Entering this season, one of Juve’s biggest areas of turnover was arguably the already strong (or above-average) puzzle piece from the previous year: the MIDFIELD.
Last year, though Felipe Melo often forgot that soccer and UFC are two different sports without overlapping rules, he recovered from a 2009-10 Bidone d’Oro season by displaying excellent solidity in the middle of the pitch, as the foil to regista Alberto Aquilani. This often meant that Marchisio was playing out of position as a makeshift mezz’ala sinistra, while Milos Krasic fit in well on the right side of Luigi Delneri’s counter-attacking 4-4-2 system. With Conte expected to switch tactics but largely keep the same formation (although utilizing Marchisio in the middle), it seemed odd that Juventus would ship off Melo while letting Aquilani walk from his loan option, especially considering the cut-price deal AC Milan was able to negotiate for him a few weeks later.
Tactics (Conte made a few tries before eventually settling on 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 as his preferred systems) weren’t the only thing that changed though: players did too. And the changes gave Juventus reason, because not only did they mean Claudio Marchisio would finally play in his natural position, but with Aquilani and Melo gone, replacements Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal would be joining Principino to form arguably THE strongest midfield in Italy this year!
|Aaron: 9.0||Adam: 9.0||
Match Reports AVG.
|☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆||Lars: 8.5||John: 9.0||☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆||Marco: 9.0||Mike: 9.0|
Aaron: 9.0 – Sensational. Despite AC Milan discarding him due to age & injury woes, most Juventini knew they were getting a great player when il Maestro signed on a free transfer. Few expected Pirlo to have one of his best ever seasons however. Free of injuries, Pirlo displayed the vision, magic, and creative genius that made him the best midfielder in Europe for much of the 2000s. But that wasn’t enough for Conte, who improved his fitness and defensive ability to record-breaking levels in the player’s career. Short of the Juventus coach, there is no individual figure as responsible for the transfer of the Scudetto from Milan to Turin. If Pirlo can remain healthy next season, the Old Lady will be able compete with some of the best squads in Europe.
Adam: 9.0 – Confession time: when the news broke about Marotta picking up Pirlo on a free, I was hugely skeptical, firmly believing that even if Conte – who up to that point had stuck firmly with his 4-2-4 formation – could find room for him, the 2006 World Cup winner would struggle to recapture his best form. Well, if you’re going to be wrong you might as well do it big time & not only was there room for Pirlo, the team was built entirely around him. Having watched him from afar with nothing but admiration, seeing him up close on a weekly basis was like being a fly on the Sistine Chapel wall while Michelangelo was busy redecorating the place. Truly a master craftsman, a genius in our midst.
Lars: 8.5 – Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined that Pirlo would be able to play a full season to the level that he has. His outstanding passing ability, otherworldly reading of the game and superior calm has brought that special something that has been missing to this Juventus ever since Calciopoli (and, to some of us, well before that). Adding a fair bit of running and decent tackling (!) to his game in the process, there is an argument to be made that the maestro has never enjoyed a better season in his career… And that is saying quite a lot!
John: 9.0 – I had previously written that Juventus passing on the expensive option (which Liverpool placed on the head of Alberto Aquilani) made picking up Pirlo for free an even better deal. Marotta obviously shared the same idea but in fairness, I was wrong about one thing: the ex-Milan playmaker was even better than I thought he woud be at Juve. In a team largely seen as one whose sum was greater than its parts, if you had to choose ONE single reason why this season was such a success, it would undoubtedly be Andrea Pirlo.
Marco: 9.0 – Talking to a Barça friend of mine (I know… I should keep better company) we were discussing Juve’s renewal this season. Eventually he came up with this piece of wisdom: “it’s very simple really… the answer lies in one word: PIRLO”. I was rather bemused by my friend’s lack of understanding with just how truly transformed our club has been this year, and how to an uneducated non-Serie A follower “the answer” – as he called it – could be summarized by such a simplistic statement. And yet, if we were to look at THE single player to have cast this club in another playing dimension, that man would undoubtedly be Andrea Pirlo. The man deemed surplus requirements at AC Milan has not only become the irreplaceable element of Juve’s midfield, playing architect of the Scudetto, and delighter of Juventini across the world… but he has done so by taking a big personal revenge on his detractors or anyone who said he was past his prime. The top assistman of Serie A (14 in total this year) just completed one of the best seasons of his career…how’s THAT for “past your prime”?
