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|Serie A Special: The five key men in Juventus' 28th (30th) Scudetto success|
As the dust settles on an eventful weekend in Serie A, followers of Juventus will be dusting themselves down and reflecting on their remarkable return to the top and some will still wonder with bewilderment as to how they got there. SoccerAnchor's David Schiavone explains...
Like all good managers, Antonio Conte has put together a squad which as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but that is not to say that there have not been some stellar performers. Here we will look at some of the main protagonists in La Signora’s Scudetto charge.
Andrea Pirlo is one of those players where there are few superlatives left to describe him. Put simply we are talking about one of the finest passers of the ball in the modern era, even now in the twilight of his career there are few who can match his incredible vision for a pass.
Not for the first time, he leads the division in assists with 14, but this direct statistic only tells half the story as Pirlo has been involved in the majority of Juve’s goals this season in some way. The only credible comparison is perhaps Xavi of Barcelona, who tellingly has stated before that Pirlo is one of the few players in the world who could walk into the lauded Barca team tomorrow. His accuracy also extends to his set piece ability where he continues to be amongst the world’s best. If not quite at the levels he was at in the mid 2000’s, they are still a huge problem to any team he faces.
The playmaker had started to wane in his last season or two at AC Milan, partly because his hunger had subsided after ten years at the club but there was another reason. With the type of player he is, he needs a partner in midfield who compliments him and balances the midfield and Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri was no longer able to give him that. For many years it was the great warrior Gennaro Gattuso, with whom he formed the most formidable of partnerships for club and country.
This combination provided the basis for a double Champions league winning side as well as the Azzuri side which conquered the world in 2006, but sadly the years have not been as kind to Ringhioand his legs simply won’t allow him to perform with such drive these days.
In order to return to this form, Pirlo would need another man to do this job and he has found it in Arturo Vidal, the Chilean who is also Pirlo’s rival for signing of the season. He came to the Juve board’s attention after a storming season at Leverkusen and a strong World Cup in South Africa, but was still relatively unknown despite this.
The potential of the South American who Juve snatched from under the noses of Bayern Munich, is quite scary and he is still only 24. If all goes well, we could be looking at one of the world’s most complete midfielders in a year or two, he attacks and defends with equal gusto. Vidal has earned the nickname Capitano Unico(Captain Hook) for his ability to win the ball fairly from behind with a hooking slide tackle action.
While still a bit rough round the edges, he is polishing up gradually and Conte is coaching him into the ultimate midfield machine. Some criticised his limited attacking threat upon his arrival, but he was simply getting used to the demands his new coach was placing on him, as the season progressed, he made more and more forays into enemy territory, resulting in some wonderful goals, seven in total. The sky is the limit for Vidal and the Juventini will be watching eagerly to see what he is really capable of.
Joining the aforementioned to complete the Bianconeri midfield trio is one of the few players remaining from the season in Serie B, and a graduate of the clubs academy.
Claudio Marchisio has seen all of the misery that has befallen his team first hand and has come out the other side unscathed, maturing into a versatile all-round midfielder. Like Vidal he is equally adept at both attacking and defending duties, if at less hectic pace, Marchisio tends to take his time a little more and his decision making has improved greatly.
As a result, the midfielder is looking far more composed this season, in which he has contributed a number of vital goals. He has proven his ability to arrive in the right place, at the right time and Juve’s dynamic approach this season goes some way to explaining why the midfield has been able to provide goals, even when the front men have misfired.
Now a regular in the national side, he is already cementing his place as a bandiera for the new Juve. The fans have already earmarked him Capitano Futuro although with Gianluigi Buffon waiting to assume the role from the departing Alessandro Del Piero, he may have to wait a while yet.
One of the major issues Juventus had last season was the lack of quality in the full back positions, which exposed the defence on numerous occasions. A big part of this campaigns improvement is down to addressing this problem.
The Svizzero espresso, Stephan Lichtsteiner, has proven to be another inspired signing by Director General Giuseppe Marotta, who procured the right back from Lazio last summer. Some eyebrows were raised initially, but due to the dearth in quality in this position around Europe, not too many options were available.
While expected to be fairly solid, the full back has come on leaps and bounds and has proven to have the drive and determination required by coach Conte. He is solid as a regular right back in a back four but can also perform the wing back role when the back three is in use due to his excellent stamina. His tireless running and offensive contributions have cemented him as a fan favourite (as well as scoring the first competitive goal at the new stadium) and while a little hot headed at times, is well on the road to being a Juve stalwart.
When you look at the defence, which has been at its strongest in a three, you could easily single any of these three for praise, Giorgio Chiellini is a real leader with huge physical presence and Leonardo Bonucci has improved vastly, cutting out the costly errors from last season. The one we will focus on here instead is Andrea Barzagli.
As one of the more unsung heroes of the team this season he has provided the calm assuredness which helps counter his more fiery partners, he was always expected to become a top centre back but had spent a few years in the wilderness after the World cup in 2006, eventually ending up in Germany with Wolfsburg.
While many scoffed at the time, he clearly learned a great deal from the adventure and has returned a far more complete defender. He can now expect to be a regular starter for club and country and is a lynchpin to the defence which conceded only 19 goals and kept 21 clean sheets on its way to the scudetto.
While I have concentrated on just five players here, it is important to remember that this scudetto was a victory for the whole squad with almost everyone making an important contribution. Conte will be looking to maintain this unity and with a bit more quality up front, no prize will be beyond reach for this group.
Who was the key player for you in Juventus' Scudetto winning campaign? Have your say below...