Juventus fans have been waiting for a season like this for half a decade. Since coming back into Serie A, millions of Juventini around the world have been exposed to some woeful football from their beloved team. Juventus didn’t win a single piece of silverware and embarrassingly finished 7th in last 2 seasons. Everything changed this season with the arrival of Antonio Conte as coach.
Conte, a Juventus legend completely transformed a side which was at best expected to finish in top-3 to unbeatable champions. Juventus annexed their 30th league title (28th officially) after playing some of the best football seen from the club since Marcelo Lippi days. Redemption was finally achieved this season, paradise was regained.
Conte, the man who changed it all
In many ways Antonio Conte was a risky choice. Despite achieving promotion with Bari and Siena Conte’s record in Serie A was a shambolic short stint at Atalanta. Few expected him to turn around things so quickly. One of the first things he set about doing as changing the style of play. In last two seasons Juventus often relied on long ball tactics and it rarely paid off. Under Conte, they have focused more on high pressing and retention of possession. Indeed, with an average of 60% ball possession in Serie A, the Bianconeri has one of the best records across Europe.
Conte’s tactical flexibility has often drawn comparisons to Lippi throughout the season. Starting out with a 4-2-4, he quickly understood that he needed to change the system to accommodate his best players. He switched his system to a 4-3-3 or 3-5-2 depending on opposition and it was heartening to see the players adapt seamlessly to any change of system. Conte’s meticulous study of opponent teams have led to Andrea Pirlo calling him better than Lippi or Ancelotti in that respect.
Conte’s man management and motivational impact has been immense. His tactical nuance might have turned Juventus into a solid and fluid unit but it was his motivational speeches which turned them into champions. Even rival Gennaro Gattuso praised a speech he gave during a practice session. Unsurprisingly, Juventus went on a long and ultimately decisive winning run after the mentioned speech. The way he celebrates goals shows passion and a deep involvement with players. Players have often run across the field to hug Conte after a goal. Conte, a leader on the pitch during his playing days, hated to lose and he has instilled the same spirit in his players.
New Transfers Make Big Impact
Giuseppe Marotta has drawn a lot of flak from Juventus fans since joining from Sampdoria last season but he must be given credit for the Scudetto win. Players who made greatest contribution to Juve’s unbeaten Serie A season were mostly new signings.
Marotta’s capture of Andrea Pirlo on a free transfer proved to be a master-stroke as the Milan legend became the most decisive player for Juventus. His sparkling performances this season also landed him the best player award in Serie A. Another almost free signing, Andrea Barzagli, eventually proved to be the most consistent defender in the league.
Arturo Vidal, the Chilean who was signed after a bitter battle with Bayern Munich showed signs of emulating Edgar Davids in his first season. Vidal not only led the charts across all top leagues in terms of successful tackles won but he also popped in with important goals and assists. Stephan Lichtsteiner was possibly Juve’s best player in first half of the season. The Swiss, along with winter signing Martin Caceres helped Juventus fans quickly forget the horrible conditions at right-back position that persisted in last few seasons.
Mirko Vucinic, the Montenegrin striker whose signing in place of a “top striker” disappointed a lot of Juventus fans, proved to be the most important attacking players during Juve’s winning streak towards the end. Vucinic’s performances have often been frustrating this season but his contribution to the team when they needed it most is undeniable.
Squad players like Emmanuel Giaccherini and Marcelo Estigarribia also made crucial contributions at times though the signing of Elijero Elia for close to 10 million Euros proved to be one of the most baffling transfers in recent times.
Antonio Conte’s Juventus broke a number of records this season. The most talked about record was of course related to the unbeaten Serie A season. The Bianconeri became the first club from Italy to go unbeaten in a 38 match league season. They also broke the club record for longest unbeaten streak after going 39 matches (including one in 2010/11 season) unbeaten. With just 20 goals conceded in 38 matches, Juventus established a new record of defensive superiority in 38 match Serie A while Gianluigi Buffon’s 21 clean sheets is also a new national record. Alessandro Del Piero became the first Juventus players to break the 700 appearance mark and his final tally of 704 is unlikely to be surpassed anytime soon.
It is also interesting to note that not a single Juventus player featured on top-15 list of Serie A top scorers despite the team scoring second highest number of goals. 20 different Juventus players scored throughout the league campaign with Elia being the only outfield player who failed to find the net.
Juventus Stadium Breaks New Grounds, literally
Juventus stadium proved to be a crucial factor in deciding the title as well. As expected, the plush and modern new stadium attracted more Juventus fans. The average attendance figure (as per soccernet.com) rose to 32,610, highest since 2003/04 season. This figure might be some way off the highest average attendance marks in Serie A club but it meant that the new stadium was filled to atleast 80% of the total capacity throughout the season. Juventus fans created a daunting atmosphere in the stadium with their pre-match choreography and their close proximity to the playing pitch meant opponent players faced a situation they rarely face in other stadia.
Juve had an enviable home record in Serie A this season. They picked up 45 out of available 57 points and averaged 2 goals scored per match. Their away performances have been spotless as well, accentuated by the fact that Juve conceded just 8 goals in 19 away matches this season. After decades of playing in a soulless, vast but half empty stadium Juventus has finally found a place which fans can truly call “home”.
Most Consistent Player – Andrea Barzagli
Best Player – Andrea Pirlo
Best Goal – Arturo Vidal (first goal, Juventus 3-0 Napoli)
Most memorable moment(s)
Actually there are two and both involve Buffon and Del Piero. Against Lazio, Del Piero came off the bench to curl a beautiful free-kick past an almost unbeatable Marchetti to earn Juventus a much-needed victory. Buffon’s reaction to that goal was terrific. He first rushed towards the curva to celebrate with fans, and then sprinted across the field and gave a giant bear-hug to Del Piero, all in matter of seconds.
Few days later the 2006 World Cup Lev Yashin award winner made a shocking and unexpected error against Lecce which eventually lost two points for Juve. After Buffon’s mistake Del Piero ran across the field and gave a “it’s alright” high five to his long-time team mate. No number of titles can replicate moments like these.
Motivational Speech of the year award
Antonio Conte during his now-famous speech given on Juventus training ground
People are flooding us with praise right now, but that sends shivers through me. Why? Because I have fear, I have fear that someone here will start to relax. There is applause and a consensus, but what is the reality? The reality is the pitch, the reality is sweat, the reality is sacrifice. That is what has led us to this point of the championship and we still haven’t done anything yet. Let’s look at who we have in front of us now because we are mature enough to fight until the very end. As I said before, they [Milan] will have to spit blood until the last game.
Most Disappointing Player
In a season where one will struggle to find out under-performers in the team, Milos Krasic stands out as a sore thumb. Despite getting multiple chances, the Serbian never really adapted to Conte’s tactics. His “I can’t understand what he is saying” expression Conte’s tactics talk during a Serie A match summed up the season for him.
Top Five Best Individual Performances
Andrea Pirlo (Juventus 3-1 Catania), Arturo Vidal (Juventus 3-0 Napoli), Mirko Vucinic (Fiorentina 0-5 Juventus), Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus 2-0 Inter), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus 2-0 Milan)
Most Disappointing Performance
Juventus 0-0 Siena, Napoli 2-0 Juventus (Coppa Italia Final)
After two disappointing seasons, Juventus has finally won the Serie A title and are back in Champions League. For Antonio Conte, Champions League will be a completely new challenge, as a coach. However, if the level of tactical and motivational strength Conte showed this season is an indicator then Juventus fans can hope for an explosive return to Europe next season.