Juventus is looking to get back its glory days under new coach Antonio Conte after a flurry of new transfers were made before 2011-12 Serie A season began. A number of new players were bought to bolster all three departments, while for some players loan moves were made permanent. Let us take a look at how the squad shaped up and how it will cope with Serie A’s grueling fixture list.
Juventus Season 2011-12 Squad Analysis
No new signings were made in this department and there was absolutely no need to make one. In Gianluigi Buffon, Marco Storari and Alex Manninger, the Old Lady has perhaps the strongest goalkeeping department in Europe. Even though there have been talks of Manninger being sold off before his contract expires next season, nothing official has been announced by the club yet. 17 year old Romanian goalkeeper Laurentiu Branescu has impressed with his performances for the Primavera team and can act as backup in emergency situations.
Juve’s biggest problems in last few seasons have been lack of decent full-backs. Beppe Marotta finally acted to fix this flaw by bringing in Swiss pair of Reto Zeigler and Stefan Lichtsteiner to shore the defensive line. Right back Lichtsteiner has been one of the best in his position in Serie A over last few seasons, while Zeigler is a competent left-back and he was also a free agent. Marco Motta, who was disastrous last season, can be a backup to Lichtsteiner, while Zeigler will have to fight for Ashton Kutcher lookalike Paolo De Ceglie for a place in first team.
Will the Swiss Guard offer more protection to Juventus defence?
The situation in central defence is slightly dodgy. Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci are both competent defenders but they didn’t combine properly last season. Neither possesses ability to lead or organize the backline as a result of which Juventus defence was hopelessly exposed many times last season. Andrea Barzagli is good enough to be a backup center-back, while young Frederik Sorensen impressed last season but neither can be expected to solve the problems faced by Chiellini-Bonucci pairing.
Juventus have been strongly linked to Diego Lugano and Chelsea center-back Alex in last few weeks. Giuseppe Marotta has announced Juventus will be buying a defender. Alex is a good defender with an excellent free-kick but Lugano suits to role of a vocal organizer more. Buying an old war horse like Lugano will give Juventus a much needed leader in heart of the defence. Sadly, it might jeopardize the future of Bonucci in the club.
One of the first actions taken by the Bianconeri in transfer window was to sign Andrea Pirlo on a free transfer. A fit Pirlo can still make a huge difference with his passing range and set-piece delivery. Michel Pazienza was brought in to act as a backup defensive midfielder with Momo Sissoko heading to Ligue-1. Questions have been raised regarding Marotta’s decision to loan out Felipe Melo to Galatasaray. The Brazilian was undoubtedly Juventus’ best performer last season, without him Juve lacks a top class destroyer in the midfield.
Chilean hot stepper Arturo Vidal was snapped up by the club after a successful Copa America. Vidal is a perfect modern day box-to-box midfielder and can prove to be the most important acquisition for Juventus in 2011-12 season. He has already started his Juve career with a bang by scoring on his debut in Trofeo TIM.
It will be interesting to see what tactic Antonio Conte uses; so far he has used a 4-2-4 and 4-3-3 formations. A 4-2-4 with Pirlo is especially dangerous as the Milan man doesn’t possess the work rate of the defensive sturdiness to function in a 2 man midfield where wingers push up. A 4-2-4 with Pirlo would mean his partners Marchisio or Vidal will have to provide a lot of defensive cover – which none of them are capable or suited to provide.
Vidal can be the most important signing of 2011-12 season
Milos Krasic form from last season needs to improve if Juventus are to challenge for top honours this season. Last season, he was undone by lack of an overlapping right-back – a role Lichtsteiner fits perfectly. Krasic and the man nicknamed Forrest Gump have shown early signs of understanding each other well on the right wing – something that will encourage the Juventini. The Serbian’s effectiveness as a 4-3-3 winger still needs to undergo a litmus test. Krasic doesn’t possess the finishing ability of a proper advanced winger and his final pass still needs to improve.
Eyebrows have been raised by the entrance of Simon Pepe for a fee of 10 million Euros (some amount of it was paid last season). It is a luxury for Juventus to splash such an amount of a player who will essentially be a squad player, albeit a versatile one. Cristian Pasquato has been very impressive for Modena last season as well as Juve in pre-season – Antonio Conte will be counting on him to continue his rich vein of form so that the youngster develops into a quality player in coming seasons.
