By Kris Voakes at Juventus Stadium
“A new era for the Old Lady.” “A new dawn for Italian football.” “Something which should be copied across the country.” It was bricks and mortar that was being hailed as the emblem of Juventus’ increased potential this summer. But just five games into the new season, any one of those statements could be used to describe the style of play introduced by Antonio Conte, which has seen them go top once more after last night’s 2-0 win over AC Milan.
Two late goals from Claudio Marchisio won it for the home side – one the result of a diverted attempted clearance by Daniele Bonera, the other a forceful effort from distance that Christian Abbiati spilt through his legs – but it was Juve’s constant pressing game which had eventually beaten Massimiliano Allegri’s side into submission.
|MATCH FACTS | Juventus 2-0 AC Milan
The complete over-running of the champions was a sight to behold. In their first truly big fixture at Juventus Stadium, the Bianconeri risked walking away with only a point to show for their efforts as their final ball and their finishing regularly fell short of the quality with which they went about forcing mistakes from their opponents. But eventually, fortune favoured the better side, giving Conte and his men the result they deserved just as much as they craved.
Often in football, the term ‘work ethic’ is used for unskilled but willing players who do their best to contribute. But Conte has brought to the side the kind of work ethic which has often been missing at Juventus in recent times. Too regularly, the club has brought in signings of a decent calibre only to see them misused, or employed in lifeless systems lacking in any energy or drive.
The former Bianconeri captain has changed that trend in the pressing game he has employed from back to front. Whether the ball is in the Juve area, the opposition area, or any spot in between, there is no let-up allowed. With a front five working tremendously hard with and without the ball, resulting in increased possession gains further up the field, he has become the first Juventus coach for time immemorial to make the side better than the sum of their parts.
This is not the finished product by any means, as there are notable areas of weakness still within the squad. Giorgio Chiellini was again asked to play out of position last night, but was largely untested in any true left-back situations due to Milan’s lack of width. Also, his switch meant the need to include Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci – a still unconvincing centre-half pairing – as the two pillars in the centre. On another night, they will surely be posed more questions.
|"The style of play the coach has introduced is relentless. Juve press, and they push, and they build pressure, but they do so by jabbing at all the right buttons. The work-rate involved cannot be understated."|
Further up, there is a lack of crossing ability which belies a system built to promote the use of wing play, while the failure to provide a constant presence in and around the box threatened to be the difference between three points and one. There will be some nights when Conte has to choose between match-winner Marchisio and Arturo Vidal in order to start with the more potent Alessandro Matri front and centre.
But the style of play which the coach has introduced is relentless. Sixteen shots to four and 56 per cent of possession tells a story. Juve press, and they push, and they build pressure, but they do so by jabbing at all of the right buttons. There is an awful lot of running in this side, but very little of it is aimless. As those who watched previous Conte sides will have expected, the energy levels have been made the key component of his style of play, whatever system that may be in, and it is paying dividends so far. The work-rate involved cannot be understated. For once, Juventus are a playing as a unit, and in an effective system to boot.
The very fact that they lead the way this morning means they need to be taken seriously in terms of Scudetto potential, but whether or not this is Juve’s year, their time will come soon enough with Conte at the helm. With further additions to the squad in the months and years to follow, one can only see the club becoming stronger on the pitch if they can maintain the pressing game which has made Juventus 2.0 so spectacular a vision.
Just as Napoli announced themselves as one of the Scudetto favourites with their victory over Inter on Saturday, so too have Juventus thrown their hat into the ring. Now it’s up to the rest of Italy to beat them and their new Conte-led revolution, or join them. Are you watching Milano?Follow Kris Voakes on