Club Focus – Juventus – When in Rome

A team like Juventus walk hand in hand with the weight of extreme pressure. Great things are expected from this new look squad and much is demanded from the new Coach, Ciro Ferrara. To further add to the pressure, the Azzurri Coach, Marcello Lippi, has publicly predicted that Juventus will win the highly coveted Scudetto this term, much to the annoyance of José Mourinho. The ‘Special One’ has openly criticised Lippi for making a prediction, describing him as “unintelligent” and “disrespectful”. Surely a man is allowed to make a prediction and most would have risen above the comment. After all, Lippi’s heart will always skip to the beat of the black and white and bias is expected from a man who took the Bianconeri to new heights and who mentored Ferrara throughout his coaching career. Whilst favouritism is to be expected, perhaps Lippi would have done well to act neutral despite his affection for his former team, especially as the prediction has only served to add further pressure on the inexperienced shoulders of Ferrara, who is desperately trying to reiterate that the title remains Inter’s to lose.

Despite the pressure, the Bianconeri got off to a winning, albeit rather nervous, start to the campaign. Unfortunately, they started the season with a home match against Chievo Verona, heavily loaded with squad injuries and suspensions. Momo Sissoko, Sebastian Giovinco, Alessandro Del Piero and Jonathan Zebina were all out injured and the hotly anticipated new signing, Felipe Melo, was suspended for the opener. This left starting positions available for both Christian Poulsen, the previously unwanted Dane, and Tiago Mendes. Surprisingly, both started off well in the first half.

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The last match between the two sides saw an inept Juventus backline that allowed Sergio Pellissier to grab a hat trick and manage an unlikely draw against a mentally fatigued side. The Flying Donkeys arrived at Turin’s Stadio Olimpico on Sunday hoping for a similar run of luck but came face to face with a well balanced and mentally strong Juventus squad. As the whistle blew, Juve burst onto the pitch, running and shooting, immediately troubling the Verona side. Only seven minutes later, the Bianconeri nearly took the lead, heading wide from a corner, but managed to atone for the error three minutes later. Diego, ever the dependable creative force, delivered a beautiful free kick to the box allowing Vincenzo Iaquinta to head it into the net and give Juve the lead.

Diego’s prowess did not stop there as he was constantly terrorising the Veronese defensive line, slipping into clever positions to truly threaten the opposition. Amauri and Iaquinta nearly doubled their advantage whilst Pellissier came close to levelling the score on the other end had it not been for the fine performance of the Azzurri’s defensive duo. Fabio Cannavaro proved that he still has got what it takes and ensured that the leaky defence of last year would be nothing more than a distant memory. After half-time, Juve’s fitness levels dropped off and allowed Chievo the chance to make their mark on the match. The Brazilian playmaker still attempted to create chances and Juve managed a counter attack at one point but Chievo continued to thrust forward in hopes of securing a point. Fortunately for the home fans, the opposition were held back and Juve held on to their slim advantage.

Ferrara was under no illusions regarding his team’s inability to truly shine in their first match and had it not been for the divine efforts of new signing Cannavaro and a few moments of glory from Zdeněk Grygera, we would have witnessed another upset early in the season, having just recovered from Inter’s draw with Bari. The most worrying aspect of the match was the manner in which the squad disintegrated after half time. Noticeably fatigued and barely able to continue running up and down a pitch against a healthy and fit Veronese squad, one cannot help but wonder whether all the preparation work, coupled with the high number of pre-season friendlies, had taken its toll on a squad that have a packed schedule ahead of them this season. Even the absent Felipe Melo, who has been recently criticised for his less than glowing performances in the Bianconeri stripes in pre-season, conceded: “In the last few outings, I have felt a bit of tiredness from so many games and continual travel.”

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Juventus, unlike any other Italian club, form the backbone of the national team. Their players are under further pressure as not only do they have to take part in domestic league and European Cup matches but they also have international duty to contend with leaving them thoroughly exhausted. Whilst the Italian giants have all gone through rigorous pre-seasons, the presumed relegation battlers have all had time-off to relax and compose themselves, allowing them to start off their campaign revitalised and raring to go. Perhaps this would explain why the likes of Bari were able to hold-off Inter and why Chievo marginally failed to secure a draw against a visibly shattered squad.

