The curtain of European competition has been closed. Barcelona sealed the treble in the UCL final. Their opponent in the final were highly unexpected : Juventus who erased the heavy favourite Real Madrid from the competition. In fact, Juventus reaching the UCL semifinal is already counted as highly succesful campaign as they stood as tall as Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Real Madrid. These three names have been asserting their dominance for years in continental competition so Juventini must feel proud to be in the same stature like them, let alone reaching the final.. Not that The Old Lady is the mediocre side, but the rest of the semifinalists have better squad on paper. Almost accomplishing the treble, the magical journey started from the move involving Antonio Conte and Massimiliano Allegri.
It was at the beginning of 2014/2015 season that the departing Conte would be replaced by Allegri. The decision raised many eyebrows and wrinkled many foreheads and it was understandibly so. Conte was the successful figure for the club either as the player or as the coach. As the latter, he led Il Bianconeri sweeping almost every domestic title in Italy. Meanwhile, half year before his appointment as the new coach, Allegri was sacked by AC Milan due to the poor performance and the poor results. It was extremely controversial move, but Juventus board noticed something : as poor as Milan was under Allegri’s hand, he always managed to deliver in UCL. Under him, Milan always managed to qualify from the group stage and putting considerable resistance to any European powerhouses. In his 4 years tenure with Milan, Allegri was always seeded in the bad drawing and had to face tough oppositions from the start. Actually, it is a lame excuse as competing in UCL, one must be ready to face any team and every team will be difficult opponent. But, early encounter with Real Madrid and Barcelona for 3 consecutive seasons is just ridiculously bad luck. And somehow, Milan always managed to scrap something positive despite of their loss. They managed to snatch points from the Spanish giants and even landing convincing victory against Barcelona in 2012/2013 season. It was a defensive masterclass performance which even frustrating the likes of Messi.
Conte himself also had quite an achievement in continental competition. In his first season of Champions League, Conte guided Juventus to reach the quarterfinals before being trashed by Bayern Muenchen in 4-0 aggregate. Advancing to quarterfinals and stopped by B. Muenchen might be acceptable progress, but how they lose 0-2 in home to the German was disheartening. It was as if Juventus could not put up any fight and Muenchen only took minimum effort to waltz past them. The next season was even more disastrous as The Zebras could not even make it past the group stage. It was the highly controversial match which was played on the snowy field as Galatasaray managed to advance to the knock-out stage. Controversial result it might be, and in the end, Juventus reached the semifinal, but alas for Conte, the glory in UCl is what Juventus has been coveting.
To replace Conte with Allegri, this move implied only one thing from the board of Juventus i.e. taking risk in the domestic league to advance further in continental cup. Considering their squad are more superior than their rivals in Serie-A, the board might feel confident to win the league again even without brilliant coach. While Allegri performed horribly at his last season with Milan, he still managed to grab the domestic trophy previously. Together with his good record in UCL, Juventus considered him as the perfect replacement and the rest is history.
So, what does Allegri do which Conte didn’t and how the former makes more successful run in continental competition ? The most noticeable feature is how Allegri’s team employ more robust and physical approach toward the game. It does not imply Conte is physically and defensively oblivious, but Allegri will not ever even consider 4-2-4 scheme which Conte once used. Allegri’s game is more patient, less explosive, and less entertaining, but who cares them if the team managed to reach UCL final after knocking out Real Madrid ?
Back to the tactical difference, now Juventus are considered having one of the best defence in Europe, if not the best defence. It features the close-knitted unit whose members have been playing together for several seasons i.e. Buffon, Chiellini, Bonucci, and Barzagli. Juventus have been always the best goal aggregate record in Serie-A for recent years, but only in this year that they have very impressive defensive record in Europe. They only concede 6 goals so far making them the best defensive team in continent without changing any single player on defensive duty. There is not much difference in how Buffon, Chiellini, Bonucci, and Barzagli performing, but how the results are starkly different means there is the huge change.
