Juventus
    Juventus
      21.05.2017 17:00 - in: The team S

      The men behind the legend

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      From Gianluigi Buffon between the sticks right through to Gonzalo Higuain in the box, Juventus.com analyses how the Bianconeri have made it six straight Scudetto titles

      THE DEFENCE

      They say that strikers win you matches, but defences win you trophies. This has never been truer when applied to Juventus. This season the Bianconeri’s backline is the best in the land yet again, conceding just 26 goals in 37 league games, but not just this season. This defensive unit has been the strongest in Serie A for each and every campaign since 2011.

      When analysing the individual efforts within the record-breaking rearguard, there’s simply no other place to start than club captain Gianluigi Buffon. Aged 39, the Italy goalkeeper continues to defy logic with his non-stop heroics between the sticks.

      No matter the opponent, Gigi can be depended on to make that crucial save at the crucial moment. Needless to say, he has caught the eye yet again in Europe too, not least with his hat-trick of world-class blocks in Lyon and an extraordinary clean sheet over two quarter-final legs against Barcelona.

      There have been so many that one could be forgiven for losing track of Buffon’s personal milestones over the 2016/17 campaign: from setting a new club record for minutes on the pitch in Serie A to making his 1000th professional career appearance in March, not to mention reaching a landmark 100 matches in the Champions League earlier this month, there’ been plenty to celebrate for one of the greatest players the game has and ever is likely to see.

      Whenever Buffon has ever been afforded a well-deserved rest, he and the remainder of the team have not been let down by deputy keeper Norberto Neto. Just like last season, the Brazilian stopper featured for every game of the Bianconeri’s run to the Coppa Italia glory this term.

      Meanwhile, both Buffon and Neto have been imparting their knowledge on 20-year-old Emil Audero. The Indonesian-born Primavera graduate is one of Italy’s most promising keepers and is learning the ropes from the best around.

      It should be no coincidence that Juventus’ defensive unit includes five of the six players to have won all of the last six Scudetto titles: Buffon, Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini and Stephan Lichtsteiner.

      Forming the world-renowned BBC trio, Bonucci, Barzagli and Chiellini are among the very best backline operators in the business and, yet again, have been keeping many a striker in their pocket this season.

      Bonucci and Chiellini have proved they can produce the goods in both boxes, chipping in with goals – and some big ones at that – while they’ve also celebrated notable milestones: 300 Serie A matches with Juve for Chiellini and 300 in all competitions for Bonucci.

      One hundred and seventy-three appearances make Lichtsteiner the third-highest capped player for Juventus in Serie A since the winning cycle began in 2011. A superb servant to the club down the years, the ‘Swiss Express’ has been Mr Reliable once again in the right-back slot this term.

      Signed in the summer after eight successful seasons at Barcelona, Dani Alves has adapted excellently to Italian football, whilst bringing every ounce of his big-game experience and winning mentality to the fore with Juventus.

      An exuberant presence both on and off the pitch, Alves has been a breath of fresh air in Serie A, exceptional in the Champions League and decisive in last week’s Coppa Italia final, scoring the opener in the 2-0 win against Lazio. Six goals and seven assists across all competitions make for a staggering return from the Brazilian in his first campaign for the club.

      Juve’s left side of defence, meanwhile, has been marshalled brilliantly by Alex Sandro and Kwadwo Asamoah. Since joining the Bianconeri in the summer of 2015, Sandro has established himself as one of Serie A’s outstanding full-backs. Attentive in defence, the Brazilian has really come into his own when Juve are on the attack: marauding runs, pinpoint crosses and even the odd goal are all part of his game and have understandably made him a fans’ favourite.

      Asamoah had already embraced unfamiliar territory in his early seasons with Juventus, excelling at left wing after years of success in central midfield with Udinese. This term, the Ghanaian has added to his skillset with a string of assured displays in the left-back position – a sign not only of impressive versatility, but also great dedication and willingness to help the team wherever the manager has needed him.

      2016/17 has arguably been the best for strength in depth in Juve’s defence. Whereas before, the centre-back region would be thin on the ground if a member or two of the BBC were out injured, now Massimiliano Allegri can count upon the services of Daniele Rugani and Medhi Benatia, both rock-solid at the back while partial to a goal or two at the other end as well.

      A special mention must also go to Patrice Evra, who represented the black and white stripes with professionalism and pride for two and a half years before transferring to Marseille in January 2017.

      THE MIDFIELD

      Juventus’ midfield had seen widespread change in 2015 following the departures of Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal and the central department lost another key member the following summer when Paul Pogba returned to Manchester United for a world-record fee.

      Whilst making up for the Frenchman’s absence – not to mention Claudio Marchisio’s anterior cruciate ligament injury – was never going to be straightforward, the Bianconeri have managed to do so, in no small part thanks to the superb seasons enjoyed by midfield duo Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanic.

      There can be no doubt that Khedira is relishing a new lease of life in Turin. His 30 league appearances are the most the Germany international has made in a single season for any club he has represented. Already famed for his imposing physical presence and composure on the ball, Sami has added intelligent runs into the box and a genuine goal threat to his game, netting five times in Serie A this term.