Mike: 9.0 – Before last Summer, I never even dared dream that: (a) my favorite non-Juve player would come play for Juventus; (b) at the tender age of 33 (albeit World-Class) he would have HIS BEST SEASON EVER; and that (c) he would be the cornerstone of a record-breaking Scudetto-winning team. Del Piero might be my favorite player of all time but when I play football, it’s Andrea Pirlo that inspires my game: with his elegant dribbling, perfectly-placed 50-yard crosses, surgically-precise through ball that rip open a backline like a scalpel… and, my personal favorite, the double-fake-backheel-pass, usually done twice per match (TWICE!! Who the fk does that?!!! *swoons* )
|Aaron: 7.5||Adam: 7.5||
Match Reports AVG.
|☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆||Lars: 8.0||John: 7.5||☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆||Marco: 8.0||Mike: 7.5|
Aaron: 7.5 – Claudio is a very underrated midfielder much in the way Barzagli is: goals aside, he’s not flashy in his passing, dribbling, or tackling. But like Barzagli, his tactical positioning and pressure is first-rate, and thus, much of the balance he offers the side is only seen when he’s missing. Il Principino was absolutely superb in the Fall, scoring left and right while playing sensational games. Cooled off a bit in the Spring, but was still crucial in creating a tactical buffer in midfield between the attack and defense.
Adam: 7.5 – Claudio Marchisio is, simply put, the most tactically-versatile player I’ve ever seen but he enjoyed perhaps his best-ever season largely because he was allowed to play his natural position on a weekly basis. His rating of 7.5 is very apt as if you were marking facets of his game out of ten, he’d get that same score in almost every category. Name an attribute and the chances are Marchisio is the second-best player in the squad at it! With Del Piero riding off into the sunset, it may well be time to ditch the ‘Futuro’ suffix and begin to call Marchisio simply Capitano.
Lars: 8.0 – Capitan Futuro played his best season ever for Juventus, perfectly balancing some hard defensive work shielding Pirlo and the defence with some great passing and finishing of his own (he scored nine goals, not too shabby!). Already playing as a seasoned veteran (which in some ways he actually is), the legacy of Marchisio at this football club may well end up being a legendary one.
John: 7.5 – Always unfairly tagged as overrated, there is a reason that he has been perpetually utilized by both Juventus and la Nazionale since 2009ish. Finally playing in his natural position consistently for the first time, he finished the season as the second-highest scorer on the team. Capitan Futuro truly looks ready to own that nickname. If it were up to me, he’d inherit the #10 shirt along with the armband.
Marco: 8.0 – L’anno della consecrazione for Principino. If these ratings had been done during the Winter break, Marchisio would have received a Pagella equivalent to that of Pirlo (if not superior), so capital was his involvement in Juve’s progress during the Fall. Not only did Capitan Futuro score week after week (match-winning goals at that) but contributed virtually to Juve’s every offensive incursion. After January Claudio suffered a bit of a dip: decisive goals and penetrations grew scarcer, but nonetheless his year as a whole remains absolutely top-notch.
Mike: 7.5 – Fantastic season from my Personal Hero™: Claudio Marchisio. May have dipped a bit in form during the final third of the season, but I think that was only because we were so used to seeing him have absolutely stellar matches week after week. There was one month when he was on blistering form in Serie A (double vs. AC Milan), “superhero” mode in Coppa Italia (OT match winner), and Git-R-Done in the bedroom (new baby).
|Aaron: 7.5||Adam: 7.5||
Match Reports AVG.
|☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆||Lars: 8.0||John: 7.5||☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆||Marco: 8.0||Mike: 7.5|
Aaron: 7.5 – Unlike Marchisio, Arturo Vidal saved his best for the 2nd half of the season. Rather quiet in the Fall, his midfield presence come Springtime became monstrous: with never-ending endurance and tackling of the highest order, Vidal played much like Juve legend Edgar Davids. At 24 years of age, if King Arthur can continue his spring form into the next few years, he has every possibility of being one of the strongest central midfielders in the world. The only demerit to Vidal’s play is the amount of bookings he accumulates (he led Serie A’s yellow-card charts in his debut season) but that is largely down to his position and style of play.
