TThey kicked off needing just a point. A single point that would see Antonio Conte’s men named champions for the second straight year and the only thing standing in their way was a troubled Palermo side who themselves were desperate for points in order to avoid returning to Serie B for the first time since 2004. Here’s Adam Digby and Aaron Giambattista with the review of events from Juventus Stadium.
MATCH ANALYSIS by Adam Digby
Having led Serie A from start to finish, this game was almost a glimpse of the season in microcosm. “From the bullshit of calcioscommesse to the 31st title!” declared a banner unfurled across the Curva Scirea in the second half, summing up perfectly the thoughts of most of a Bianconero persuasion. Like the entire 2012-13 campaign, Juventus were barely given a challenge worthy of the name and strolled to a comfortable victory which was enough to see the tricolore shield remain on their shirts for another twelve months.
Antonio Conte retained the 3-5-1-1 formation that has served him well over recent weeks, once again deploying Claudio Marchisio behind Mirko Vucinic and allowing Paul Pogba to continue in midfield alongside Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo. Behind them, the usual suspects – Andrea Barzagli, Leo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini – lined up to form an impenetrable defensive wall in front of Gigi Buffon.
That side strikes fear into the hearts of anyone this side of Munich but for relegation threatened Palermo it must be the last thing the Rosanero fans, players and coaches must want to face. Giuseppe Sannino paired captain and former Juve man Fabrizio Miccoli with Josip Ilicic in a 3-5-2 formation that simply never looked to have enough to prevent the celebrations planned by Juventus.
The home side set off at a blistering pace, seemingly keen to steamroller their opponents and get the party underway. Pogba, Vidal and Pirlo all came close to scoring as Palermo’s midfield was overrun constantly, outclassed and outmanned by the formidable trio. Vucinic, running on to a superb long ball, held off Massimo Donati long enough to fire a low shot on target but was denied by the excellent Stefano Sorrentino.
The former Chievo stopper, notorious for putting in some incredible displays for the Veronese side against Juve appeared to have lost none of that ability despite moving to Sicily in January. Illicic had an attempt that had the corner flag far more worried than Buffon who had just a tame free kick from Miccoli to deal with over the opening forty-five minutes.
After the re-start, Miccoli’s skill sucked in Chiellini and his shot had Buffon grasping at thin air but, to the relief of everyone his angled effort merely struck the post. Moments later and former Milan midfielder Donati shoved Vucinic in the back as he attempted to control a pass from Pogba. Referee Andrea Romeo had little choice but to award a penalty, duly dispatched by Vidal who has become something of a specialist from the spot and marked his fifth goal in four games by diving into the stand to celebrate with Simone Pepe.
That bond between two players typifies the spirit Conte has instilled in this squad of Champions and it was no surprise to see them press on in search of a second goal immediately after taking the lead. Steve Von Bergen had to be alert to prevent Pirlo latching on to a pass from Vucinic at the far post after some great play while Chiellini headed narrowly wide with a header from a corner taken by the Bearded Genius. Sorrentino then performed more heroics, throwing his legs at a Vucinic shot then beating Pogba to the rebound of a Vidal strike he had already stopped.
From there the game began to peter out and, taking their cue from the contented attitude of the players and Conte, the fans began to celebrate in style. A huge Italian flag, emblazoned with the number thirty-one, was passed around the stadium while bianconeri flags were waved with gusto by all but the small Palermo contingent tucked away in their solitary corner. Songs against the return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic were sung and even a Mario Balotelli goal was celebrated as the Curva learned the striker had helped Milan see off neighbours Torino in their San Siro encounter.
The fans moved on to chant that anyone not jumping must be Neapolitan, and Conte seemed in on the joke as he sent on Fabio Quagliarella in place of Vucinic for the last ten minutes. Perhaps the only player still looking to leave a mark on the game was Pogba, chasing every ball as if his life depended on it and it was no surprise to see him tangle with the equally volatile Salvatore Aronica.
The young Frenchman reacted to the defender’s hand making contact with his face, seemingly spitting in the direction of the Palermo man and Sorrentino rushed from his goal to confront the referee. Told of the incident by his linesman, the referee brandished the red card, casting the only blemish on what had been a perfect afternoon. A ban will surely follow and Pogba must look to curtail such behaviour if he is to continue to be a regular under the demanding leadership of Conte.
In a game played on the anniversary of the 2002 Scudetto which famously left Ronaldo in tears, full time here saw a huge shield laid out on the pitch. Again the number thirty one proudly sat in its centre as Conte, in one of the most fitting metaphors ever, led his young daughter by the hand to it. Her name? Vittoria. There truly is nothing more left to be said.
