As transfer window draws to a close few Juventus fans would have expected the performance dished out by Antonio Conte’s team in first half of the season. After 19 matches, the Old Lady emerged as Serie A winter champions. The team also broke a 62 year old club record of longest unbeaten streak. At half time of the season, the Bianconeri remain the only team in European top leagues to have not lost a match. This was the 25th time Juventus captured the crown of winter champions, first time since promotion to Serie A. Let us take a look at how the team fared so far.
(Only players who have started more than two matches are included)
Juventus arguably has the best set of goalkeepers in the world currently. Gianluigi Buffon and Marco Storari will walk into starting XI of most teams in Europe while the likes of Simon Sluga and Laurentiu Branescu are exciting prospects.
In the last two seasons, Buffon struggled with injuries and came down a notch or two from his usual imperious self. He has put behind his injury worries this season and has been one of the most crucial players in the team. It is not that Buffon is only making good saves, more importantly his command of the area and ability of organizing the defence are also back. After a slow start to the season the Gigi Buffon who refused and hated to concede goals is back in full flow.
Best Performance: Made crucial saves in the 0-1 win over Lazio and played an important part in a vital away win.
Buffon’s form saw Storari get very little first team action. He did start for two back to back matches in October. He looked extremely rusty against Genoa as Juve slumped to a frustrating 2-2 draw and was beaten hands down by an excellent Jovetic strike against Fiorentina. Storari also started in the 2-1 extra-time win over Bologna.
Best Performance: Bologna matches a second string Juventus blow by blow in Coppa Italia, if not for Storari’s saves Juve might have suffered and early knock-out from Coppa.
Along with many other things, defensive solidity seems to be back in Black (and white). Buffon had to make 45 saves in 17 matches, a measly number of 2.6 saves per match. Conte has preferred to use a core group of defenders which has improved mutual understanding between the players. With just 12 goals conceded, Juventus not only has the best defensive record in Serie A but also one of the best records across top leagues in Europe.
Pound for pound, Barzagli has to be the best transfer deal made by Beppe Marotta till date. The World Cup winner’s arrival in Turin was met with a frown but things have changed now. Barzagli has been the most consistent defender in Juventus as well as Serie A this season. He has brought some much needed calmness and solidity in central defence. He has rarely put a foot wrong and often made up for mistakes made by Bonucci and Chiellini. Fabio Cannavaro’s career was in doldrums during his last few seasons with Inter. His famous transfer to Juventus revived Cannavaro’s career – Barzagli might very well become Marotta’s Cannavaro.
Best Performance: Erm…every match?
Rating – 9.5/10
Cabrini, Zambrotta….Lichtsteiner? While it may be premature to club the Swiss with some of the legendary full-backs who donned the Black and White jersey it will not be an overstatement to say that the man known as Forest Gump has been Juve’s best signing this season. Along with Barzagali, he has started every Serie A game this season. He has been defensively solid and has contributed to attack with 2 goals and 2 assists, including the first official goal in the Juventus Stadium. After a long time, Juventus has a player who intimidates opponents with his attitude and drive.
Best Performance: Completely neutralized Yuta Nagatomo against Inter and was heavily involved in the first goal.
Rating – 9/10
The ex-Bari man continues to frustrate the Bianconeri faithful. There have been days when he has looked solid but there has been far too many days of shaky performances. Bonucci is dangerously inconsistent and unpredictable for a central defender and his often infuriating habit of losing possession by playing an aimless long pass has caused problems to a side heavily relying on keeping possession.
Best Performance: His performance against Inter was probably Bonucci’s best one for Juve. Made a number of crucial blocks and played a spotless match.
Rating – 7/10
Chiellini’s performances have been somewhat mixed. As expected he struggled when he played as a left-back neither offering offensive width nor being fully comfortable against opposition wingers. He has looked much more solid when he slotted back as a central defender and his partnership with Barzagli has been solid till now. Chiellini has been hardly exceptional but he hasn’t made too many glaring mistakes either.
Best Performance: Played one of his better games as a left-back against Roma and also scored a goal.
Paolo De Ceglie
De Ceglie continues to be an enigma. There are times when he has looked to be turning into a genuine left-back but he is yet to consistently prove his worth. It is not surprising that left-back remains one Achilles’ heel in the team.
Best Performance: Assisted and generally played well against Novara
The MVP midfield of Juventus has been one of the most effective midfields in Serie A this season. They have not only succeeded in creating a number of chances per match but have also adapted seamlessly to Conte’s high pressing, possession based style.
Those who doubted Pirlo’s form and class before his transfer to Turin have been made to eat a humble pie. The AC Milan legend has been the main creative force behind Juve and has been responsible for the high percentage of possession the team has maintained in each match. His vision for a killer pass is second to none and his defensive work-rate in central midfield has been commendable too. He leads club charts in assists with four to his name and his fitness will be a key factor in the second half of the season.
Best Performance: Two assists on his Juventus debut against Parma. What more can fans ask for?
The Chilean cemented his placed in the starting XI as the season wore on. Vidal is a perfect box to box midfielder – lots of energy and ability to press opponents high up the pitch. Vidal has also made impressive contributions upfront with 2 goals and 3 assists. With every passing game it has become clearer as to why Bayern Munich got infuriated when Juventus clinched Vidal’s signature ahead of the Bavarians.
Best Performance: Against Cesena, Vidal won most of his tackles, scored one goal and assisted the other.
Rating – 8/10
This was supposed to be Marchisio’s breakthrough season. Coached by one of the best central midfielders to ever play for Juve, Claudio was given regular starts in his preferred position. And how he repaid Conte! Easily one of the most consistent midfielders in Serie A this season Marchisio also scored six goals – some of them brilliant and all of them crucial. Marchisio has finally fulfilled his potential and looks good for a bright future.
Best Performance: Two not so good goals to cap off a brilliant showing against AC Milan
Rating – 8.5/10
While the midfield and defence have been wonderful for most of the matches the same cannot be said about attack. Juventus needed to be more clinical upfront in some matches where they eventually ended up dropping two points. There was certain fluidity in the MVP combination in forward line but the trio was never really prolific.
Another player who has been completely transformed under Conte! Pepe’s commitment and work-rate was never in doubt but his ability to deliver the final pass has improved a lot this season. His presence on right wing with Lichtsteiner backing him has been a constant threat to opposition. Pepe’s goal scoring has also improved as he stands with 5 strikes against his name. He is also a pleasant influence in dressing room and a favourite of Conte.
Best Performance: Like Momo Sissoko’s pass to Krasic against Lazio last season, how Pepe slipped a pass to Matri, despite being surrounded by Fiorentina players on all sides will remain one of the great mysteries of our times.
Rating – 7.5/10
It will be unfair to judge the Montenegrin by the number of goals he scored. His impact in overall play has been massive, made clearer by poor form of his fellow strikers in his absence. Vucinic’s off the ball movement and ability to conjure something out of nothing is very important in an often workman like Juventus frontline. His numbers of 3 goals and 3 assists are not earth shattering but not too bad either.
Best Performance: Big match of Vucinic was one of the main reasons why Juventus clawed their way back from 2-0 and 3-1 down to claim a 3-3 draw in Napoli.
Rating – 7.5/10
Between late October and end of November, Matri was one of the best players in Serie A, scoring and assisting regularly. Vucinic’s injury eventually affected his form and he is yet to reach the same heights. However, Matri’s movement and basic pattern of play has not been greatly affected till now. He has been lacking confidence in last few matches and should make a comeback in second half of the season. Boriello’s arrival should also act as a positive catalyst.
Best Performance: Matri was kept out of the starting XI by Conte initially but made his comeback with a brilliant brace against Genoa.
Rating – 7.5/10
The Paraguayan excelled as a substitute more than a starter. He met with mixed success when asked to fill up Vucinic’s place in the starting line-up. It is too soon to pass a proper judgment on his overall form in Serie A.
Best Performance: His goal against Napoli was a very important strike and paved the way for Juve’s comeback.
Rating – 6.5/10
The ex-Cesena player is an extremely handy player to have on the bench. While he may never establish himself as a first team regular, Giaccherini has neat little skills and a decent eye for goal to act as an impact sub.
Best Performance: An excellent extra time winner over Bologna in Coppa Italia.
Rating – 7/10
The Serbian has been a fan favourite since his arrival in Turin last season but with every passing day it is becoming increasingly clear that Krasic’s time in Juventus can be up. Despite Juve playing dominant matches, Krasic’s non showings when he started was a major worrying factor. An improving Pepe has cast Krasic out of the starting XI and he has not done anything as a substitute to earn his place back. It seems as if every Serie A full-back has figured out his style and they have no problems in dealing with his speed.
Best Performance: Not Applicable. Sorry Milos.
Alessandro Del Piero
Juve’s all-time top scorer is yet to score a Serie A goal in current season; millions of Juve fans had to wait a long time to see the much awaited scene of Alex celebrating a goal in the shiny new stadium. In some of the matches when Juve failed to generate enough goal scoring chances, introduction of Del Piero could have become a game turning decision but Conte has so far chosen not to rely too much on Del Piero. Del Piero finally scored his first goal in new stadium against Roma in Coppa Italia, a zona Del Piero goal. It was worth the wait.
Best Performance: Juventus looked clueless in the final third against Chievo. Del Piero made a significant difference after coming on and created several good chances.
Rating – 6/10
Conte’s refusal to use the ex-Napoli striker has been one of the biggest talking points of this season. Despite being fit for most of the campaign, Quags has gotten just three starts till now. His luck hasn’t improved either as he had to leave the field after just 22 minutes due to a facial injury after getting a rare start against Lecce.
Best Performance: Scored his first goal in almost a year against Novara.
Rating – 5/10
Last but not least, a section about the mister. Juve’s performances till now have been down to Conte mostly. He has drilled his side to play a possession based game and deviated away from the aimless long ball strategy that plagued the club since 2006. Despite a couple of miss-steps, most notably against Napoli in first half, Conte has rarely put a foot wrong in terms of tactics. He has switched his system depending on the opponent team and has regularly outthought more experienced managers.
However, Conte’s effect should not be judged just by tactics. He has brought the Juventus mentality back into Juventus. His team doesn’t give up when down 3-1 in one of the most intimidating stadia in Italy. Conte has injected the fighting spirit and grinta for which he was famous for as a player, into his team. The mental strength shown by Juventus till now is reminiscent of the glory days of pre-2006 era. As it was remarked when he took over, Conte’s current team is also extremely difficult to be beaten.
One of the few downsides of Conte’s managerial career in Juve has been his substitutions which have come too late at times. His treatment of players like Quagliarella and Elia has also been questioned in some sections. Overall Conte’s first few months have been excellent and it is important that both he and the team keep focused on their primary objective of the season in the next six months.
Rating: #ConteFacts Conte can’t be rated.