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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.

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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.

Published – http://www.footballitaliano.co.uk/p6_66_6317_is-alessandro-matri-the-man-to-fire-juventus-back-into-the-top-four.html

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