Much maligned since their promotion in 2007, the Juventus defence worked to ensure not even a three goal lead was a safe one. Weak out wide, only the emergence of Giorgio Chiellini as a central defender under Claudio Ranieri, plus the rebirth of a Chievo-like Nicola Legrottalie held it together. Season 2009/10 saw Juve finish with a negative goal difference and concede more than relegated Atalanta. While last season was an improvement in terms of goals conceded, it was the same old story of a defence not exuding the confidence it needs to flourish.
It is said a winning team is built from the back and for Juve it seems better this campaign. Antonio Conte’s defence does offer a sense of stability sorely lacking previously and looks as if it can hold a lead. The statistics show it is miserly, with only seven goals conceded. A stat after the Milan match in October indicated opponents were spending on average only five minutes per game in the Juve half, while the Old Lady has allowed the least amount of shots per game (9.2) of any side in Serie A. This has been helped by the return to form of Gigi Buffon. In truth he has not had much to do, but after some shaky moments, he is edging closer and closer towards his best.
Conte’s tactical system means the midfield trio of Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo press high. They work hard without the ball to harass and chase. Part of the reason opponents spend so little time in the Juventus half is because of their efforts. The Lecce native wants his defenders, when on the ball, to work it out of defence rather than go long, which is also helped by the fact Pirlo is a willing recipient ahead.
Last season saw the arrival of Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli. Bonucci is comfortable on the ball, which works with Conte’s desire for building play. It can also lead to moments of overconfidence, as seen last Sunday against Palermo, but luckily for Juve, Josip Ilicic was unable to take advantage. Bonucci made 82 passes at 91% accuracy, getting on the ball even more than Pirlo (79 passes) against the Sicilians. Barzagli has grown in stature this season, becoming a real team leader. The ex-Palermo man has regained his place in the Italian side thanks to his performances in Turin.
The arrival of Stephan Lichsteiner from Lazio has helped transform the defence. His all-action style sees him making lung-busting runs down the right flank to assist in attack, but never shirking his defensive duties. His balance and overall ability was something Juventus has sorely lacked since 2006. The opposite side is still an issue. Chiellini is a temporary solution, suited long-term to the centre of defence. Paolo De Ceglie is yet to prove himself defensively, while Conte possibly acted in haste by sending Reto Ziegler to Turkey before the season began, considering the other alternative is Fabio Grosso.
Criticised in the past and with question marks still surrounding it (for example, the match against Genoa where the lead was relinquished late on and early on versus Palermo), the defence must prove itself over a longer period of time. Rumours abound of a January capture to help strengthen it; still, the early signs are positive for a backline and a team looking to regain its credibility and Scudetto material status.
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