Juventus ended their first half of the season, securing the 4th place, 5 points behind league leaders AC Milan. Much of this success can be attributed to the workmen like midfield that the Bianconeri possesses. With the arrival of Luigi Del Neri and Beppe Marotta, in June, the 4-4-2 came into the picture. It is this strategy, that gained prominence and success at Chievo Verona in the past and more recently Sampdoria. Del Neri is popular for his stringent tactical formation that consists of two sets of four players and two strikers ahead of them. It was anticipated that Del Neri would take time to infuse his ideologies and expectation was minimum, especially after an abject 2009-10 season.
Del Neri – The orchestrator
It’s often said that most battles are won in the midfield and this proved to be true, yet again. Under the tutelage of Del Neri, wingers now have a more prominent role at Juventus. At Verona, Del Neri had Luciano and Manfredini. Langella and Valdes at Atlanta while at Sampdoria it was Mannini, Guberti or Semioli. The current first choice midfield for Juve consists of Milos Krasic, Felipe Melo, Alberto Aquilani and Claudio Marchisio. Krasic and Marchisio man the flanks whereas Melo and Aquilani dominate the central midfield.
What a talent!
As stated above, Del Neri’s system is heavily reliant on the wingers in the team. In Milos Krasic, Juve have one of the best talents in Europe. The flying Serb arrived at Juve after much speculation in the summer and hasn’t looked back ever since. He has been arguably their best player this season, providing 5 assists and scoring 4 goals. His forte is his powerful direct running, which has terrorized opposition defences so much so that many managers had to alter their plans to tackle the threat posed by the young Serb. Often compared to Juve legend Pavel Nedved, Krasic is a bundle of energy. He emphasized this with his injury-time winner against Lazio. Del Neri has deployed Krasic on the right wing but he has been often drifts towards the centre and can also play on the left. He combines blistering pace, creativity and vision with extraordinary technical ability to form a potent attacking option for Juventus.
In his relatively short stint in Turin, Krasic has already become a fan favourite with his tremendous work rate and dedication towards the club. In the summer, he rejected an offer from English moneybags Manchester City in order to join the Bianconeri. The reason behind Marotta’s eagerness to sign him is evident now. Legendary former player Pavel Nedved is one amongst many to have showered praises on the young Serbian. The only infirmity of Krasic is that he doesn’t track back much to assist the fullbacks.
Claudio Marchisio operates from the opposite wing. The former Juve primavera captain has made the left flank his patio. Albeit not an orthodox winger, Marchisio is still learning his trade. Often compared to Tardelli, Marchisio is naturally a central midfielder. However Del Neri has deployed him on the left in order to assist the fullback and also to aid the attack. In fact, his average position on the field is generally deeper than the fullback. When Juve isn’t in possession he has the tendency to drift in towards the centre alongside Melo and Aquilani forming a narrow midfield, thus allowing Quagliarella to take up his position on the left. Marchisio has chipped in with 2 goals and 3 assists this season for the Old Lady.
Silky skills, excellent work rate and great composure in front of goal are his assets. Marchisio has a good vision and can pick out a pass under pressure. With age is on his side, he has the potential to go on to become one of the best midfielders. Despite being an extremely hard tackler, it is worth a mention that he has never received a red card in his career. Del Neri has stated earlier in the season that his plans will revolve around Marchisio, who can be described as a blend of versatility and dynamism. However, young Italian is hesitant to shoot from a distance and is also injury-prone.
Apart from Krasic and Marchisio, Juve have Simone Pepe who arrived in the summer on loan from Udinese. Pepe has scored 3 goals and has 1 assist to his name this season. He has surprised many of the Bianconeri fans who were sceptical about his arrival after a poor World Cup. Pepe can play on either flank and gives Juventus an extra option on the wings. He is also known for his exceptional work rate and stamina. The game against Milan saw him play in an unfamiliar fullback position, a testament to his versatility. Pepe is fast proving to be one of the best utility players in Serie A.
