Juventus have begun their 2011/12 Serie A campaign in fine style with a 4-1 win over Parma. When compared to last season’s corresponding fixture, where Parma were the victors with the same scoreline, the change in direction and air of optimism surrounding Juve is clear to see.
The Bianconeri are still very much in the process of recovery following the Calciopoli scandal of 2006. Yes, in 2007 they immediately bounced back up to Serie A after being shamefully relegated to the second tier as punishment for their role in the matchfixing events, but the third and second placed finishes of the next two seasons only papered over the cracks at the club.
In both 2009-10 and 2010-11 Juventus limped to unacceptable 7th placed finishes, languishing miles behind Inter and Milan. The state of the club simply would not serve to satisfy it’s estimated twelve million domestic fans and countless more worldwide. Rash changes of management and the hiring of losers such as Ciro Ferrara and Luigi Delneri, as well as constant wheeling and dealing in the transfer market meant stability was non-existent. During this period, the squad had no balance and was perenially beset with irrelevant loan signings and far too many in’s and out’s.
However in 2011, the turbulent ride on which Italy’s most decorated club has been spewing out pathetic result after pathetic result, may well have reached its final stop. With the brand new state of the art, if uninspiringly named “Stadio Juventus” now open, a bright young manager in Antonio Conte and some genuinely quality players finally having been brought in, the foundations are layed for Juve to have a crack at the Scudetto. With the additions of Arturo Vidal, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Andrea Pirlo, Michele Pazienza, Eljero Elia and Mirko Vucinic, Juventus now have a depth to their squad which didn’t exist four months ago. Notably, key members of last year’s team such as Fabio Quaglierella, Simone Pepe and Alessandro Matri have all signed full contracts following their loan deals. As well as the the influx of fresh faces, plenty of the dead wood that had been stagnating the Old Lady’s squad for some time has been shifted out. Both Conte and club director Giuseppe Marotta deserve credit for their summer’s work.
It is key then, that Juventus keep together this group of players for a sufficient period of time in order to allow the undoubted potential that they possess to come to the fore. After all, Inter won five consecutive titles whilst maintaining more or less the same core nucleus of players, and Milan have also kept their squad intact for many years, finally reaping the benefits by winning the league last season. It is also extremely important that Conte is allowed time in the job. While the Scudetto is not out of Juve’s reach, it would be foolish to jump to the conclusion that they are favourites to win it and therefore failure to do so should not result in Conte being shown the door. The “favourites” tag is surely Milan’s to burden at this stage. This means that if Conte were to guide Juventus back into the top four, something that is well within his team’s capability, then the campaign should be considered a success and Juve can then kick on again in twelve months time.
In order to clarify what Juventus’ realistic target for the season should be, let’s take a look at what their likley rivals can expect from the new season.
While Milan have a massive squad which is full of quality, the likes of Roma and Inter do not. Admittedly, like Juve, Roma have also been active in the transfer market, but it is open to debate as to whether or not their crop of player’s better’s that of the Bianconeri, especially after their home defeat at the hands of Cagliari today. Inter have managed to hold on to Wesley Sneijder, but after a summer in which the dutchman’s name has been relentlessy linked with Manchester United, it wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that perhaps the Nerazzurri’s energy and morale has already taken quite a blow. Although Sneijder has stayed, Samuel Eto’o has left, and despite a seemingly top drawer replacement in the shape of Diego Forlan having arrived, questions must to be asked over whether the Uruguayan has the legs to hit the ground running in a new league at the age of 32.
Udinese, having finished a brilliant fourth in 2010-11 have had the spine of their team ripped out, with the departures of Cristian Zapata, Gokhan Inler and the mercurial Alexis Sanchez. As a consequence, it is unlikely that the Zebrette will manage a repeat of last season. Lazio missed out on the top four in 2010-11 and considering their lack of transfer activity it stands to reason to say that they will almost certainly miss out once more. That leaves Napoli, who perhaps surprisingly have hung on to their three musketeers of Edinson Cavani, Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi. Following an outstanding third place last year, they should be considered real contenders to maintain top four status this time around.
It appears then that along with Inter, Juventus pose the greatest threat to Milan’s defence of the title. This should really be perceived as news that Juve could win the scudetto, but that realistically a top four finish is what should be expected. Champions League qualification would be welcomed with open arms with everyone connected with the club. Anything more should be seen as a fantastic bonus.
Today is just the start and even though they have achieved a great win over Parma, Juventus must maintain perspective. Should they lose it then a repeat of the dour last two season’s could happen once again, and the club will just keep on chasing their tail as the Milan and Inter rack up the Scudetti. But, as long as Conte keeps his side’s feet on the ground, there is every chance that Juve can quietly make their way back to where they belong: at the very top of Italian football.
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