Adam: 7.5 – Arturo Vidal is 24 and cost Juventus €10 million. Now go back and read that again, thinking about just what Beppe Marotta got for his money. Able to play in central midfield, on the wing, at full back, and even pressed into service as a central defender when the need arose, Vidal recorded seven goals, three assists, and a league-high 5.4 tackles per game to make him a vital component in the title win. A high number of bookings seemed to be the only indication he was still adapting to the league, settling brilliantly into life in Turin. His versatility also allowed Marchisio to play as a central midfielder all season, the impact of which cannot be understated.
Lars: 8.0 – Completing what was by far the best central midfield in calcio this season, ‘King Arturo’ was the most defensively-minded of the M-V-P troika, but like Marchisio also contributed a lot going forward and scored crucial goals when no one else delivered. Some of his ‘Captain Hook’ challenges were as vital in keeping Juve unbeaten this season as Pirlo’s passes or Buffon’s saves. He might want to cut down on the yellow cards, but hey… it’s a dirty job and someone has gotta do it…
John: 7.5 – During a summer in which many of our first-choice signing objectives seemed to slip through our fingers, King Arthur forced his way to Juventus, refusing Bayern Munich in the process. With a reputation as one of the most ascendant young midfielders in Europe, he was brought in to do it all, and did. He scored goals. He won balls. He tackled hard. He ran his ass off. He covered Pirlo. He even covered our center-backs during a brief injury/suspension crisis, and did so rather proficiently I might add. He’s Daniele De Rossi without having ever broken open the face of an American striker. The only question left is whether the engine of the best midfield in Italy can match up with the rest of Europe, as we all suspect it could. Thanks in part to Vidal, we’ll find out soon.
Marco: 8.0 – Lauded as a great, combative midfielder with a good dose of technique upon his arrival in Turin, King Arturo was nonetheless seen as back-up to CM starters Pirlo & Marchisio in Conte’s 4-2-4 line-up. It wasn’t too long before the Juve manager realized that leaving out a player of such immense quality as Vidal would be a crime against football, and thus the switch to the three-man midfield was made. During the year, thanks to his relentless pressuring, tackling, and ball recuperation, Vidal progressively won everyone over. His teammates nicknamed him Capitan Uncino (‘Captain Hook’) due to his ability to ‘”hook” the ball in from behind opposing players. In the last part of the season, he even started scoring vital goals (and fantastic ones too e.g. vs. Napoli) surpassing Alexis Sánchez as the favorite national team player over in his native Chile. Definitely one of my year’s favorites as well!
Mike: 7.5 – Hell of a debut Serie A season for 25 year-old Arturo Vidal. Watching “Captain Hook” you can’t help but pity the opposition: the worst thing they can do is actually take the ball away from Vidal, because if he does lose the ball he just wins it back right away (the difference being someone gets hurt), so they’re actually better off letting him walk up and shoot. You know, it’s funny how much of a story arc King Arthur went through this season, starting with “a pretty good hardworker” in September and October followed by being “strong but reckless” in December (earning 4 yellow cards in 4 weeks). Soon after the new year however, Vidal was quickly becoming one of the BEST midfielders in Europe and “you know, if this guy learned to score he’d be like Pavel Nedved”… Queue April: at almost the end of the season Juve play SIX matches in ONE month and Arturo Vidal scores FOUR FKN GOALS. Also wins my award for ‘Best Goalscoring Celebration of the Season’ with Leonardo Bonucci.
|Aaron: s.v.||Adam: s.v||
Match Reports AVG.
|☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆||Lars: s.v.||John: s.v.||☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆||Marco: 6.5||Mike: s.v.|
Aaron: s.v. – Conte clearly rates this young player. Having coached him the past season at Siena, he insisted on keeping Marrone at Juve all season long and he’s rumored to have requested the player’s presence for next season as well. And for good reason: in his brief time on the pitch, he’s displayed outstanding maturity, good pressure and positioning, and some technical abilities, like his lovely scoop-assist to Giaccherini against Atalanta and his screamer against the same club a few months later. Has outstanding potential and could certainly be a Juventus regular in the future: the club needs to carefully manage his next two seasons.