LE PAGELLE by Aaron Giambattista
Gigi Buffon s.v. - Was left watching on both Hernandez and Miccoli’s efforts, but wasn’t troubled one bit other than that. Last year, Juventus stormed to the title winning 8 in a row. This was Juve’s 8th win in a row, again, a year after the last effort, and Buffon has 5 clean sheets and only 3 conceded in 8. His first trophy as Juventus’ captain.
Barzagli 6.5 - Like wine, Andrea keeps getting better with age. Impeccable performance, although the Palermo attack wasn’t really good enough to trouble Andrea.
Bonucci 6.5 - Both Andrea Barzagli and Bonucci had a few errors in distribution but weren’t punished by a pretty poor Palermo side. This season has been one of consecration for Leo.
Chiellini 7 - An immaculate performance from our vice-Captain, who dominated his flank defensively, never missing a tackle, but also contributed up the pitch as well. Clean passes and nearly a header on goal.
Lichtsteiner 6.5 - Ran endlessly up and down the flank, caused Palermo issues until they placed Garcia there to attempt to stop the Swiss fullback. Didn’t open Palermo up in any clear cut way, but his play always stretches opposing defenses. Stephan’s performances never are really hailed, they are the type that people usually only notice when players like Marco Motta man that flank.
’56 Padoin 6 - Typical Simone Padoin performance. Held his own on the flank, occasionally threatened with a decent piece of play, that’s about it.
Vidal 7.5 - Absolutely dominant. Arturo has probably been Juve’s best player of the season. Last Spring, Mirko Vucinic was unstoppable in Juve’s 8-game consecutive win, this spring, Vidal has been amazing in the same timeframe. Not only puts in his hard work in midfield, he pops up with the decisive goal. Non si tocca!
Pirlo 6 - A good performance from Andrea. He started well, splashing passes around midfield, but slowed as the game went on and was a bit imprecise. He’s seemed mentally fatigued by the season as it’s worn on.
Pogba 7.5 - Unquestionably the revelation of the season for Juventus, and possibly within Serie A. Wins balls back, creates space with his elegant-yet-simple turns, he is a phenomenon. Has the grace of a striker and the grinta of a defender. A shame to cap such a great game and season with an infantile spit on Aronica, and despite being the first Juventus player to receive a red card this season, it’ll all be forgotten in the end.
Asamoah 7 - Has been growing into the team in the last month again, and today was a great match. Tore Nelson apart and delivered good crosses that sadly, a front duo of Vucinic and Marchisio cannot really appreciate. Barnstorming.
’67 Peluso 6.5 - Once Federico came on, it was hard to decide if Nelson was that horrible or if both Asamoah and Peluso were playing that well.
Marchisio 6 - Sacrificed from the 3-man midfield to play up top, and it’s been very hit-or-miss. Pogba’s been so sensational in midfield that his selection over Marchisio is justified. His teammates looked to play him the ball, but Claudio never could get a winning strike on it. Like Pirlo, very much in decline as the season has gone on.
Vucinic 5.5 - Mirko does a lot of things so well, but for someone in his position with his talent, it’s a bit embarrassing how poor of a goalscorer he is. Won a penalty, but cannot be played as a lone striker in the future.
’79 Quagliarella 6.5- Came on the pitch and hit the post with the Scudetto already sealed. Eager to score, eager to impress. Sadly, still likely on his way out.
Antonio Conte 8 - A season we can all be proud of. A good run in Europe combined with a triumphant Scudetto race, with Conte and his assistant wrongly banned for 4 months. Grazie, Capitano.
ANALYSIS WRAP-UP by Aaron Giambattista
Last summer, Juventus was in turmoil. Despite winning the Scudetto unbeaten, the team was thrown in crisis by the FIGC’s absurd and bitter prosecution of Antonio Conte, Angelo Alessio, Leonardo Bonucci, and Simone Pepe. The FIGC tried to ban Conte and Alessio for the whole season, and Bonucci’s career very well could’ve been ruined by the 3 year ban demanded by FIGC Chief Prosecutor Stefano Palazzi.
Instead, it’s been a year of consecration for Conte and Bonucci. With a strong Champion’s League run, including finishing in 1st place in a group with champions Chelsea and Shakthar Donetsk. The team crushed Celtic 5-0 on aggregate in the knockout stages, and lost to unquestionably the best team in Europe in the quarter-finals. Now, not only Italy knows of Conte’s great ability, but all of Europe.
And Bonucci has matured, as well. He’s no longer the error-prone talented center back we used to know, but a leader in the locker room and a leader on the pitch. He’s a guarantee, a man who plays like a veteran. There’s no question he’s fundamental to this team.
The team has defended the title. As the Curva said during Champion’s League matches, after Italy, now for Europe. The next stage of the project starts now.