This post was guest-blogged by Vittorio Pazzini. Follow him on Twitter (@vittoriopazzini)
First it was ten months, then four… either way it felt like forever.
But now, brace yourselves, Juventini for… THE RETURN OF CONTE!!!
Palermo will hopefully be the unfortunate victims of an excoriating demon-howl of a Juventus war cry this Sunday, while the Bianconeri will be the ecstatic recipients of lots of verbal abuse, as Antonio returns to pace the sidelines.
Fresh from booking their spot in the Champions League’s final 16, Juventus are getting their absurdly persecuted manager back, in the flesh, in front of their very eyes (rather than behind glass, several stories above).
Unfortunately, at the press time Conte has yet to speak (the ban doesn’t officially life until Saturday), but in the meantime, here’s all the latest post-Shakhtar, pre-Palermo Bianconeri news.
Latest on Palermo
Hours after the squad touched down from the Ukraine, preparations were already underway for Sunday’s Return of Conte at Palermo. Yesterday was the usual post-game training session, with recovery work for the 12 (only 12!) players who featured in Donetsk and a normal practice for the others.
Training resumed this morning, with at least one other session to follow before leaving for Palermo.
On the medical front, Juventus.com has updates on all those of questionable status. We start with inarguably the most important of the lot, the unbelievably snake-bitten Simone Pepe:
“Pepe is still a long way from full fitness. Over the last few days the Italy man suffered a fresh injury to his left calf. He is suffering from a grade 1-2 tear to the area where he had treatment for a previous muscle tear. To avoid a recurrence of this injury he will have a spell on the sidelines until he is ready to resume training.”
And JuventiKnows’ Total Indifference Bureau reports that Lucio still struggles with a right groin injury and is undergoing standard rehab work in the gym, while Nicklas Bendtner’s left groin tweak is progressing nicely.
Otherwise, I remind you that Sebastian Giovinco will miss this round due to a yellow-card suspension. The kid can’t catch a break. Or more likely, he can’t give himself one.
Barzagli, Chiellini, Bonucci and Marchisio (again!) are each one card away from suspensions.
Correctly predict who will be suspended next and win an all-new limited-edition JuventiKnows bianconero-striped Fiat 5—wait… what’s that you say, Aaron? We’re all out of Fiat 500’s? We never had them? Oh.
Scusi, amici. Forget I said anything.
Andrea De Marco Rules (the Palermo Match)!
According to the official website, Andrea De Marco, an official from “the Chiavari section” (sounds like a radical political group), will referee Juve-Palermo.
Andrea last presided over Juve’s 2-0 win to They Who I’m Tired of Not Naming last season, as well as the 0-0 draw with Chievo. Having played 11 matches under De Marco, Juve have five wins, two draws and four defeats.
Joining him are Andrea Marzaloni and Andrea Padovan, with special guest Elenito Giovanni Di Liberatore as fourth official/third tuba/man with dog #3. Paolo Silvio Mazzoleni and Massimiliano Irrati will stare at the goal-lines.
Coppa Italia: The Revenge Begins (Part 1, Episode 1)
It’s official, gang: Juve face Cagliari in the Coppa Italia this coming Wednesday, December 12, at Juventus Stadium. Cagliari saw off Pescara 4-2 to fix their date with the Old Lady.
The Bianconeri bounce back into the competition after losing in the Final to Napoli last year, after a week of Scudetto partying that certainly took some of the edge off that crazy Conte winning mentality. But that’s what sequels and revenge are for, no?
Should Juve beat Cagliari, they will play the winner of Milan vs. Reggina. Normally, it would be easy to call that one, but this has been no ordinary year for Milan.
It would be nice to see you again, Reggina!
Alessio’s Curtain Call
After taking Juve’s reins and leading them back to the Champions League knockout round, Angelo Alessio now fades into the backroom staff bathed in a relatively golden glow.
Suffice to say, he’s feeling pretty good. Speaking to the press afterwards:
“We knew we were in for a tough game and coming out on top fills us with pride. It was no simple task today but once we managed to put the reins on their forwards they found it hard to play their usual game and support the front men. We’re delighted to go through and to have qualified as group winners.”
Self-effacing to the last, Alessio was quick to give credit to the players themselves:
“Credit must go to these lads, because even without Antonio they’ve done everything that’s been asked of them. As time has passed we’ve become more and more confident in our own means. We showed that first against Chelsea then again this evening.”
