I’m writing this review just after Juve’s traditional January dip in form. It has been a certainty among many others in the last 7 years, stretching from poor management and transfers to miserable coaching and tactics. Until Antonio Conte arrived, obviously.
When asked, most Juventini will tell you that the biggest improvement in the last seven years has been the hiring of former midfielder Antonio Conte as coach of the club.
As a player Antonio was an uncompromising, hard working captain of ‘The Old Lady’ [Vecchia Signora] from ’91-’04. During this time he won every trophy worth winning and established himself as a club icon, embodying the ‘grinta’ or ‘fighting spirit’ that Juve claim to have in their DNA. What most people might have forgotten is that Conte, as a player, was more quantity than quality and truly made the most of his talent. This is by no means an attempt to take anything away from Conte, who I absolutely adore as a player and as a coach, but simply a segway into describing this Juventus side: More quantity than quality.
After failing with Conte’s trademark 4-4-2 tactic last year, Juve slowly developed into a team, who mastered the 3-5-2, a tactic rarely seen in Europe outside of Italy. This has been the preferred style of play for the Bianconeri ever since it yielded its first, positive results. Combined with years of pent up hunger for the domestic trophy, the Scudetto, Juve went unbeaten for the entire 11/12 season in Serie A, dominating play, possession and chances created. That all seemed to end somewhat when the 12/13 season kicked off. Something had changed. Something was just… well… off. It might be that the hunger had suddenly been satisfied, or perhaps just the fact many teams in the tactically aware Serie A have figured out the Achilles heel of Conte’s Juve. Or “heels” perhaps… If you – like most of the other football fans in your general region – think Italy and Italian football is all about diving, waving arms around frantically, long slicked back hair-do’s and off the pitch fashion, you might have skimmed through the first bit written so far, but I advise you to pay attention now (so you can scream the following at your TV/coach if he hasn’t worked it out by himself):
Juve has two major problems this season:
1) They lack a good striker.
2) The 3-5-2 is easily susceptible to counter attacks.
1) This is already a known fact in Italy and a known fact at Juventus themselves. Upon signing Bendtner on loan from Arsenal this summer, Juve’s director of sport stated that “Bendtner is not the high-profile striker we were hoping to sign, but it’s a chance we had to take in a difficult market like this,” Welcome to the club! This left Juventus with four main strikers:
Sebastian Giovinco: A pint sized, technical supporting striker, who is widely recognized as being at his best on the left attacking side of a 4-3-3 formation. A formation only used on the rarest of occasions. When used in our 3-5-2 he is rather easily marked out of a game by using a bit of brute force.
Mirko Vucinic: Probably our best striker last season, but he has been struggling with injuries this season. He is the type of player you would hate to play alongside. Selfish, wasteful and what we in Denmark like to call a “ball warmer” as he keeps a hold of the ball way too long, leading to either losing it or misplacing it. His fans like to call him “Big game Mirko” – a very misleading name if you ask me, but I’m hoping a Champions League knockout game would change that.
Alessandro Matri: A striker best known for his “Gay duck” gesture when he scores (you’ll know when/if you see it) and his stunning model girlfriend. He has struggled in the 3-5-2 formation ever since Conte arrived, but lately he has begun scoring goals again in vital matches.
Fabio Quagliarella: The striker, who only scores spectacular goals. This is how he’s known in Italy, even though it has been the exact opposite these last couple of seasons. He is one of the top scorers at Juve, but not linking up well with any of the above mentioned strikers for some reason. One thing to note is that his goals got us past Chelsea in the group stages, so his tally in the tournament is quite impressive.
Nicolas Anelka: Just signed this January. Has not played a single minute so far. I don’t watch much Chinese football, so I don’t know how he’ll do to be honest.
2) The counter attacking problem is an accepted risk from the coach. He knows that to dominate the game you have to press high up the pitch, leaving space for the counter. I accept that risk as well. Somehow it seems that it has expanded into every set piece situation Juve is involved in. Throw ins, corner kicks or indirect freekicks all seem to lead to nothing else but a dangerous counter attack from the opposition. I know very little about the style of football Celtic plays these days, but this is your chance; Counter wisely. Don’t be selfish and go for glory when the chance arises. Pass and move on the break.
All of this might sound a bit pessimistic, and that’s the way I’ve always been when it comes to Juventus. That being said, I really jumped with joy when we drew Celtic. Like I said; I know practically nothing about your strengths and weaknesses, and any team able to beat Barcelona at the moment has my respect, but I honestly think you are going to have a tough time against this side. It is, after all, the best Juventus has been in the past seven years.
Good luck to us all. May the best team win and all that jazz, but above all remember:
“Vincere non è importante è l’unica cosa che conta”
You can find the author on twitter – @Mark_Jacobsen