Despite their inadequacies, Juventus secured all three points and proved that the one area in the squad that has been highly criticised, the Juve defence, was actually the area that earned them full points on their first match day. Furthermore, the game also highlighted the splendour of Alessio Secco’s work in the transfer market this summer. Diego has truly reignited a dull midfield and brought back warm feelings reminiscent of the time Juve held Zinedine Zidane within their ranks. In addition, had it not been for Cannavaro’s governing of the backline, Juventus would have once again fallen prey to the incompetence of their defence. As for Ferrara, he has already demonstrated his willingness to give talented youth players a chance thanks to the introduction of Luca Marrone. Now it is up to him to maintain momentum to take advantage of the Nerazzurri’s fall from grace.

Away from Serie A, the Champions League draw took place yesterday in Monaco. Prior to the draw, Coach Ciro Ferrara assured fans that success in Europe was one of the objectives this season. Having successfully conquered the domestic league more than anyone, the coveted European Cup has not, in the eyes of many fans, made it to the Juventus side of Turin enough times. The group phase draw was finally announced and Juventus have avoided playing all English and Spanish sides. Nonetheless, they will still face tough teams that will prevent them from an easy path to qualification. The Old Lady will find herself up against both France and Israel’s league winners as well as last season’s runners up in the Bundesliga.

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Juventus’ aim will be to conquer all sides in their group stage and finish top of the group to avoid playing the eventual winners of the other factions. On paper, Bayern Munich will provide the Old Lady with her toughest test at this stage. Despite having reached the quarter-finals of last year’s tournament and having gone out to the eventual winners Barcelona, the German giants have been struggling in the league this year – having only picked up two points from their opening three games. Despite possessing Real Madrid’s target Frank Ribery and having signed Mario Gomez in the summer, the team has struggled with the Coach Louis Van Gaal’s formation and lack both motivation and bite in attack. With a far from great goalkeeper in Michael Rensing, Juventus should be able to get past this top-seeded team.

As for Bordeaux, they had a terrific pre-season and a perfect start to their campaign, having won all three of their opening league games. Boasting the likes of Yoann Gourcuff and Marouane Chamakh in attack, the French champions will provide a tough game for the Turin based outfit. Finally we have Maccabi Haifa and whilst they aren’t exactly tipped to win, one must not underestimate the power of the Israeli champions. Having thrashed Red Bull Salzburg 5-1 on aggregate, the Israelis have been slowly gaining momentum and remain undefeated in their last nine games. Faced with a long trip to Israel, the Bianconeri will have to treat the match with the utmost respect, after all, this was the team that created Liverpool star Yossi Benayoun and defeated Manchester United in the Champions League group phase in 2002.

However, for the moment, Juventus will only be thinking of Roma as they travel to the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday for their second league match. It will be Ferrara’s first real test against a worthy team, although worthy may no longer be the word to describe Roma these days. Whilst they may have a great history, their present is verging on the disastrous. With even more defensive problems than Juventus could ever imagine, the Romans have been leaking goals quicker than Jose Mourinho has been dishing out insults. The future looks bleak for the Giallorossi should their form remain as it was at the end of last season. Having lost to Genoa controversially, I Lupi will either experience extreme low morale or intense bitterness, where revenge will be their only objective.

For Juventus fans, let’s hope it’s the former and as far as Luciano Spalletti’s comments go, he appears to have lost faith in his squad. “I cannot be asked to win the title if we approach the first game of the season with a defender, much needed for some time, signed only one day before kick-off.” Spalletti roared as he passed on the blame. Meanwhile Mourinho thinks that the Lupi Coach should be winning plenty considering the strength of the Roman squad and perhaps he has a point.

Armed with a heavily reinforced squad and a winning mentality, Juventus are the favourites to win this clash of the titans and are hoping that Felipe Melo will recover in time to mark his debut for the Bianconeri in Serie A. Despite the defensive problems Roma are suffering, they still possess undeniable strength and pace. Faced against Roma’s attacking formation, the Old Lady’s defence will struggle in the back. For a moment, it appeared that the higher powers at Juventus read all the published criticisms and agreed that as far as their fullbacks go, this obvious weakness was standing in-between them and any title hopes they may harbour.
And so, Juventus fans were pleased with news that Juve were in the race to sign another defender, most likely to be Fabio Grosso of Lyon. Whilst Jonathan Zebina and Zdenek Grygera are hardly the benchmark by which all defenders should judge themselves, truthfully they are still light years ahead of Cristian Molinaro and the inexperienced Paolo De Ceglie who currently are Juve’s only options on the left. Therefore, when Alessio Secco rubbished reports that Rafinha was on his way to Turin, fans breathed a sigh of relief as that meant that the one signing President Giovanni Cobolli Gigli mentioned on Wednesday would hopefully occupy the left back position. This would leave the new look Juve playing with practically the entire Azzurri defence. Now that should please Marcello Lippi…

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