Juventus back on top in Serie A; a momentous year for Antonio Conte and his men

With a 2-0 win over Cagliari on Sunday, Juventus have reclaimed their Serie A crown for the first time since the Calciopoli scandal. Their first official Scudetto since 2002-03 was secured when Inter beat second-placed AC Milan 4-2 in the Derby della Madonnina, to the delight of the Turin giants’ faithful. It has been quite the turnaround for the Bianconeri this term, with Antonio Conte bringing the club back to former greatness.

Looking at Juventus’ season, it has been a revolutionary 12 months for the club. After the sleeping giants toiled to a seventh placed finish last term, missing out on European competition once more, Luigi Del Neri was shown the door and fans favourite and former hero on the pitch Antonio Conte installed as manager. The 42-year-old had a monumental task; reinstate Italian football’s most successful club back to their former greatness.

Juventus may have huffed and puffed at times this term and have drawn the most games in the division (15), but the telling fact is that they are undefeated and have won 22 of their 37 games. On occasion they have struggled to score, but the side have shown a steel and stubbornness, refusing to be beaten, that takes the club’s fans back to the days of Ferrara, Montero or Gentile.

Juve’s rejuvenation has come after a comprehensive overhaul of the squad last summer, with a raft of new players coming into the club. The side’s midfield has been particularly impressive this season, with new men Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal running the show for Conte’s team, alongside the goalscoring threat of Claudio Marchisio and the industrious Simone Pepe.

At the back stalwart Gianluigi Buffon continues to impress as one of the world’s best goalkeepers, whilst in Giorgio Chiellini they have as an imposing a central defender as there is in the European game currently. In attack, new man Mirko Vucinic has given a cutting edge and eye for goal, whilst Alessandro Matri is the latest in a long line of predatory Italian strikers.

The future is certainly bright for the Old Lady, as the newly constructed Juventus Stadium gives the side an imposing and financially lucrative home, with further investment in the playing squad expected in the summer. A big name striker is on the wishlist, with links to Premier League marksmen Luis Suarez, Robin van Persie and Carlos Tevez already in the offing, as well as Real Madrid’s Gonzalo Higuain. Add to this another top-drawer defender, and Juventus will take some beating domestically and in Europe next season.

A home fixture against Atalanta next Sunday is all that stands between Conte and an undefeated debut season at the club, quite the achievement if and when it happens. With the Coppa Italia final against Napoli the week after, the Bianconeri’s fans could well be celebrating a memorable and momentous domestic double.

Although comparing Juventus to Barcelona is not a fair likeness due to differing styles and mentalities of the two teams, the fact that homegrown coaches have been behind recent success stands out. Pep Guardiola’s ability to demand the respect of the Camp Nou playing squad originates from his achievements on the pitch for the Blaugrana, and Conte’s no-nonsense playing career for the Turin club has been a key feature in the unity of the Juventus contingent this term. Juve certainly have some way to go to match the achievements of Barcelona, but even the Catalan side have not gone an entire season without defeat in recent memory.

The real acid test will be competing in the Champions League once more, as Juve take on Europe’s best and will have a more strenuous fixture list. AC Milan have bemoaned that their exertions in Europe have taken away from their domestic campaign this term, and the new Scudetto holders will have to battle on two fronts next season. However, with club icon Conte at the helm, a motivated squad set to be strengthened and a dedicated fanbase, it is fair to say that Juventus are back amongst the powers of European football once more.


A Competitive Serie A Stands Italy in Good Stead for Euro 2012

Despite the importance of club football, Euro 2012 dominates the majority of the continent’s players’ thoughts going into the second half of the season. Italian football has had it’s share of ups and downs over the last decade, with the elation of winning the World Cup in 2006 counteracted by scandal in the domestic game; Italy need a strong performance in the tournament.

Cesare Prandelli has a wealth of talent at his disposal, and with Serie A more competitive than ever,Italy stand a real chance of success in Ukraine and Poland. Despite the Azzurri’s qualities, a tough Group C awaits, with Croatia, Republic of Ireland and current world champions Spain standing between them and the knockout stages. Vicente del Bosque’s men will provide the toughest test, and it is important that Prandelli gets team selection correct; but who will be in the squad for the competition?


Although Prandelli has some tough choices to make throughout his squad, the decision of which goalkeeper to play is an easy one. Gianluigi Buffon is still one of the best keepers in European football, and his form for Juventus this season has been a key reason for the Turin club’s unbeaten start to the campaign. Morgan de Sanctis, Salvatore Sirigu and new Palermo signing Emiliano Viviano will battle it out for the backup position.