Another winger purchased by the Bianconeri in the summer was former Catania star Jorge Martinez for a fee of €12 million. Martinez made a disappointing start to life in Turin having appeared in just 3 games this season in Serie A. However, he is known for his dribbling ability and his vast array of tricks. The Bianconeri fans are yet to see the best of Martinez this season and will be looking forward to his return to first team action following his rich vein of form for Catania in the previous season. Primavera players Fillipo Boniperti, grandson of Juve icon Giampiero Boniperti, and Marcel Buchel add to the options available on the flanks.
The centre of midfield forms the most fundamental area of the pitch. The current Juventus central midfield comprises of tough-tackling Felipe Melo and silky Alberto Aquilani.
The Juventus ‘mediano’ is one position that the Bianconeri has excelled at historically, boasting of an enviable list of players such as Marco Tardelli, Didier Deschamps, Edgar Davids and Alessio Tacchinardi. Melo forms the current ‘mediano’ for Turin based outfit. After a disappointing first season, winning the undesirable ‘Bidone D’oro’ award, Melo has recaptured his form that saw him climb the dizzy heights of being one of the best midfielders in Serie A in the 2008-2009 season with Fiorentina. On current form, Melo is arguably one of the best defensive midfielders in Serie A and under Del Neri he has grabbed the spot light with his flawless performances in the big games against the two giants from Milan. Neutralizing Sneijder and Pirlo isn’t exactly an easy job. Melo, however, excelled against both. A passionate player that he is, Melo sometimes proves to be a liability for the team.
The ever-improving Melo.
The Brazilian principally covers the essentials required to be a top class defensive midfielder, strong in the tackle coupled with great anticipation and an ability to snatch the ball. Nevertheless, his passing isn’t as good, although it has improved greatly of late. His ability to initiate counter attacks with mazy runs through the middle or spraying the ball to the flanks, bears testimony to the fact that the midfielder in on a learning curve. Melo seems to have curbed down on his rash tackles having just received 4 yellow cards this season in 15 games for Juve which is admirable considering the kind of player that he once used to be. Melo has come out in praise for Del Neri for the support he has received from the manager and has credited his performances to the tactician’s man-management ability.
Partnering the monstrous Melo, is the class and elegance of Alberto Aquilani. After having endured a torrid time in the Premier League with Liverpool, Aquilani arrived in Turin on loan from the English side. Alongside Melo, Aquilani has rediscovered the form that saw him reach the heights of being one of the brightest talents in Europe. Aquilani’s signing was always going to be a risk, following his injury record. However, he has managed to stay fit for most of the campaign so far and has been in great form for Juventus. Aquilani adds the creativity and elegance that was missing from centre of the Juve midfield over the past few seasons. He adds a new dimension to the Bianconeri attack. The Roma youth product has an incredible range of passing, ability to dictate the play and can also provide the incisive final pass to the attackers. Besides the ones mentioned, Aquilani’s shooting is outstanding. His first goal for the Bianconeri against Lecce, is evidence enough.
His 2 assists don’t begin to tell the story about his immense contribution to the team. Aquilani has also improved the defensive side of his game, something he credits Del Neri for. He is fast becoming one of the most complete midfielders in Europe and when on song, Aquilani is one of the best players in Serie A. His partnership with Felipe Melo is right up there among the best central midfield partnerships in Europe. They complement each other well and play to their strengths.
Apart from Aquilani and Melo, Marchisio has spent most of his career as a central midfielder and an unforeseen injury to either might see him drafted back to his favoured position. Mohammed Sissoko also provides a defensive option for Del Neri in midfield. However, the former Valencia star hasn’t been in the best of forms this season and is expected to leave the club either in January or in summer.
Manuel Giandonato, former primavera captain, was given his first start of the season in the draw against Chievo Verona. He did show glimpse of promise; however, owing to inexperience and a bit of bad luck, the lad earned a red card on debut. Hasan Salihamidzic has returned to the first team this season after being frozen out by Del Neri in the summer. The Bosnians refusal to depart the club at the beginning of this season will definitely provide more options in midfield. The former Bayern Munich player can play anywhere in the midfield and should provide the much needed experience. However, players such as Andrea Poli, Ivan Rakitic, Santi Cazorla, Ezequiel Schelotto and Bruno Soriano have been linked with a move to the Old Lady. Juventus’ title aspirations might entice them to go for yet another midfielder. Nonetheless, the current crop is good enough to do that.