And finally, when asked who he’d like us to face next, Alessio left with us with one last shot of 86-proof modesty:
“It’s hard to say which side I’d choose, they are all difficult, but I’d rather we didn’t get Real Madrid.”
Oh, Alessio, always on an even keel! Besides, if we want brazen, we only have to look to this guy…
Bonucci Wants Real Madrid!
Apparently, once you taste the nerve-racking pressure of taking on Europe’s best, it only makes you want bigger, better, faster, stronger.
Leo Bonucci wants Real Madrid next. From Juve’s website:
“So who would Bonucci like to face in the next round? ‘Real Madrid, because I’ve never played at the Bernabeu before.’ Now if that’s not confidence for you…”
In Leo’s defense, when you patrol the penalty area like the proverbial boss and FIGHT OFF A MUGGER AT GUNPOINT, you tend to ache for new challenges.
Leo stressed that Juve always played to win, and he went on to explain the difference in tactics from their previous draw with Shakhtar:
“When you step onto the pitch your aim is always to win, regardless of any calculations you might be able to make. We prepared for this match differently than we did the meeting in Turin, we got the measure of them and didn’t run after them all the time. It meant we had fewer problems with their through balls and their pacy players. Each time you play at a tough ground and manage to impose your game, it boosts your confidence. We made the most of our counter-attacks tonight and that’s thanks to the fantastic work the coach does with us on the training pitch every day.”
Speaking of said coach, did we mention he’s back this Sunday?
“We’ve paid him back by getting into the last 16–we owed it to him. He’s suffered being away from the pitch these last few months and now he’ll come back stronger than ever.”
You think these guys are amped up for this weekend, even after going through the emotional wringer on Tuesday? The rest of this month looks to be a celebration, and that’s besides the actual holidays.
A righteously angry, 70-percent-possession celebration, I’m thinking.
Shakhtar by Numbers
A grind is a grind, whichever way you look at it. The match against Shakhtar was a nail-biting, nerve-shredding affair, a reality reflected in the statistics from the clash.
The Ukrainians had a 55-to-45 % majority of ball possession, as well as a 7-2 corner advantage, but Juve won on shot attempts (15-11, although SD had 1 more on target) and overall attacks (38-29).
Of course, the most impressive number is one: Juve are first in Group E and are the first team to win on Shakhtar’s home ground this season.
The Bianconeri sent one defending CL champion into the Europa League.
Sorry, Chelsea, couldn’t resist!
Give Giuseppe Marotta a break: Media-wise, he’s on the hook for almost anything journalists and fans can construe as “wrong” or at least “not right,” so he deserves to talk (and talk) about Wednesday’s inspiring victory on the European stage. Speaking right after the match:
“The players went out there really fired up, they got their attitude and tactics spot on. We knew we were up against a top team tonight and that we only needed a point, but we didn’t play for a draw. Our aim was to win and win we did. We’ve come through a tough group, winning the last two games against European champions Chelsea and the revelation of the tournament, Shakhtar. Our self-esteem has increased with each game and we’ve shown that we can compete with anyone. There’s no point playing the guessing game about the draw, but one thing that’s important is we have the return leg at home.”
And yesterday, Marotta kept up the act, this time to RAI Sport’s Novanta Minuti:
“We’re improving game by game and now we go into every match with high expectations, regardless of who we’re playing. Initially we struggled a bit because of our inexperience. Then – thanks to the way the club is run and our mental strength – we were able to top the group, going unbeaten with one of the best defences in the competition. Opponents? Apart from Real Madrid who are giants, the other sides are all at a similar level. We’re pleased we won the group because now we’ll play easier teams and the second leg at home.”
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Beppe. What about Palermo and the much-anticipated Return of Conte?
“We’ve been disappointed not to have had him in the dug-out and we’re looking forward to having him back in his technical area over the coming fixtures. People have given everything in his absence and that’s what makes what we’ve achieved all the more extraordinary. We mustn’t go into the Palermo game thinking about yesterday’s match. We need to be wary, they’ve got nothing to lose and won’t need much in the way of motivation.”
Bravo, Giuseppe. Rest easy for a day or two, then we’ll resume yelling at you to buy a striker.
It’s A Wonderful Life (as Long As You Ignore the Transfer Market)!
