With 41 points from the first 19 matches of the Serie A season, Juventus finds itself with the symbolic label of ‘winter champions’ for the first time in six long years.
Much of that is down to new manager Antonio Conte (the players themselves have helped a bit as well).
The influence of the one-time Juventus captain has been well documented throughout the season. His high-pressing, possession tactics have done wonders for the club so far.
Even former Juventus manager Fabio Capello has heaped praise on the 42-year-old for bringing the Old Lady back to the upper echelon of Italian football.
“Conte has brought back the true Juventus spirit,” Capello told La Domenica Sportiva. “My Juventus had players of another level, so it’s his merit.”
But the real test for the former Bari and Siena manager is yet to come. As fullback Stephan Lichtsteiner said after the 2-0 victory over Atalanta, “the winter title doesn’t mean anything.”
And Conte knows resting on that ‘honour’ will see the Bianconeri repeat the disappointments of the past two seasons.
“We have another half of the season to go to confirm everything that we have done well so far. It won’t be easy,” Conte recently said.
Much has been made of the 19 match unbeaten run that Juventus currently finds itself on – they are the only club to still be unbeaten throughout the major European leagues – but at some point that streak will come to an end.
When it does, we will find out just how mentally strong this Bianconeri squad is. How will they react if they fall behind Milan in the table?
It’s a question that Juventus fans will not want answered, but may very well have to deal with at soon. Should the team be hit by key injuries or suffer a dip in form, they could find themselves playing catch-up.
Another concern for Juventus tifosi this season has been the ability, or inability, for their team to find the net on a consistent basis.
For all of the improvement on the defensive side of the ball (having allowed a league-best 12 goals), Juventus do not have an attacker capable of single-handedly taking over a match.
Despite their talents Alessandro Matri, Fabio Quagliarella, Marco Borriello, Mirko Vucinic and a 37-year-old Alessandro Del Piero are not names that strike fear into a defender the same way Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Diego Milito or Antonio Di Natale do.
The ability for the likes of Claudio Marchisio and Simone Pepe – 11 goals combined –to continue chipping in will be vital if Juve’s success is to continue. With 12 different goal scorers this season, the team is built upon the ability to attack and score through many different outlets.
Should those goals dry up, Juventus may not have the players up front to compensate.
Dropped points at the beautiful Juventus Stadium is something that will also need to be resolved in the second half of the year. Draws with Bologna, Genoa and Cagliari have been the only real blemishes on the campaign thus far.
If Juventus drop similar points the rest of the way, Milan will be sure to take advantage. After a slow start that was overshadowed by the chaos at Inter, the defending champions remain the favourites in the eyes of many.
For his part, Conte has been coy on Scudetto talk since his appointment this summer, but recent comments suggest he is now changing his tune, at least in public.
“I wouldn’t settle on third place right now if it was offered to me,” he said recently. “I am obliged to give my best and dream about big targets. I wouldn’t have signed in June for just minimal objectives.”
Not many people expected Juventus to be atop the table after the turn of the schedule, but here we are.
The Old Lady has been rejuvenated. Torino is pulsating once again, witnessing some of the best football on display in the Serie A this season.
This may not be the Juventus of old just yet, but Conte is well on his way to bringing Italy’s most storied club back where it has been so many times before (29 or 27, depending on who you ask).