With the embers of unjust trauma still burning fiercely and uncomfortably in mind and heart, it was an unhinged Conte which berated the referee after the Juventus- Genoa game. Its the first time I have seen a Juventus manager behave without dignity or class. I can understand the players behaviour, which still needed censure, but Marotta only made things even worse. He has a lot to learn of lo stile Juve, and Conte also could do with a reminder, for whilst winning is important and expected, its winning with class, with humility, with dignity, which has been the Juve way for as far back as I can remember. 

Is Quagliarella’s card marked??? Cross Conte once and you are finished with Juve??? This could well be the case. Others will point to the useful runs and link-up play that Vucinic apparently brings to the team with enough consistency to warrant his high placing in the pecking order. My own personal inkling is that Fabio Quagliarella is of a stronger ego than Conte wants in the squad. Perhaps the same was sensed in Reto Ziegler. And rather than a case of putting Self before club, which seems to be the common opinion of Elia, the Swiss and Neopolitan may well have both made the mistake of putting Self before Conte.

Personality cult or not, after last season’s herculean recapture of the league title, this term’s magnificent return to the champions league, the situation in the league – even after our traditional dodgy January – still mighty and the consistency and quality of the team during Conte’s absence, I am in no position to criticize, and have many reasons to daily doff my hat to Antonio for he has regained our pride, strengthened majestically our reputation and has our club and team on the fast track to returning to our position as one of the continents elite clubs. And for this, I can only be thankful, enthusiastic about the future and like all Juventini the world over, gleeful to have our former captain as our mister.