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Before Sunday night Juventus’ start to the season hadn’t been anything to write home about. Laboured performances against Siena, Bologna and Catania had eroded some of the optimism born from the opening day’s 4-1 thrashing of Parma. The Vecchia Signora took five points from these games but their displays were arduous: plenty of heart, but little fluidity or panache.

If the Parma game highlighted the potential strengths of the new-look Juventus, the following displays acted as stark reminders of their flaws. New players, coaches and philosophies take time to settle. Antonio Conte needed time to right the Delneri era’s wrongs and impose his own vision on the team. There had been positives, but the Siena, Bologna and Catania games emphasised the need for patience at the Juventus Stadium.

Everything changed on Sunday night. The Bianconeri produced their best performance of the season so far; bettering champions AC Milan in every department en route to a dominant 2-0 win at their new home. Claudio Marchisio provided two late goals either side of Kevin-Prince Boateng’s red card to send Juve’s growth trajectory surging upwards and broadcast a stern message to their rivals. Conte’s Juventus aren’t the finished article, but they mean business.

The Vecchia Signora were superior throughout, using their 56% possession to hit 20 shots (Milan mustered a paltry 4) and dictate the play. Marchisio, Stephan Lichsteiner and Andrea Pirlo came close early-on, and Juve would’ve been ahead on 36 minutes but Abbiati did superbly to tip Mirko Vucinic’s lob onto the bar. Juventus were in complete ascendancy by half-time, with Marchisio and Vucinic missing another set of decent chances.

The Rossoneri rarely threatened and were only able to call Gigi Buffon into action once. The Juve stalwart has had a shaky start to the season but he dealt with Boateng’s second-half volley well. Otherwise Buffon had almost nothing to do as the Bianconeri continued to batter Milan.

Juventus’ domination eventually paid-off in the 86th thanks to a lung-bursting run from the excellent Marchisio. The finish was a tad fortunate – Daniele Bonera’s failed tackle sent the ball ricocheting off Marchisio’s foot and into the net – but it was no less than the Juve midfielder deserved after a livewire display. Marchisio doubled his tally in stoppage time when Abbiati awkwardly let a low strike trickle through his legs and the Bianconeri left with a well-deserved 2-0 win.

In hindsight, maybe failing to win against Catania and Bologna was good for Juventus. Victory breeds confidence and momentum, but defeat exposes imperfections and gives teams an opportunity to eradicate them. In fairness, Juve were unfortunate to draw against Bologna as they were a man down and the Felsinei’s equaliser came from a Paolo De Ceglie howler, but Conte and Juve have clearly learned from their early failures. The Bianconeri obliterated a sterile Milan side from start to finish and have now well and truly cemented their Scudetto credentials.

Undefeated and top of the league, Juventus have had a decent start and are now in a good position to launch a serious title charge. Sunday’s performance, however, will mean nothing if they can’t repeat the performance against lesser sides. This weekend’s game at Chievo should be a good indication of how far Conte’s Juventus are along their development curve. The Mussi Volanti have already claimed Napoli’s scalp and Juve can scarcely afford another slip-up if they are to maintain their charge.

Conte has made an encouraging start to life as a Serie A manager. Whether he’d have been considered a candidate if he wasn’t already a Bianconeri legend is neither here nor there: Conte already used the skills learned during his time at Bari, Atalanta and Siena to impose his will on Juventus. This is a determined, grafting group of players who will run themselves into the ground for Conte.

Equally as impressive as Juve’s newfound workrate is their ability to keep hold of the ball. In their first four games they enjoyed more than 60% possession, and they still held the advantage (albeit down to 55%) over the champions on Sunday. In addition their passing has looked crisp and purposeful, with the Bianconeri generally completely approximately 85% of their passes.

Juventus’ playing style is proactive rather than reactive. Conte demands his team take the game to the opposition, and the benefits are already apparent. The defence has been particularly impressive: new boy Lichsteiner is an infinitely better player than Marco Motta and has slotted-in seamlessly, while Andrea Barzagli has justified his Azzurri recall with a series of assured, cool-headed displays. Elsewhere Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and (surprisingly) Simone Pepe have cemented Juve’s midfield superiority, while Andrea Pirlo is still a different class as the team’s metronome.

It’s little surprise that squad-wise the Bianconeri’s issues are in attack. Vucinic and Milos Krasic are unquestionably two of the most talented players in Italy but they’re also among the most erratic. Both are capable of brilliance, but Krasic hasn’t looked himself since the turn of the year and looked poor again on Sunday. Vucinic, meanwhile, had a solid game on Sunday but stupidly got himself sent-off against Bologna, reminding everyone that the Montenegran’s madness is never far away.

Conte’s biggest quandary could be figuring out which of his attacking combinations is the most effective. Juventus are blessed with a wealth of options up top with Vucinic, Krasic, Iaquinta, Del Piero, Elia, Quagliarella, Toni, Gianccherini, Estigarribia, Matri and Amauri all vying for places. Having such a large group of talented strikers and wingers seems like a “good” dilemma to have, but Juve may struggle for attacking cohesion if a set group of forwards aren’t given a chance to gel.

That said, think how impressive Conte’s Juventus can be if cohesion can be forged between the strikers. They’re already excellent in defence and midfield, and total attacking fluidity is the only piece missing from the puzzle. If Krasic recovers his form, Elia establishes himself, Matri keeps scoring, Vucinic keeps his head and Del Piero keeps supplying a touch of class then Juventus could be one of the most exciting attacking teams in the league.

Juventus will be very hard to stop if things come together for them attack-wise, but this is a very big if. It’ll take lots of work on and off the pitch to forge a unified frontline from such a large group of players, but there’s plenty of versatility in there and a number of possible combinations. Just don’t be surprised if one or two of them aren’t with the club after the January transfer window.

The Bianconeri have had an excellent week that solidifies their potential and the progress they’ve already made under Conte. While they’re far from the perfect team, Juve are top of the league and unbeaten. They’re in a great position to continue this run without the distractions of Europe, but they’ll need to stop dropping points to the likes of Bologna if they are to mount a serious challenge. Conte has made a good start but still has a few kinks to work out. If he can do this then I certainly wouldn’t bet against a top 3 finish.

Andrew Murray

Scottish football writer with a thirst for knowledge and a passion for all things calcio. Visit http://aroundthepeninsula.wordpress.com for more from Andrew.

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  • txtdocc

    Great fforumm! Thanx guys!

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