Unbeaten during their triumphant 2011-12 Serie A campaign, can Antonio Conte’s men defend their crown as they also set their sights on making a positive return to the Champions League?
What a difference a year makes. At the beginning of last season uncertainty hovered around Juventus. Antonio Conte had replaced Luigi Delneri and promising purchases were made, yet after a second successive seventh-placed finish in 2010-11, fans were just hoping for a Champions League return. Now Juventus goes into this campaign as favourites to retain their Serie A crown.
They began 2011-12 under a wave of enthusiasm brought about by the opening of the Juventus Stadium and started with a bang – thumping Parma 4-1. Wins over the Milan duo further increased the good feeling. Battling draws away at Napoli and Roma illustrated Bianconeri fighting qualities and after a win at Atalanta they became winter champions.
Conte’s men would fall behind Milan thanks to a run of draws. One such stalemate was crucial however, as Alessandro Matri’s tenth goal of the season earned a 1-1 draw versus the Rossoneri amidst huge controversy.
Finding their feet mid-March, Juventus went on an eight-match winning streak. Victorious against Fiorentina, Napoli, Inter, Roma and Lazio turned what was at worst a seven point deficit, into a four point lead. Against Cagliari, a penultimate match, Juventus won 2-0 as scudetto rivals Milan faltered in the derby.
When they defeated Atalanta a week later they did what no club had done previously – traverse a 38-match season unbeaten. Achieved twice previously by Perugia and Milan, Juventus became the first to accomplish the feat in an elongated Serie A season.
Black and White Squad
Juve’s main aim during the transfer window has been to add depth and quality to the squad. The summer has been dominated by the chase for a ‘top quality’ striker. Robin van Persie, Stevan Jovetic, Edinson Cavani, Luis Suarez and Gonzalo Higuain have all made newspaper headlines. Yet due to either economic circumstances or unwilling sellers, the Turin giants appear to have settled on two names for the attack as they hope for a deep run in the Champions League – Fernando Llorente and Edin Dzeko.
Matri was leading scorer with ten goals but the club were worried by the goal-drought after Christmas. 2011-12 was filled by a number of contributions, but lacked a 20-goal striker amid a number of frustrating matches filled with chances created and chances wasted.
Juventus were also involved in the Marco Verratti summer saga. The youngster looked set to join the Bianconeri on a co-ownership contract until Paris St-Germain’s €12m offer trumped Juve’s proposed deal.
These two drawn-out affairs aside, director general Giuseppe Marotta and sporting director Fabio Paratici have worked smoothly on the market to complete the squad. Kwadwo Asamoah and Mauricio Isla joined from Udinese, both co-owned for €9m. Versatile players,
the pair are able to play in various midfield roles. Lucio arrived on a free transfer from Inter. His pre-season form has been shaky but the Brazilian will offer experience from the bench.
Sebastian Giovinco returns to Turin now permanently owned. Rejuvenated at Parma, the ‘atomic ant’ showed his quality in front of goal last term with 15 strikes. The technically gifted attacker will be well-suited to Juve’s 3-5-2 formation but can also play out wide should Juve revert to a 4-3-3 system.
The Bianconeri have also looked to the future by signing trio Alberto Masi, Nicola Leali and Paul Pogba. The latter was subject of a struggle between Juve and Manchester United but signed on a free transfer. He and Masi – signed from Pro Vercelli – are set to be part of Conte’s squad, but Leali may be loaned out.
2011-12 marked the end of an era, with Alessandro Del Piero leaving Juventus. After 19 years in Turin the revered captain departed a winner and to rapturous applause in the final home match versus Atalanta. Fabio Grosso and Alex Manninger also left on free transfers.
Wingers Milos Krasic and Eljero Elia have bid farewell after difficult seasons. Neither he nor Elia could adjust to the style and system of Conte. Krasic joins Fenerbahce and the Dutchman Werder Bremen. Marcelo Estigarribia and Marco Borriello also left after their loan deals were not made permanent.
Those incoming and outgoing transfers ensure Juventus appears armed with a side capable of competing on three fronts this season. Aside from the new arrivals they can look to last season’s miserly defence was to build from. The back four of Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini conceded just 20 goals last season.
The M-V-P central midfield trio of Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo were the main driving force last season and will look to exhibit the same sort of impact this campaign too. Waiting in the wings is Luca Marrone, a player who could deputise for Pirlo.
Big name striker arriving or not, Mirko Vucinic is set to play an integral role up front. The Montenegrin is at times wasteful, but also delightfully creative and can feature in a variety of positions up front. Matri has shown that with confidence and a run of starts he can be clinical, while Fabio Quagliarella represents a decent option off the bench.
Proving an essential figure in the scudetto success last season, it will be an unusual campaign for Conte. The former Italian international has received a ten-month touchline banned due to his part in the match fixing scandal. He was deemed to know about, but not report, the fixing occurring at Siena during 2010-11.
The boss will be available to working with the team during the week, but Massimo Carrera takes charge on matchday. The former Old Lady defender has been working with the youth sector since 2009. While not holding the same level of experience as Conte he has already proven to be nearly as vocal on the sidelines and well-spoken in the press. Managing the dressing room immediately before and during a match will be critical for Carrera, as will substitutions, perhaps Conte’s weakest facet last season.
Conte has stuck by the 3-5-2 so prevalent during the second half of last season in the build-up to Juve’s title defence. Given the new signings, it is a formation to supplement the new signings such as Asamoah, Isla and Giovinco. Yet Juve showed last term an ability to easily switch between that and 4-3-3, while hardly losing a beat. The mantra for Conte once more will be control of the tempo and possession no matter what formation.