Italian football is famed for its dependable and disciplined rearguard, and former greats such as Nesta, Cannavaro and Baresi have typified the type of solid players that have been nurtured in the country. Giorgio Chiellini has matured as a player over the last number of years and will be one of the first names on the Italian teamsheet if fit. Mattia Cassani, Andrea Barzagli and Andrea Ranocchia will be in contention to partner Chiellini; don’t write off Napoli captain Paolo Cannavaro to make the grade if his current form continues either.

At left back Federico Balzaretti will be in direct competition with Domenico Criscito, with the Palermo man likely to get the nod. On the other flank AC Milan youngster Ignazio Abate has forced his way into the national set-up, but Prandelli also has the option of playing Christian Maggio at the back.


Italy have a blend of young, promising talents and experienced stalwarts to choose from in the centre of the park. Old heads Daniele de Rossi and Andrea Pirlo will be key figures in the national set up, with Simone Pepe and Antonio Nocerino also in the international mix. Claudio Marchisio is in great form and has turned into an important player for Juventus and Italy, whilst Alberto Aquilani will go if fit.

Ricardo Montolivo has lost some of the form that made him a target for AC Milan and now is at risk of missing out, whilst Sebastian Giovinco is on the borderline of inclusion or expulsion.


Italy have a multitude of attacking players that could make the difference in a close game, but inevitably a number of players will miss out. Manchester City’s temperamental forward Mario Balotelli has emerged as first choice striker, and could either be the saviour or villain of the piece. Alessandro Matri has shown excellent form for Juventus over the last 12 months, but competition for places in Turin could threaten his starting place.

Giampaolo Pazzini is starting to step up to he plate at Inter, and with Antonio Cassano and Giuseppe Rossi both likely to miss the tournament through health concerns and injury, should make the squad. Marco Borriello, Alberto Gilardino and Pablo Osvaldo are also in the mix, but at least one or two of these will miss out. An outside choice is veteran Antonio di Natale, who continues to hit the net for Udinese.

Likely line-up: Buffon, Balzeretti, Chiellini, Barzagli, Abate, Pirlo, De Rossi, Aquilani, Marchisio, Balotelli, Matri
Subs: De Sanctis, Maggio, Ranocchia, Pepe, Montolivo, Nocerino, Pazzini

Italy stand a real chance of making the latter stages of the European Championships, but Prandelli must get the mix of his side right amid a plethora of top drawer players. Spain will provide tough opposition in the pool stage, but with an exciting squad at his disposal Prandelli may follow in the footsteps of Marcello Lippi, and lead the nation to international glory.

PublishedSerie A Talk

Is Alessandro Matri the man to fire Juventus back into the top four?

Juventus need a shot in the arm after a below-par 2010/11 campaign, and have vowed to spend big this summer to try and recapture former glories. Antonio Conte has inherited an inconsistent side which at times seems to lack self-belief; a side that does not have the fire-power to strike fear into the hearts of opposing defences like yester-year. Despite the continued presence of evergreen legend Alessandro Del Piero, the past exploits of frontmen such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Trezeguet have been replaced by inadequate quality, and the Turin side need a high calibre marksman to fire them back into the top four. Enter new signing Alessandro Matri.

The 26-year-old forward joined the Bianconeri on the last day of the January transfer window from Cagliari, and was a key reason the team managed to finish 7th – had he not contributed nine goals in the sixteen games he appeared in, Juve’s plight may have been much worse. With Fabio Quagliarella injured and Amauri out on loan at Parma, Matri struck up an understanding with fellow frontman Del Piero that promised to fire Juventus back into contention. It was no surprise when the club announced last week they had signed him on a permanent basis for a fee of €15.5 million.

Matri built his reputation at the Stadio Sant’Elia over three seasons and quickly became the Rossoblu’s main goal-threat. Having made his international debut and receiving praise from Italian legend Franco Baresi, who has publicly stated Matri is an important player in the future success of the Azzurri, the stage is set for the former Milan youth player to meet his potential. With a full pre-season with his new club and added vigour around the Stadio Olimpico, Matri, despite competition for places, should command a starting spot in the black and white side’s attack in 2011/12.

Although Del Piero may still have the ability to score goals for Juve, Matri offers a ruthless finishing ability and an eye for goal Juventus need if they are to get back into Scudetto contention. The goals Matri contributed in 2010/11 were at telling times, and the reserved frontman has netted in big games, such as in wins against Inter and Roma, and in his debut for the national side against Ukraine. Having scored 15% of the Old Lady’s goals in 2010/11, despite only playing for half a season, Matri has the consistency and predatory tendencies to find the back of the net on a regular basis for the Turin club, something that has been lacking and a key reason in their recent demise.

With big name forwards such as Sergio Aguero reportedly on Giuseppe Marotta’s summer wishlist, Matri may face further competition for a starting place next campaign, but many Bianconeri fans will be elated he will be playing for their side. Conte has an old fashioned Italian goalgetter in the mould of Ravenelli and Vialli to call upon in the club’s current lowly predicament.

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