Adam: s.v. – Feel kind of harsh not giving him a genuine mark but his lack of playing time makes that difficult. Obviously has Antonio Conte’s full backing, hopefully Juventus playing more games next season should see him feature more regularly.
Lars: s.v. – Young Mr. Brown experienced a great season with the first team in terms of maturing and learning the trade of winning (albeit from the sideline). Did well when called upon (which was not too often) and obviously scored that fine goal against Atalanta. I like the kid, but haven’t seen enough to pass any meaningful judgement.
John: s.v. – While a slew of other young midfielders (Ekdal, Giandonato, Pasquato etc.) were shipped off on loan to garner playing time in the provinces and lower levels, Conte insisted on keeping Mr. Brown with the big boys. While he didn’t get much playing time, I liked what I saw when he did. Hopefully his story ends up more Claudio Marchisio than Iago Falqué, but that also depends on how he’s managed. With all of the other midfield talent pouring in this summer, well…let’s keep our fingers crossed.
Marco: 6.5 – Through the season, Luca Brown featured in 6 matches, starting 3 and making an additional 7 bench appearances without playing. There is a reason why Antonio Conte vetoed his departure on loan over the Winter break, and based on the lad’s performances one can plainly see why. Marrone may still be a far cry from a rounded, mature player but he’s got definite skill in him. Also, it seems Atalanta are his favorite victim as the lovely assist for Giaccherini in the girone d’andata and the even better goal on matchday #38 can testify to. With the arrivals of Isla and Asamoah it is doubtful Marrone will find much space in Turin next season but Conte is clearly a fan, and Juventus should do well to hang on to the lad even if they do send him away on a loan spell.
Mike: s.v. – Three starting appearances aren’t enough to grade a seasonal performance, but I do give credit to Luca Marrone for getting the job done when he was called upon. More important than that was his attitude sitting on the bench, understanding his role with the club and being patient with his development. Hopefully he’ll find more room next season with the Champions League fixtures adding more matches to the calendar.
|Aaron: s.v.||Adam: s.v.||
Match Reports AVG.
|☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆||Lars: s.v.||John: s.v.||☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆||Marco: s.v.||Mike: 5.0|
Aaron: s.v. – I can’t blame Pazienza for his departure. Despite being a competent midfielder, Conte picked Marrone and Giaccherini as central midfield subs ahead of him. A positive (financial) transfer for Juventus.
Adam: s.v. – Like Reto Ziegler, Pazienza’s biggest contribution will be to Juve’s balance sheet.
Lars: s.v. – Belying his name, Pazienza did not have the patience to stick around as a back-up midfielder, even if he was decent in that role. Seems his move to Udinese suited all parties well.
John: s.v. – He was a depth-signing. He was used like a depth-signing. He apparently didn’t expect any of that. I can’t say I begrudge him, but I am kind of annoyed that in a season when I was looking forward to peppering my writing with puns involving players’ names, he was too impaziente to fight for a spot.
Marco: s.v. – No more than two starts (1 in Serie A, 1 in Coppa Italia) and half-a-dozen substitute appearances for the ex-Napoli midfielder this year. Pazienza’s remaining time was divided between warming the bench and a seat in the stands, so it’s hard to judge him. Was bought essentially as a backup, but despite having the likes of Pirlo, Marchisio, and Vidal ahead of him he decided he deserved more playing time. Moved out on loan to greener pastures at Udinese. It’s unlikely Juve will retain his services for next year.
Mike: 5.0 - Admittedly my expectations weren’t that high before the season started, but I still expected more from Michele Pazienza. I suppose he wasn’t able to fit into Conte’s system and his answer was to try his luck elsewhere. Not a big loss, wish him the best.