Tag Archives: Conte

Juventus 1 – 0 Bologna

20 Apr

Approaching this match, knowing that two wins in our next two league fixtures would send us to Rome needing only a draw to clinch our third straight scudetto, there was reason to be both excited and nervous. Especially after our rivals earned a valuable 0-1 away victory in Florence, reducing the gap between us back to five points.

Tevez and Vidal were named on the bench, both players still nursing slight injuries with Bonucci and Lichstiner suspended.

In place of the suspended Bonucci, Ogbonna put in another solid showing.

To the surprise of nobody, Conte lined up with our trademark 3-5-2, offering Giovinco a chance to continue his recent spurt of fine form in attack alongside Llorente. Behind him, Pirlo took up the position of fulcrum, flanked by Pogba on his right and Marchisio on the opposite side of the trident. Out wide in the wing-back areas, Asamoah matched up with Isla (who came in for the suspecneded Lichsteiner). It was Ogbonna who took up the Bonucci role, which at times can seem closer to libero than pure stopper.

We emerged from the traps at a decent pace. Immediately pushing forward and applying pressure to the Bologna blockade. Our opponent’s plan to defend in large numbers, keep 9 men behind the ball at all times and show zero interest in scoring was evident from the first whistle. Even when they were given the chance to counter, we invariably had 2-3 defenders to clean up at the back masterfully.

Pogba was looking lively. Pirlo in fine fettle. Asamoah strangely subdued, although he was faced with a wall of opponents whenever attempting to make in-roads into the final third. On the opposite flank, Isla was seeing much more of the ball, largely due to the dominating physical presence and wonderful technique of the nearby Frenchman.

Most of the first half was taken up with the same slow, deliberate build-up passing game we so often adopt against smaller teams whose prime objective is to hold firm defensively and cut off our supply routes on the wings and through the middle. Llorente found a few useful positions, as did Giovinco, but the two of them are yet to find any harmony as a pair, with both operating on different wavelengths at crucial moments when a chance could have been created and finished.

No changes were made by Conte in the interval. Clearly his thinking was that we would win the war of attrition, continue our laboured, obvious passing game, wear them down, hope for a moment of magic, or a mistake for us to capitalize upon.

Pogba – Possibly the greatest midfield talent on the planet.

It took until the 64th minute for us to finally break the dead-lock. And what a beautiful goal it was, arriving from the explosive feet of Pogba. Picking the ball up in the inner right channel from Isla, the youngster brought the ball down and smashed an unstoppable drive past the keeper from just outside the box. Just reward for an overall performance which stood out for its power, precision and skill. A true rifle-shot of a strike.

The goal caused a momentary wave of added confidence in our ranks and confusion in the Bologna rearguard yet soon enough the status quo reappeared and we reverted to the calm pressure routine whilst keeping things tidy at the back.

Padoin made a late appearance and did absolutely nothing and it was pleasing to see Vidal make a brief cameo in the dying moments. What was somewhat discouraging was the manner in which we spent the final minutes growing increasingly concerned and inviting Bologna onto us. For the first time in the whole match our opponents seemed to believe they could get something from the game and we were on the back-foot until the ref blew the final whistle. Immense relief washed through the ranks and stadium as a whole, with passionate embraces all round between manager and players symbolizing how much this victory meant to the club.

Stand out performers were few and far between since we were hardly tested defensively. And had a mountain to climb offensively due to the stifling, smothering tactics employed by Ballardini in the enemy dug-out.

Pogba was the most potent player on the field. More capable than any other of not only retaining possession when faced with an opponent, but also carving out space. Only fellow beasts can match him physically and his skill-set on the ball is slowly but surely maturing. Less fancy tricks, more successful dribbles. His shooting has never been in question, especially from long range.

At this rate, the 21 year old will soon be regarded as not only a world class talent in the making, but as one of the best midfielders in the world, such is his progress this season. There seems no major weakness to his game. Perhaps the most important transfer of the close season will be a non-transfer, keeping Paul at the club for at least another season, hopefully more.