Like many of you, I’m loath to entertain the often ludicrous rumors whipped up in December (and the other 11 months) as to which “Top Player” Juve will buy on the transfer market.
So, in an equal effort to reflect the media’s patented trickery as well as to dispel the spurious from the concrete, here’s the latest on the most prominent bachelors purported to be canoodling with the Old Lady. First, up, you guessed it: Fernando Llorente.
Here are the facts: On Tuesday, Llorente confirmed his decision to leave Athletic Bilbao at the end of this season but is not looking to leave in January. Llorente has officially said:
“I am leaving on June 30. You also like to try other things too. I have been European and World Champion. I have played for years at a good level. It would not be a letdown not to leave. I am not thinking about anything else except to prepare as well as possible for each game. On everything that comes out of here about my future, I will say nothing because I just want to concentrate on helping my team.”
And yesterday, Bilbao coach Marcelo Bielsa corroborated the prevailing opinion that, at least in January, Fernando’s going nowhere:
“The situation is that the club have dismissed the idea of Llorente leaving in January. The position is fixed. His presence helps us. Nothing different than what was expected happened. An assessment would be called for if the situation was not the same as it has been up till now, but there has not been any change. He has spoken, as has everyone; nothing new has been added.”
Next, we move onto Luis Suarez, who perhaps seems both a better fit for Juve and a Cassano-Balotelli style headcase waiting to happen. From the UK’s Express:
“According to sources in Italy, Juve would be willing to finance the purchase of Suarez who is valued at £28m. Although they will not want to lay out too much due to Financial Fair Play regulations coming into force. The opportunity of playing Champions League football may be too good for Suarez to turn down. Furthermore, the Uruguayan might be enticed to move to Italy as he looks to win trophies- something that has eluded him at Liverpool. Suarez has netted 39 goals in 69 appearances for Liverpool since his move from Ajax in January 2011.”
Make of that last part what you will (and start salivating), but the first sentence is dubious to say the least. Who are these sources?
Least likely to move to Turin is Robert “The Big” Lewandowski, who by all accounts will not be joining Juventus, or even making the Arturo Vidal-esque leap from the Bundesliga to Serie A. Apparently, those old Mr. Potters at Manchester United have a personal agreement with him to join next season, but Borussia Dortmund are doing their best to hang onto him.
Someone should save Borussia the suspense. Man United is not like the movies: it usually ends in tears. No one ends up saving the old Building & Loan. Sorry, German Jimmy Stewart.
One final thought: why don’t we roll the dice and bring Ciro Immobile back? Is that possible? He’s proven he can score at every level, and if he hasn’t overwhelmingly impressed this year, it’s because he plays for Genoa, who at this point are on their way out of the top flight.
Imagine what a talented striker like Ciro could do on the end of such devastating Juve service! And he CANNOT be worse than Bendtner or the recently confidence-free Matri.
Why So Bitter, Amici?
With all the excitement regarding the Champions League and Conte, it may be difficult (and disagreeable) to call up those contentious feelings from just a few weeks ago between us, the Juventini, and every other tifoso of another Serie A club.
But believe me, the Milanistas, Violas and… umm, “others” haven’t forgotten, and have already combed the footage from the derby and Shakhtar matches to use as projectile polemic bile against Juve and those who love her.
So, in the interest of both keeping it real and still feeling good, Gianni Verschueren at Bleacher Report posted an interesting piece on what Freud would probably have diagnosed as “Juventus Envy.”
Don’t hate us ‘cause we’re beautiful!
Buon Compleanno, Andrea!
Finally, we wish Andrea Agnelli a very happy birthday. The man who has done so much to help steer Juventus back to the top of world football turned 37 on Wednesday.
Of course, he’s already received two very big gifts recently: a win in the Torino derby (and the subsequent silence of his Toro-loving friends) and of course, a return to the Champions League knockout round.
L’Avvocato is smiling.
That’s it for today’s STTBS. Conte’s back Sunday and Palermo’s usually a circus—things will NOT be boring. Stay tuned for our match preview and Team Eats, and have a great weekend!
[STTBS]: Juventus News is a daily feature where the JuventiKnows editorial team discusses the JuveNews stories you need to read, without the “Messi signs for Juve on loan thanks to Nike” kind of nonsense. What does [STTBS] mean? You’ll have to guess that for yourself. We wouldn’t tell you even under pain of torture… (though we do take bribes)