The Serie A champions have found their feet after a stuttering start to this season and with 10 wins in a row they are firmly back in the title race, sitting just two points behind leaders Napoli. Max Allegri tweeted this after the win against Udinese:
Il dieci nel calcio è il numero della magia, e dieci vittorie di fila lo sono. Ora vietato rilassarsi che c’è una Coppa da difendere!
— Massimiliano Allegri (@OfficialAllegri) January 17, 2016
Which means: “In football, the number 10 represents magic, which is what our winning streak feels like. Now, however, we can’t relax, we have a Cup to defend!”. Let us take stock of the situation and analyse the decisive factors which helped Juventus recover from their tough start.
Dramatic Derby della Mole win was a massive moment for Juventus
With the pressure intensifying on Massimiliano Allegri and his team after a shocking 1-0 loss at Sassuolo, Juventus needed a positive response in the Turin derby. For much of the game it seemed Torino would take atleast a point but Juan Cuadrado’s scrappy injury-time winner was a big relief for the entire squad. Forced into ritiro after the defeat against Sassuolo, Juventus were aware that anything less than three points would have increased the pressure. Paul Pobga’s glorious volley was a gentle reminder to critics that he could function even in the absence of Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal. Juventus were second best for most of the match but the late winner seemed priceless as the crowd was beginning to get restless.
The aura of invincibility at the Juventus stadium was disappearing and as the groans of frustration grew louder, the Colombian on loan from Chelsea slid home the match winner. The manner of the victory fired up the players who earned a hard-fought win even though it was undeserving. The attitude and the lack of desire to win a game was publicly criticized by club captain Gianluigi Buffon after the midweek defeat. By grinding out a win deep into stoppage time the players showed they still had some fight left in them. This was definitely the turning point of the season for Juventus.
Emergence of Paulo Dybala as the chief protagonist
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Dybala did not enjoy the best of starts to his career in Turin. While his quality was evident and goals arrived almost instantly, his influence was not enough to carry Juventus forward. The collective departures of Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo and most importantly Carlos Tevez left a gaping hole which seemed to have a decisive impact. The Argentine was used sparingly as Max Allegri felt he needed to be eased into things. With due respect to Palermo, it was an altogether different challenge to play for the champions of Italy. Allegri came under heavy criticism for benching Dybala but as it turns out he was right.
CORRECTION: With 11 goals & 7 assists, Dybala has directly contributed 49% of Juve’s goals in Serie A this season. BOMBER — Juve Stats (@juvestats1897) January 17, 2016
A potentially tricky away trip to Udinese last Sunday was turned into a walkover as Dybala led the way with two goals and two assists. The obvious comparisons with Carlos Tevez seem a bit premature, but Dybala does share the winning attitude and consistency. Dybala himself has scored seven times and assisted five more in this 10 match winning run, establishing himself in the process as the leader of this team. The club’s improvement has been a team effort but the magnificent Dybala has been irreplaceable on the pitch, deciding the games with a string of wonderful displays and goals. He was a revelation in Serie A last year with 13 goals and 10 assists and there is no reason as to why he can’t match that tally this year too.
Sami Khedira is the driving force behind this new-look Juventus
A World Cup and Champions League winner, Sami Khedira adds organization to Juve’s midfield and the trio of Khedira, Marchisio and Pogba is quite clearly the best Allegri can field. Juventus have recovered well after their poor start but still the team feels incomplete in Khedira’s absence. The German is tactically very sound and his presence allows Pogba more freedom to venture forward and play with ease. His physical condition has been a big minus point for the past few years but when fit he is a valuable asset for Max Allegri.
— PakPoSan (@MazzShan) January 12, 2016
He might not garner the same attention as fellow summer signing Paulo Dybala but he is equally important to his side. Juventus have not lost a single game in which Khedira has started so far this season and it is no coincidence that his return to full fitness has coincided with Juve’s positive run of results. His first six months in Turin have shown Sami Khedira is more than capable of becoming a new leader in this team and he is slowly establishing himself as the driving force behind this new-look Juventus.
Settled lineups and treatment of younger players
The return of Claudio Marchisio in Juve’s lineup restored balance and experience to a side which was struggling to find its identity. Allegri’s decision to play new players every game robbed Juventus of fluidity and cohesion, making them look like a bunch of individuals trying to win a game. While it will be unfair to blame Allegri only for the poor start, he should own the failure to establish a proper rhythm in the side as it lacked continuity. Allegri was seeking a way to overcome the injuries but the incessant tinkering did not help the players settle in their role easily. It seems he has finally decided to go with the 3-5-2 module which plays to his team’s strength and helps express them in the best way possible. Pogba and Marchisio are comfortable in this system while the back three look a safer bet compared to the back four. The front pair of Dybala and Mandzukic has a great understanding and the only place where Allegri is frequently rotating is the fullback position. Sami Khedira has done remarkably well and in his absence Juventus have solid options like Kwado Asamoah, Lemina, Pereyra and Sturaro. Hernanes and Morata might have been below par this season but have done a reasonable job when called upon. Simone Zaza, who is the fourth choice striker, has the best conversion rate among the frontmen. Allegri’s handling of young players has been exemplary. Dybala and Rugani were slowly integrated while the likes of Lemina, Sturaro, Zaza and Morata have all been handled in the best way possible for the team. Despite heavy criticism from the press and fans, Allegri did not feel he had to justify himself to anyone. His record of managing youngsters speak for itself: Radja Nainggolan (Cagliari), Stephan El Shaarawy (Milan) and Alvaro Morata last year. In a sport where the pressure to perform can easily burn out young talents, Allegri knows precisely the right time to introduce them. He does not get influenced by the price-tag of a particular young player and uses them only when he feels that he can make a difference. Similar to Dybala, another big summer signing Alex Sandro played second fiddle to Patrice Evra at the beginning of the season but slowly started to make decisive impacts with game deciding assists against Torino, AC Milan and Manchester City. Both Dybala and Sandro are starting to justify the €66m Juventus invested in them.
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