By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer
It is now 47 league games since Juventus last suffered defeat, and against Napoli on Saturday night the Bianconeri showed that they are as untouchable now as they have been at any stage in their 17-month streak. Sure, the Partenopei may have had them on the rack for spells, but it was the champions' superior depth which saw them through where previously it may not have.
One area in which they have undoubtedly become stronger over the past year is in their quality off the bench. Whereas 12 months ago they had around 14 or 15 first-teamers to call upon at any one time, their squad now arguably goes into the twenties before there is a truly noticeable drop in quality, leading to many quizzical looks over the recent overuse of key midfielders Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio.
Since the league season began, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Vidal, Pirlo, Marchisio and Kwadwo Asamoah have each been given only one game of significant rest. But Saturday's clash with Napoli showed just what the extras have to offer, and it should lead to the club's coaching team being more liberal in their use of the likes of Martin Caceres, Paul Pogba et al.
Angelo Alessio's decision to throw on Alessandro Matri, Caceres and Pogba helped to turn the tide back in Juve's favour, with the former Cagliari man able to hold up the ball more successfully than starter Fabio Quagliarella, before the latter duo both struck after late introductions.
Caceres | He and Pogba deserve more game time
Now is the time for Alessio and Antonio Conte to send some more work their way, rather than stick with players who are carrying knocks or are low on energy. The tendency has been to go with their core first-team regulars whenever possible; Vidal was thrown on for the last 40 minutes against Chievo three days after picking up a nasty twisted ankle against Chelsea, Bonucci's knee was patched up and he was sent back out on Saturday despite there being Caceres, Lucio and Luca Marrone to call off the bench. And we all know about Pirlo's supposed lethargy.
Between now and the mid-season break, the majority of Juventus' squad will have only a single midweek off, with the second hiatus taken up by Italy's friendly with France in Parma. There are 16 games to negotiate in less than nine weeks, whereas last term Juve only played a total of 18 matches between August and December. The extra workload demanded a deeper squad, and now that they have it – and the players are proving to be ready to contribute on the big stage – there is no reason not to make the most of what they have.
It is not only the goalscorers who have something to offer. The Old Lady arguably have a second string that would trouble most of Serie A, and perhaps we will get to see that in two or three of the forthcoming fixtures against Catania, Bologna, Pescara or Palermo, and maybe even in a more high-profile game such as the Turin derby, too.
Whereas main challengers Napoli have only 13 or 14 players of first-team quality, the Bianconeri clearly have the stocks to win games in all kinds of scenarios, and with things shaping up the way they are, they should be able to win the Scudetto at a canter. If they can make better use of their squad, then European progression could well be added to a second successive title.
|JUVENTUS' STRONG SECOND STRING
The team they disposed as champions last term look increasingly unlikely to have any kind of realistic run at the top three, with AC Milan going down to a 3-2 defeat at Lazio in Saturday's late game. The final score made the gap between the two sides look more narrow than the flow of the game suggested, with the Rossoneri only troubling the home side after going three down shortly after half-time.
Once more, there was a huge lack of belief, togetherness, positivity, defensive structure and tactical direction, and their first 50 minutes were as bad as any spell in a horrific beginning to the season. They have now seen out one fifth of the campaign with only two wins to their name, with absolutely nothing to suggest their fortunes are set to change. Another defeat at Malaga in the Champions League on Wednesday can surely only result in the sacking of Massimiliano Allegri.