It is how Juventus defend collectively which make them much better defensively. This is the ultimate approach in modern football that defence starts from the forwards. Conte did it, in fact, Tevez acquisition fitted perfectly with what Conte wanted as the Argentinian has immense work rate to close down the defenders and midfielders. But Allegri does it better in shaping the defensive structure from the front. The biggest change occurs at the midfield zone where Pirlo is no longer the indispensable. He is still the important figure in Juventus line-up, but not as instrumental as him under Conte. He is often replaced by Marchisio who accompanied by Vidal, and Pogba as the central midfielders. While Marchisio is not as good as Pirlo in regista role, he offers the dynamism which Pirlo terribly lacks at. Now, the midfielders trio of Juventus are physically fit and better defensively, making them more capable to defend collectively from the front.
Pirlo’s knack in recycling possession and threading magical through pass sure are missed, but Juve manage to get around the problems. Now, the responsiblity to retain the possession is spreadt evenly among the players. The cost is the playing tempo is very slow as every player will not risk losing possession. The reluctance to attempt the ambitious pass also means the player will not try too hard in making the smart run. Not the most creative approach, but that does not stop Juve from scoring. Just like Mourinho, Ferguson, Klopp etc, there are still many ways to score the goal i.e. through the ruthless pressure and the decisive moment of brilliance from the individuals.
Talking about moment of brilliance, Juve used to rely on Pirlo to turn the tide of the game, but the baton has been passed to Paul Pogba. He is already known as the prodigy from very young age in Manchester United. Seeing him playing, everyone realizes that he is ahead of the players of his generation, but this season is his breakout season as he unleashes his potential. Comparing him to Pirlo does not seem right as both have vastly different style. While Pirlo is the relic of the old football with his technique, Pogba is the reflection of the modern attacking midfielder with his all-rounding ability. He is not Pirlo who is always able to recycle the possession and control the tempo constantly. But, given the correct moment and place, he will break the defence through with his close dribble in combination with his speed and power. He is still inconsistent, even can be inconsistent in single match as he appears and disappears in the match. But he is still 23 years old and he is still improving so expect more to come from him.
Juventus had always been having impressive line-up except for forwards. This was the sector that Juve were desperately bad at. So bad that they had to use the service of Matri, Vucinic, Bendtner, and even finished Anelka as their spearhead. Tevez’s arrival alleviated the problem, but Juve still required 1 more forward to finish their chances. Tevez is an industrious striker who contributes a lot in defence and running tirelessly to connect midfield and forward. As fast as he is, he cannot appear in all locations simultaneously and someone must be there upfront to utilise the space. And there came Morata as the final piece of puzzle. If Pogba is the representation of modern midfielder, Morata is quite an old-fashioned striker. His strongest point is to appear at the right spot and to finish the goalscoring chance. It does not mean that he is as limited as pure poacher as Inzaghi or Nistelrooy. But for the modern football standard where the strikers are also required to assist the second line or creating the scoring chance by himself, he surely lacks at these department. Nevertheless, his scoring ability is what Juventus desperately need.
So, what for next season ? Successful campaign only means higher hurdle for the future and surely there will be greater challenge for next season. For instance, can Allegri rally his team and keep them motivated after years of success ? Perhaps. Can the mercato team replace the aging players ? Perhaps. But personally, the most interesting challenge is how he copes with the over-reliance on the individuals to create the chance. The dependence on Pogba and Tevez resembles the dependence on Ibra when Allegri handled Milan. When the Swede left, Rossoneri never looked the same again. It is true that the departure of the team’s talisman always hurts the team, but the effect will be worse when the team do not have cohesive game plan to unlock the defence.
All in all, Juventini can only be glad with the outcome of this 2014/2015 season. Surely winning the treble like Inter Milan in 2010 would give sweeter taste, but no one expected Juventus would advance this far especially with the response toward Allegri’s appointment at the start of the season. The risk taken at the start of the season pays off well and Juventini will expect him to do another fantastic season, won’t they ?