Open up any newspaper these days and one will be instantly subjected to countless headlines chronicling Juventus’ incessant search for a forward. However, the attack should be the least of their concerns – it’s the defence that needs immediate treatment to restore the balance of the team.
Many of Beppe Marotta’s decisions in the market have been criticised, such as the purchase of Luca Toni and the sale of Diego. However, as recent performances have highlighted, it is perhaps fair to say that Management’s biggest error this season has been their failure to purchase adequate full-backs.
It is well documented that Luigi Delneri loves to play 4-4-2 with extra emphasis on wing play. However, after the team conceded nine goals in their first five opening matches, the Coach realised he would soon have to tweak his formation if Juventus were to start accumulating points. Realising the frailties of his full-backs, Delneri sacrificed the role of the left winger on matchday six against Inter and played Claudio Marchisio, a central midfielder, in that position instead to offer more defensive cover. Interestingly, Juve kept a clean sheet and the shape of the Bianconeri changed from then on.
With the introduction of Alberto Aquilani, the Bianconeri boasted the strongest midfield in Serie A, largely because they understood one another’s strengths and weaknesses. Upon realising Milos Krasic’s inability to track back, Felipe Melo began to cover the space behind him, regularly helping Marco Motta with his defensive duties.
In doing so, Melo gave Aquilani more licence to exploit his eye for a long pass, usually directing it wide to the eager Krasic, and either the former Roma man or Marchisio would then push forward to offer the Serbian another option through the middle. The midfield did it all – scoring the goals and shielding the defence, and the win over Genoa in November perfectly demonstrated their collective strength.
However, with Krasic’s ability dominating the headlines, opposing clubs began finding ways to counter his talent and the Serbian became increasingly double-marked out of games. Ideally, Delneri would have played another winger on the left to pull defenders away but without a reliable left-back, Marchisio had to remain in place. Instead, the midfield began to work twice as hard to ensure a steady supply of goalscoring opportunities.
Whilst Delneri tried to help by slipping in Frederik Sorensen at right-back to release the pressure off the defence, the Dane’s lack of offensive skills meant that the midfield still had to help out in the same way they needed to help Motta cope defensively. Without a proper set of full-backs, the Bianconeri have become entirely dependent on their midfield.
Consider this – before Aquilani’s introduction into the midfield, Juve conceded nine in their first five games. Since Melo’s absence from the middle, the side have conceded eight in their last four matches. Without him, no-one helps to bridge the gap between Krasic and the defence, and Aquilani has become prone to being easily marked out of games.
When one also considers how exhausted Krasic must be, having played non-stop football since the start of the Russian Premier League on March 12, 2010, it is easy to understand why Juve are suffering.
With decent full-backs, the side would not be so reliant on their hard-working midfield and the attack would receive a boost in terms of creativity and support. So is it not high time to give the defence first priority?