Juventus is the phoenix still waiting to rise from the ashes. Caught in a perpetual state of revolution, this season the Bianconeri have managed to disappoint yet again. This time they not only failed to secure Champions League qualification but they failed to reach Europe altogether, causing disillusionment with the project and financial worry.
With an Agnelli back at the helm determined to return to winning ways and fight against the perceived injustices of the Calciopoli scandal, hope was renewed. Moreover, Alessio Secco departed and in came Beppe Marotta, the respected Sporting Director who achieved fourth place last season with Sampdoria. Emphasis was put on lowering the average age, reducing wages and returning to their tradition of investing in Italian players. 12 new players arrived in the summer and many departed to make way for a side fit for the tactical ideals of new Coach Luigi Del Neri – a man obsessed with 4-4-2 and wingers.
At the beginning there was an obvious lack of chemistry between the players as the squad familiarised themselves with one another, but with the introduction of Alberto Aquilani into the starting line-up, Juventus began an undefeated run of form. The partnership formed with Felipe Melo in midfield caused a sensation and the Brazilian blossomed under the guidance of Del Neri. High on confidence, the duo ran the midfield, covered the defence and provided attacking options – Juventus were soon the highest goal-scoring team in the league.
Moreover, Milos Krasic, the winger Juventus coveted throughout the summer, exploded onto the scene. His pace and ability to run past several defenders created chance after chance for the strikers and he even managed to score a few himself. Few opponents knew how to handle him and the service he gave Fabio Quagliarella allowed the striker to make a great impression on the team, fast becoming their top-scorer.
However, cracks soon began to appear. Defensively Juventus were weak and conceding too many goals due to poor chemistry between the centre-backs and lack of talent in the full-back positions. Despite Del Neri’s dependency on wingers for his 4-4-2 formation, the team’s defensive fragility meant the Coach had to forego a left-sided winger and place Claudio Marchisio on the left flank to provide defensive stability and balance.
Dropping a winger meant depending on the likes of Aquilani and Krasic for creativity as Melo and Marchisio were largely concerned with covering the holes at the back to shore up the defence. The team became increasingly reliant on the midfield for both attack and defence and opponents soon realised that by double-marking Krasic and Aquilani, they would effectively cripple Juve’s chances of winning a match.
As such, it quickly became apparent that the squad put together by Marotta lacked balance and the summer market transfer campaign was not very well thought out. The expensive Jorge Martinez was of little help, partly due to poor form but predominately due to his style of play seeing him only flourish in a 4-3-3 shape, whilst the lack of defensive investments meant that the club could not cope with the pressure at the back or with the defensive ineptitude of its wingers. Moreover, all the money spent in the summer failed to yield champions who could make the difference, and the insistence on buying fresh talent left the team bereft of experience and leadership meaning the slightest obstacle affected the team gravely – such as the defeat to Parma in the New Year.
Youthful players void of a winning mentality was a large factor behind poor results this season, as were Del Neri and Marotta’s inexperience in creating a winning cycle when they themselves have won so little. The team lacked bite and the Coach seemed far too accepting of draws when victories should have been targeted. Leads were surrendered to inferior sides such as Catania and Chievo, whilst only the big games could invoke a motivated performance from the players.
Del Neri did well to create a champion out of Felipe Melo and Paolo De Ceglie before his injury, and one must not forget his work in nurturing Frederik Sorensen. However, his inflexible approach to tactics, relentlessly deploying the same formation, in addition to his satisfaction at achieving draws saw Juventus crash out of the Europa league despite remaining undefeated. The Coach simply did not have the courage or tactical knowledge to maintain a role at Juve, nor did he demonstrate the ability to float under increasing amount of pressure. His failure to create an identity and yield consecutive wins effectively cost him his job as Juventus prepare to welcome back a Juventus legend as Coach for next season.
Coach – Luigi Del Neri: Labelled a scapegoat by some due to the few talented players at his disposal, he still boasted a squad better than most yet failed to make Europe. 13 draws in a season proved the Coach’s lack of belief, whilst his bizarre substitutions at times, such as introducing Luca Toni when Juventus were playing on the counter-attack demonstrated his tactical unawareness.
Player of the season – Alessandro Del Piero: Despite his age and limited number of appearances, the player continues to bail the team out of tricky situations, scoring repeatedly and providing creativity to a side often bereft of ideas. His desire to fight until the end, coupled with his ability to encourage his fellow teammates, make him an iconic Captain who has earned another year with Juve.
Turning point – Juventus 1-4 Parma: Before the Christmas break, it seemed certain that Juventus were on their way to securing fourth place. However, in the match against Parma they suffered the loss of their top-scorer Fabio Quagliarella to injury and Felipe Melo to suspension after a red card. Without two key players, Juve lost confidence and spiralled out of control ever since.
Average starting XI: