Italian Serie A News, Results, Analysis and Features on Football Soccer

Andrew Murray On January - 27 - 2012

Team of the Week: Winter Champions Juve Defeat Atalanta

Juventus were crowned Serie A Winter Champions after one of their most controlled performances of the season on Saturday night. Atalanta have proven to be tough opposition for any team, especially at home where their only defeat prior was to champions Milan. But, the Bianconeri overcame early frustration to eventually overcome the Nerazzurri with relative ease.

Giorgio Chiellini took Leonardo Bonucci’s place at centre-back in the only change from the XI that disappointed against Cagliari one week prior. Atalanta, meanwhile, were missing Carlos Carmona, Stefano Lucchini, Daniele Capelli and Giampaolo Bellini, prompting a reshuffle. Thomas Manfredini and Cristian Raimondi came in at the back with Giacomo Bonaventura and Maximiliano Moralez returning further up the field.

Antonio Conte’s men battered the Atalanta goal in the first half. Alessandro Matri threatened twice in the first 12 minutes, first firing over from six yards then forcing a fingertip save from Andrea Consigli, while Mirko Vucinic and Simone Pepe also came close. Arturo Vidal and Paolo De Ceglie’s spectacular attempts couldn’t hit the mark, and the teams went in 0-0 at half-time.

The game looked set to follow the Cagliari route and end with Bianconeri disappointment. Juve had thrown everything at their opponents without making the breakthrough. A lesser team might’ve capitulated, but Conte’s boys are made of sterner stuff. Stephan Lichtsteiner made the breakthrough with a diving header on 54 minutes and it was plain sailing from thereon out.

Firmly in cruise control, Juventus kept the ball from their opponents and continued to prod. A deserved second goal came after 82 minutes: substitute Emanuele Giaccherini volleyed home from Luca Marrone’s delicate flick, that was all she wrote. The Bianconeri left Bergamo with a 2-0 win and the winter championship in the bag.

This was another calm, composed performance from Juventus. Conte showed great courage to switch things up at half-time (Giaccherini came on for Claudio Marchisio), and it paid-off. Spurning chance after chance can devastate morale, but Conte’s own iron will is clearly evident in every one of these players. This is a tough, <I>tough</I> Juventus side, and if they don’t win this year’s Scudetto it won’t be because they fell apart mentally.

Atalanta were starved of the ball for 90 minutes, which is typical of Juventus’ opponents this season. The Bianconeri typically hold 60% of possession, as high as anyone in Europe bar Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. On Saturday they had 63% of the ball and used it to create 18 shots: Atalanta had eight attempts, but Gianluigi Buffon never once looked troubled.

Ball retention is another great Juventus strength. The great Bianconeri sides are famed for their grinta, but Conte’s team have the physical and technical prowess to match their unbreakable mentality. They hold the ball, pass well and press tirelessly. Juventus are often functional rather than spectacular, but Conte’s philosophy has produced some breathless moments this season.

Collectively, Juventus are a juggernaut and, continue aside, few have contributed more to that than the M-V-P midfield trio: Marchisio, Vidal and Pirlo.

Marchisio, the perfect all-round midfielder, is enjoying a career-best season, impressing all with his cut and thrust and scoring some vital goals. Juventus miss an absent Marchisio like no other player. Vidal, meanwhile, has been hugely impressive since his summer switch and offers a similarly dynamic skill-set to Marchisio, though Vidal is more attack-minded.

What can be said about Andrea Pirlo? The veteran playmakers’ form as been such that Max Allegri’s inability top find a place for him at Milan seems absurd. His vision and passing are unparalleled, and the 32-year-old was in typically precise form against Atalanta. Juventus fans are witnessing the renaissance of a once-in-a-generation player who can be a top performer until his contract expires in 2014.

It’s not just the midfielders that’ve had good seasons. Matri had a poor game on Saturday but he’s the ideal player to apply a finishing touch to his team-mates’ creativity. Mirko Vucinic is erratic but technically outstanding and highly creative, while Pepe will run himself into the ground for any cause. Giaccherini is full of promise, and there’s always Marco Borriello, Alessandro Del Piero and Fabio Quagliarella to call upon.

Andrea Barzagli has been one of the best defenders in Serie A this season, and his partnership with Bonucci has shipped just 12 goals this season. Playing alongside Barzagli this season was Chiellini who, despite playing mostly as a left-back this season, put in a rock solid shift in a natural central defensive role. Lichtsteiner, who scored Juve’s opener, has been one of the season’s best signings and an ever-present at right back.

Saturday proved that Juventus also have great strength-in-depth. Giaccherini and Luca Marrone came off the bench, changed the face of Juve’s attack and linked-up for the second goal. Paolo De Ceglie came in at left back and produced the kind of solid display we’ve been seeing from Chiellini all season. Borriello, Del Piero, Marco Storari and Milos Krasic were unused substitutes, but all can come on and offer something different.

Then there are those who didn’t even make the squad. Quagliarella will struggle for a place but remains a very talented player while Eljero Elia and Marcelo Estigarribia still need time to adapt to Conte’s way of thinking. Michele Pazienza is a very solid, reliable central midfielder, Fabio Grosso is still capable of putting in a shift and Marco Motta? Eh, maybe it’s better not to talk about him…

Conte, the players and the club’s collective mentality make it hard to see Juventus as anything other than Scudetto favourites. Being crowned “Winter Champions” means little on paper but Juventus are still undefeated and rarely concede. It’s hard to think of a team that can match the Bianconeri’s mental strength, and it’ll take something monumental to halt their charge.

Andrew Murray

Scottish football writer with a thirst for knowledge and a passion for all things calcio. Visit for more from Andrew.

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