Well, there it is. The Old Lady of Turin is back at the summit of Serie A, Champions of Italy for the first time in five years. After the hell of Calciopoli and the purgatory of a season spent in Serie B, Andrea Agnelli, Beppe Marotta and Fabio Paratici delivered the ingredients for a successful team and the intensity, drive and intelligence of Antonio Conte moulded them into exactly that. In winning the Scudetto in his debut season on the Juventus bench the 42 year-old coach has followed in the footsteps of some true greats of the modern era, matching the feat accomplished by Fabio Capello, Marcello Lippi and Giovanni Trapattoni.
It seems almost laughable that less than a year ago many were sceptical of his appointment, wondering how he would rise to the challenge of leading one of European football’s truly giant clubs and how his beloved 4-2-4 would cope with the complexities of one of the most tactically astute leagues in the world. Simply put, he passed with flying colours. Instilling a belief in his players that they were always good enough to clinch victory and a desire to never lose, Conte abandoned his trademark formation almost before the season began.
A quick look at the Formations Summary here on WhoScored.com shows he has deployed his team in five different formations this season, utilising 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 most regularly (14 and 13 matches respectively) but it is the ease with which they have switched that most impresses. Almost to a man it has made no difference which framework they are asked to line up in, the players have given their all to ensure Conte’s orders are carried out.
That they have been so successful in doing so is mostly attributable to one factor; whatever formation they were asked to play, the tactical system remained the same. Conte has made his players value possession and they enjoyed an average of 61.1%, comfortably the best in Italy and only bettered by Barcelona (69.5%) and Bayern Munich (63.6%) anywhere in Europe. By playing a pressing game and condensing the field they were able to retrieve the ball quickly and, once they had it, their passing was superb, again topping all Serie A clubs with 85.4%, a total good enough for fifth place on the continent.
At the centre of that passing game – far more direct and patient than the tiqui-taca of Barcelona – is the man responsible for the shelving of the 4-2-4, Andrea Pirlo. Placed back in the middle of a midfield trio after being shunted out to the left hand side by Massimiliano Allegri in his final injury plagued season at Milan, the 32 year-old has been perhaps the sides’ best player this term. His 3134 completed passes (made at an average of 87.1 per game) is a higher total than anyone in Europe’s top five leagues and is over 800 passes more than his nearest domestic rival, Lazio’s Cristian Ledesma (2321). That he has done so at a completion rate of 86.9% is similarly impressive while his league highs of 13 assists and 3.5 key passes per game is simply stunning from a man written off less than twelve months ago.
Yet he is far from alone with Andrea Barzagli (89.1%), Leonardo Bonucci (88.7%) and Giorgio Chiellini (87.3%) all completing at least 1500 passes at a more accurate rate than their team-mate. Of course Pirlo attempts more difficult passes than that defensive trio but they have contributed to that eye-catching team figure as no fewer than six first team regulars made over fifty accurate passes per match.
One criticism of the team has been the lack of a regular goal-scorer and seeing that fifteen players have topped Alessandro Matri’s team high of 10 goals is perhaps concerning until noting that no less than eighteen different players have found the back of the net during the campaign. With five of those registering at least six goals, Juventus have lead the way with 46 strikes from open play for yet another league best with only Milan scoring more total goals.
All those numbers have been impressive but, when it comes to this Juventus, never has the old maxim that defence wins championships been more appropriate. The Bianconeri have been positively miserly, not only conceding just 19 goals but allowing a meagre 9.2 shots per game, a total again only bettered by Bayern Munich and Barcelona. Gigi Buffon has been reduced to a watching brief in most games, making just 79 saves on his way to a jaw-dropping 21 clean sheets.
Writing for The Guardian in 2003, James Richardson famously called their 27th triumph ‘every bit as startling as snow in Siberia’ and, when looking at their dominance throughout this campaign, it is hard not to draw the same conclusion here. Antonio Conte and this Juventus have certainly started off a new era in impressive fashion and all that remains is to see whether they can win trophies with the regularity which prompted that comment eight years ago. With the Coppa Italia Final against Napoli less than two weeks away they will have the opportunity even before next season begins.