      Arguably Roma’s best player of the previous five seasons, Juventus knew they were signing a world-class act in Miralem Pjanic last summer. With eight goals and 14 assists (in all competitions) to his name, the Bosnian is the key creative force in the Bianconeri midfield. Whenever he steps up to take a free-kick, whatever the distance, Pjanic looks like scoring. From strikes against Chievo in the league to Milan in the Coppa Italia, Miralem has produced some real gems over the past nine months.

      ACL injuries are never quick fixes and this season will have been Marchisio’s toughest of all since rising from Juve’s Primavera to the professional arena over a decade ago. Long boasting a champion’s mentality, the ‘Little Prince’ is fighting back towards full fitness with the sort of steely determination that helped him forge such a successful career in the first place and he has made his mark whenever given game time this term, scoring a crucial equaliser from the spot against Sevilla in December. A complete recovery ahead of the new season would be akin to a major signing.

      Juve’s midfield has also been bolstered by the physical power and never-say-die attitudes epitomised by Stefano Sturaro, Mario Lemina and January signing Tomas Rincon, while Hernanes brought elegance and guile in central areas before joining Hebei China Fortune halfway through the campaign. Further strength in depth is provided by Federico Mattiello and promising Italy Under 21 international Rolando Mandragora.

      THE ATTACK

      Juve’s attack has evolved year on year since 2011 and this season’s is the strongest yet: with 43 league strikes between them, this current crop of forwards is the highest-scoring of the past six campaigns. 

      In truth, this had always looked like being the case since the summer arrival of club-record signing Gonzalo Higuain. The Argentine forward, who has netted a team-high 32 goals in all competitions this term, went on a particularly prolific run over the winter months, becoming the first Bianconero since David Trezeguet in 2005 to find the target in six successive league matches.

      Pipita’s predatory nature in and around the box – rivalled by very few across Europe – has seen him hit as many as nine braces in what has been a resoundingly successful debut season with Juventus.

      The arrival of Higuain would mean that compatriot Paulo Dybala operated in a slightly deeper role to the centre-forward position he had excelled in the previous campaign. Nevertheless, this is a change that the exceptionally talented 23-year-old has embraced with both arms. 

      It’s now a common sight for La Joya to be strutting his stuff in any corner of the field, but it’s inside and around the edge of the area where he’s been at his devastating best, scoring wonder strike after wonder strike with that magical left foot of his. Dybala brings quality, but also quantity in attack, where he has contributed with 18 goals and nine assists in all competitions.

      While the central axis of Juve’s forward line has unmistakeably been ‘made in Argentina’, Mario Mandzukic and Juan Cuadrado have been extremely effective in the wide positions either side of Dybala in the 4-2-3-1 formation largely favoured by Allegri since January.

      Another player to have been taken out of his so-called comfort zone in attack, Mandzukic has been something of a revelation down the left flank. One moment he’s winning back possession deep in his own half; the next, he’s charging towards the box, such is his all-action style. It has reaped the rewards of 10 goals and eight assists this term.

      A more natural wide man, Cuadrado is never short of a trick to leave a marker for dead as well as being blessed with the kind of speed that enables him to exploit any gaps in behind opposition defences. Combine all that with his eye for the spectacular – namely his winning strikes against Lyon and Inter (both contenders for goal of the season) – and you’ve our very own Colombian wing wizard.

      Summer signing Marko Pjaca has complemented this formidable attack with his change of pace and an ability to dribble past players – not to mention scoring the crucial opening goal away to Porto in February – before his season was cruelly brought to an end when tearing his crucial ligament and external meniscus while on international duty.

      Bianconeri fans have also been treated to a couple of glimpses of youth-team product Moise Kean, who became the club’s youngest ever player to feature for the first team at 16 years, eight months and 23 days in last November’s win against Pescara.

      THE MANAGER

      Balance. It’s no coincidence that this is one of the words most commonly used by Massimiliano Allegri, who has now masterminded a third successive Scudetto title with Juventus. After all, that is what’s required to keep intensity high in the camp across an entire season.

      Balance means to keep your feet on the ground even after claiming monumental victories – the sort which could cause others to lose their heads in the euphoria – but also to stay calm in the wake of defeat, maintaining confidence in your ability to bounce back in the very next game.

      Ever since the Tuscan’s arrival in 2014, balance has been the key to the Bianconeri’s success across all competitions, not merely in Serie A but also in Europe. Allegri inherited a winning team three seasons ago, evolving the way they play and think on the field. Now this Juventus vintage is very much in his own image, brimming with technical quality, tactical flexibility and mental toughness.

      Then there’s Allegri’s extraordinary reading of the game. The way he introduces his players midway through the action – almost always with the desired effect – is as if he has already seen the match through a crystal ball.

      Ultimately, football is a team game and Allegri’s managerial style mirrors the importance of the collective. Where others may merely focus on the 11 men on the field, Juve’s boss is looking at the bigger picture: how to make the most of every squad member and ensure they’re happy and ready to fight for the cause when called upon. Allegri has managed to mould one of the mentally toughest and most united groups in the game and, for that, he deserves immense credit.

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