If anyone knows what it takes to win trophies at Juventus, it’s Antonio Conte. During his 13 years there as a player he won 5 Serie A titles, a Champions League, a UEFA Cup, a UEFA Super Cup, an Intercontinental Cup, an Italian Cup and four Italian Super Cups.
It was no surprise then that after replacing Luigi Delneri as manager in 2011, Conte won the Serie A title at the first attempt and The Old Lady have dominated domestically ever since. Last season Juve retained their Serie A crown, by an even bigger points margin, securing home victories against Napoli (2nd in the league), AC Milan (3rd), Fiorentina (4th), Udinese (5th) and Roma (6th).
Juve also beat Napoli in the Italian Super Cup, reached the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia and were knocked out in the last eight of the Champions League by the eventual winners, Bayern Munich – having beaten both Chelsea and Shakhtar Donetsk in the group stages.
However, Bayern’s 4-0 aggregate win over the Italians was a clear sign that despite their dominance in Italy, Juventus didn’t yet have a squad capable of competing with Europe’s elite clubs; Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid etc. But after using the transfer market wisely, Juve might just be ready to mix it with the big boys once again.
Last year’s league title was based around the best defence in Italy, with Conte’s side keeping a mightily impressive 19 clean sheets. This was largely because of the superb understanding that goalkeeper and captain, Gianluigi Buffon, has developed with his defenders over the last few years.
Juventus’ strongest back three of Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonadro Bonucci registered over 120 combined appearances last year, despite Chiellini being sidelined for a length period of the season with a calf injury. Juve also had the reliable Uruguayan Martin Caceres in reserve and have added to their defence this summer by signing Angelo Ogbonna from Torino for €13m.
It’s safe to say that Juventus’ defence is certainly capable of competing with the best Europe has to offer, and in the two wingback slots of Conte’s preferred 3-5-2/3-5-1-1 formation, he’s spoilt for choice.
Kwadwo Asamoah and Stephan Lichtsteiner remain as the two first choice wing backs but Juventus have plenty of strength in depth in Paolo De Cegile, Mauricio Isla, Simone Padoin and Federico Peluso.
Perhaps the one area even stronger than Juve’s back five is the three-man midfield of Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo – all of whom provide something different. Pirlo gives the side a spectacular range of passing from deep, Marchisio brings creativity and a much needed goal threat higher up the pitch and in between is the tenacious Arturo Vidal, who is fast becoming one of Europe’s best box-to-box midfielders.
Together, Pirlo, Vidal and Marchisio form a superb midfield unit; excellent on the ball, creative and hard-working without it – when Vidal and Marchisio press higher up the pitch it plays perfectly into the hands of Pirlo to sit in the space vacated and wait to receive a pass.
Within touching distance of taking one of those spots in the midfield is the highly talented Paul Pogba.
At just 20 years old, Pogba has similar characteristics to all three men ahead of him in the pecking order. He has great vision like Pirlo, superb dribbling ability like Marchisio and a physical presence similar to Vidal. This season Pogba will be a year older, wiser and stronger and is likely to feature in a rotating midfield as the games come thick and fast.
Further behind Pogba is Luca Marrone who is another good option to have in midfield, and the likes of Isla, Padoin and Asamoah are all capable of filling in on the odd occasion. Juventus are however without Felipe Melo, who has finally joined Galatasaray permanently after spending the last two seasons there on loan, and Emanuele Giaccherini has also left for Sunderland.
One complaint last season was that Juventus clearly lacked a world class striker to compliment the ability throughout the rest of the side. It says a lot that Vidal finished as Juventus’ top goalscorer on 10 league goals – and even more that both Nicklas Bendtner and Nicolas Anelka were seen as short-term options (although together contributed no goals in 13 matches).
That’s not to say that Sebastian Giovinco, Mirko Vucinic, Fabio Quagliarella and Alessandro Matri are bad footballers, they just aren’t of the necessary quality of a side striving to compete in the latter stages of the Champions League.
Conte has certainly taken his side up a level with his two summer signings in this area of the pitch. Fernando Llorente had long been linked with a move to Turin and Juventus officially signed the Spaniard at the beginning of July. At Athletic Bilbao Llorente’s record was 118 goals in 333 matches and he’ll provide an excellent focal point for Juve’s attacks.
Even more impressive though is the capture of Carlos Tevez from Manchester City, for just £10m plus £2m in add-ons subject to performances. Tevez is now entering what should be the prime of his career and is a real sign of Conte’s intent for the season ahead.
Having averaged a goal every three matches at Manchester United, where he was often left to do Cristiano Ronaldo’s dirty work, Tevez was commonly the main striker at Manchester City and this allowed him to add goals to his game – 73 in 138 matches to be precise.
With six strikers now on their books it’s likely that as many as two forwards will leave Juve before the end of the transfer window, with Quagliarella being heavy linked all summer with a host of mid-table Premier League clubs.
After the arrivals of Tevez and Llorente, it can be argued that Juventus haven’t had such a strong potential XI since the days of Lilian Thuram, Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluca Zambrotta, Patrick Vieira, Pavel Nedved, David Trezeguet, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alessandro Del Piero in the 2005-06 season. Juve will be clear favourites to win Serie A for a third successive year but Conte will also expect his side to go even further in Europe this season.
Having added some genuine attacking talent in the final third, to go with an extremely competitive midfield and highly experienced defence, Juventus may now be ready to compete once again with the best Europe has to offer.