Juventus still need a proper left-winger to toggle properly between 4-2-4, 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 formations. With Michel Bastos and Elijaro Elia already ruled out Juan Manuel Vargas seems to be the favourite to fill up the slot for another midfielder that Marotta mentioned Juve will be buying.
Juventus had been linked to the likes of Sergio Aguero and Giuseppe Rossi during the summer but finally ended up buying Mirko Vucinic from AS Roma. The 27 year old Montenegrin is hardly the superstar Juve fans expected but he has experience in Serie A and is a versatile player to have in the team. Alessandro Matri’s loan deal has been made permanent as expected and the former Cagliari man has been scoring consistently in pre-season. Matri looks all set to fit the role of a consummate poacher – the kind missing in Juventus since David Trezeguet left the club in beginning of last season.
The decision to buy Fabio Quagliarella has come under scrutiny in some sections. The former Napoli man has never been famed for his consistency, despite his brilliant start to the Juventus career last season. There are question marks about the effectiveness of the 28 year old attacker after suffering from a season ending injury last season. It will be also interesting to see how Conte fits both Quags and Vucinic in his formation or how either of the players reacts after being benched.
Either one or both among Amauri and Vincenzo Iaquinta is likely to be sold to another club. Alessandro Del Piero will be playing his last season for Juventus and expect some brilliant super-sub performances from Juve’s all-time top scorer. The lumbering Luca Toni is likely to stay in Juventus for atleast next six months and can act as a backup striker in case of serious injuries to first choice strikers.
Juventus Serie A 2011-12 Fixture Analysis
The Old Lady travel to Friuli on opening day (28th August) to take on high-flying Udinese. Udinese finished 4th in Serie A last season after playing some memerizing football and show no signs of slowing down this season despite losing a crucial figure like Alexis Sanchez. Their form against Arsenal in London last week was breathtaking and the away team was unlucky to leave with a 1-0 loss. Having taken part in Champions League qualifers Udinese will have more practice than Juventus – this match will be a big test for Conte. Juventus enjoyed an incredible record of not losing opening fixtures from 1982 till last season’s loss to Bari and Conte would love to not extend this trend.
The second match will see Juventus entertain Parma in what will be historic first match held in Juventus’ gorgeous new stadium in Turin. After series of comparatively low-key matches, Juventus will face off Milan in the first big game of the season on 2nd October. By this time Conte and the team will have played a number of easier (on paper) matches to gel properly.
Watching Juventus will never be the same once he retires
The Old Lady will be facing an excruciating fixture list between October 25th and December 11th. The list starts with Fiorentina (H), followed two extremely difficult away trips to face Internazionale and Napoli. Juventus will then host a team which hasn’t lost to the Old Lady since 2008-09 season – Palermo. On 27th November a trip to Rome to take on Lazio with their city rivals playing host two weeks later on 11th December. This punishing list of fixtures will be accentuated by the fact that there will be an international break between November 11th and 15th when a chunk of Juve players will represent their countries.
How Juventus performs in November and early December may end up in determining the finishing position of Juve at end of season.
In last two seasons Juventus has imploded in am embarrassing manner after winter break – something Antonio Conte needs to avoid. The reverse fixtures between March 18th and April 22nd will see Juventus face the same set of tough fixtures. However, two things will work in favour of Juventus in the reverse fixtures. Firstly, four out of six tough matches will be played in Turin and secondly, there will not be any international “break” in between.
Expectations from 2011-12 Season
Giuseppe Marotta may not have perfectly delivered on his pre transfer window promise of bringing “top players” to Juventus but it is undeniable that the squad has been strengthened considerably this season. With two more signings still to be made Juventus will get even stronger. Another factor that might work in favour of the Old Lady this season is that the club will not have any European fixtures to worry about in mid-weeks.
The ticket sales for the new stadium has been extremely encouraging with a whopping 23,000 season tickets already sold out for the 41,000 seater stadium. Sales have been reopened so expect the new stadium to be considerably populated in every home match. The atmosphere of the new stadium can play a further part in giving Juventus some serious “home advantage” for a change.
Overall, this can be a season where the pre-season optimism of Juve fans will get rewarded in the end. The Juventini have seen too many false starts and false dawns in last few seasons. The squad may not be good enough to challenge for Scudetto but it is certainly good enough to get Juventus back into Champions League.
Serie A – 3rd
Coppa Italia – Semi-Final