Barzagli was average on his return to first team action, lacking match-sharpness as to be expected, but our fortunes are greatly improved by his calm presence in the first XI. The quicker he regains form the better our chances of success. Ogbonna was strong in the tackle, decisive and error-free, attempting to replicate Bonucci’s distribution responsibilities in a muted fashion.

I was interested to see Isla. He produced an assist for Pogba, worked very hard on the touchline and was noticeably more involved in the game than his counter-part on the left. The Chilean could have scored himself, after cutting in beautifully and launching the ball goalwards with his left boot. Has he done enough to warrant completing his purchase over the Summer??? For me, not in the slightest. Best to renew the co-ownership or attempt to recoup the 9m initial outlay for the 50% stake. Asmoah looks good value for the 18m we paid. To spend as much on former Udinese pal Isla would be criminal.

Up top, Llorente was useful for flick-ons and lay-offs, but rarely came close to a clear cut opening. His strike partner, Giovinco, won plenty of free-kicks, caused a steady nuisance and created a couple of good chances for other players. However, neither player impressed.

A mention should be made of Marchisio, who – as always – stuck to his task diligently, put his health on the line on a few occasions when blocking or intercepting the ball, found himself kicked, scythed, pole-axed and shoved all over the place. He is truly a great servant to the club.

Bologna were very robust in their approach to the game. Our strike force of the spaniard and imp was too weak to break through the brutal attention of Sorensen in particular, but also Antonsson, who pummelled the flimsy front men repeatedly throughout the match. This is one of the main problems with Giovinco; his complete lack of physicality. As for Llorente…I expect better of him, but it will take time to adjust fully to the sharp differences in defending between la liga and Serie A.

Freddy ‘the ice-man’ Sorensen showing off his pretty ear necklace…

It was a very encouraging performance by 22 year old Freddy Sorensen. A player I have admired since he first broke into our line-up in late 2010, merely months after joining our primavera in the Summer. His natural strength and intelligent reading of the game marked him out back then as a player of serious potential and I am glad to see him more than hold his own around far more seasoned professionals. If we are in the market for a centre-back, Conte and Beppe would be wise to consider the Dane. His contract runs until 2016 and I hope we renew the co-ownership deal in the Summer. Whilst his value continues to rise, prudence suggests we maintain the present situation.

The victory was welcome and deserved but our inability to break down a resilient opponent once again highlighted what I see as a lack of malleability or reactivity in Conte’s tactical thinking. He rarely seems to have any Plan B, nor appears particularly well prepared to take advantage of an opponent’s weaknesses. Conte’s method is to stick with the 3-5-2, pass the ball as much as possible, left, then right, then left, then right, slow paced build-up. Its all so predictable. And without the muscle, hustle and class of Tevez in the final third, and swash-buckling Vidal forcing mistakes and driving forward at every opportunity we are fairly easily contained.

Still much to learn, but at 44 years of age, Conte is already well on the road to becoming a Juve legend in the dug-out. His third scudetto in three seasons at the club will be a tremendous achievement. But what of Europe??

Conte needs to work on systems which draw such stubborn opposition out of their fortress. Laying siege works most of the time, but as we saw with Copenhagen, our lack of Plan B or C can truly be our downfall. We win by attrition in such circumstances or via a moment of magic as we saw from Pogba last night.

Instead of Padoin, why not bring on Vucinic?? Instead of Vidal, why not send Quagliarella into the fray?? Protecting a 1-0 lead at home to Bologna is understandable at this delicate stage of the campaign, though a step removed from a team confident of their superiority. Substitutions are another area in which as time wears on, I find Conte lacking.

When was the last time we saw him turn a game with a master stroke from the bench?? When was the last time he outfoxed a wily opposing manager through exploiting a weakness in a team we faced??

Its not only the playing staff which needs to improve, collectively, if we are to strive onwards and make moves to return to greatness on the European stage. It is also the management.

Advertisements

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.

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.

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…