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Second in the Serie A, only 2 points behind the “Rossoneri” from Milan sound pretty good. Usually, Juve’s ambitions actually are to win the “Scudetto”, or to reach at least the Champions League. This season, though, the ambitions in Northern Italy were slightly different to the past. The Agnelli, the family who owns “The Old Lady” decided to change their club ruthlessly and appointed Antonio Conte as new manager. Nevertheless they still demanded the qualification for the Champions League from the 42-year-old former “Bianconeri”.
Before Conte took over, Juventus was in a huge crisis. They had only finished 7th in two consecutive seasons even though they clearly had had different ambitions. It’s difficult to say how this misery began but the Moggi scandal in 2006 can be considered as origin of troubled 5 years with 5 different coaches. First they were relegated and could be promoted one season later as first of the Serie B. In the following two years, they finished twice as 3rd and finally the two 7th positions before the era (?) Conte.
As the date of Conte’s appointment right after the season 10/11 (31.05.2011) shows, a lot of work was waiting for the Italian. The two previous seasons had left marks that needed to be eliminated first. Psychological work was given priority to build the players’ self-assurance up again. Done, Conte could start training his more or less revolutionary tactics with the team.
Antonio Conte surely isn’t a normal coach. He can be classified into the group of young, ambitious and utterly gifted coaches to which André Villas-Boas, Massimiliano Allegri and Pep Guardiola belong among others. His career began as 9-year-old stripling at Juventina Lecce under his father, Cosimino Conte. Later the former midfielder made 89 appearances (1 goal) for US Lecce before signing at Juventus in 1991. He played 419 matches (44 goals) for The Old Lady before finishing his career in the “Stadio delle Alpi” in 2004. Altogether he was almost 20 years in Sisport, Juve’s old training ground.
His coaching career has seen more facets though. His first job as a manager was in 2006 in Arezzo (Serie B) where he was fired after 9 match days and appointed in the same season 14 matches before the end of the season. Later on he managed AS Bari, Atalanta Bergamo and AC Siena for one season each before joining Juventus Turin.
As already said, Antonio Conte is a more or less revolutionary coach. Before signing in Turin, he had acquired renown with his 4-2-4. In 34 matches as manager, he hasn’t used that formation not even once. He preferred using offensive and defensive 4-3-3 formations, flat 4-4-2 with two defensive midfielders, 4-2-3-1 and his highly successful 3-5-2. His philosophy includes a lot of possession, one-touch-football, beautiful plays and thus domination. He also loves to talk about a “permanent evolution of tactics”.
When he arrived, Juve’s former captain (6 years) didn’t have the necessary types of players to establish his tactics. Many players left the club, 14 players were bought for 92.45 million Euro. 56% of the current squad didn’t know each other before Conte took over, what didn’t simplify his task at all. Nevertheless the twentyfold Italian national player (1 goal) wanted to start a project and finish it successfully before 2013. The current success even promises an era lasting more than two years…
In Vinovo, Juve’s new training ground, the players reverently compare their manager to a hammer. He can spend hours explaining his methods and ideas to his players who are following him with blind faith. The Italian is incorporating his players attributes he was once even named after: Cervello e polmoni (brain and lungs). In less than 3 months, the father of a 4-year-old son has formed a desperate bunch of players to one of the best, perhaps even the best team in Italy. His most precious signing was undoubtedly Andrea Pirlo, the outstanding player of the current season.
Since his transfer from AC Milan to the nemesis from Turin, Andrea Pirlo has been, just like the whole team, kind of reborn. He has played in two different positions. 5 times Conte played him in the defensive midfield (obviously in a 4-4-2) where he didn’t score any goal and didn’t deliver any assist either. In his 24 matches in the central midfield (4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 and 3-5-2), he scored 2 goals and gave 10 assists. He is the best passer of the Serie A and plays on an average 83 passes a game of which 86.1 are completed (2057/2389). In the 5-0 over Fiorentina, the 32-year-old even played 137 passes of which 134 (97.8%) were completed! In my opinion, Andrea Pirlo is even at eye level with Xavi from Barcelona!
Juventus’ key to success is on the one hand the great defense but also the amazingly well organized midfield. In the defense, Giorgio Chiellini is the unquestioned boss. He has organized the defense that well yet, that it’s the best defense in the Serie A with only 17 conceded goals. 3 tackles, 3.8 interceptions and 6.3 clearances per match are as amazing as 86.2% of completed passes. Conte has also made him to one of the best on his position again. We shouldn’t forget Gianluigi Buffon though, who is one of the best goal keepers in Europe again. He was already written off before Antonio Conte took over but the new manager decided to trust his former team mate. A truly very wise decision.
As already mentioned, Juventus’ midfield is very well organized and their key to success. Thanks to (mainly) Arturo Vidal, Claudio Marchisio and Andrea Pirlo, Juventus Turin has the highest possession of ball of the Serie A (next to AS Roma): 60% on an average. They create most chances a game: 18. Their passing is the best as well (next to the Roma and AC Milan): 84%. No other team plays more short passes a game: 488. Their build-up play is very well structured as well: 33% of the attacks are built up over the left side, 34% through the middle and 33% over the right wing.
Apparently, Conte’s philosophy is being almost perfectly implemented by his players. Conte’s hammer seems to be successful. Another very clever part of his tactics is the way how he is creating space for his playmaker (Andrea Pirlo) as well as for his full-backs. His 4-3-3 shows this very well: His forward line occupies the back four of the opponent and Vidal and Marchisio are pushing forward brutally, occupying at least 2 midfielders of the other team. A lot of space has already been created for Pirlo. In the same time the full-backs are pushing forward as well and since the defense is occupied by the 3 strikers, the other midfielders have to cover Juve’s full-backs. Thus, a lot of space has been created for Pirlo and Juve’s dangerous attacks can be started.
To sum up, Antonio Conte has really improved Juventus. They have become to one of the best teams in Italy and will surely play an important role in the upcoming Champions League season if they buy some more great players. Their passing is often spectacular and their axis Buffon-Chiellini-Pirlo is very strong and will surely have a great impact on the Italian national team too. Nevertheless, Juve has still some weaknesses. Even though they create more scoring chances than any other team in the Serie A, they are struggling to convert them, which is a reason for their 14 ties in 30 games. Their defense is the best in Europe but they have troubles in aerial duels. This still needs to be improved, probably with new signings.
After all, the title race in Italy will be between AC Milan and Juventus Turin and I would be really happy if Antonio Conte’s men would win the Scudetto. I think they really deserve it as only unbeaten team in Europe. Furthermore Conte’s fascinating work should be accredited with a title and the Serie A is the only competition Juve is still participating in. It won’t be easy though, Milan has a strong team and Juve needs to convert their opportunities way better to avoid dropping points. No matter how this season will end for Juve though, of one thing they can be sure:
Conte’s hammer is successful.
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