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The Bianconeri have dropped points in successive games to allow Lazio and Napoli to close in, suggesting that a change of shape could be the way forward for the Turin side

COMMENT
By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer

If the league season had started on January 1, Juventus would currently be sitting in 15th place, five points behind leaders Napoli. Thankfully for the Bianconeri, they began 2013 with a big advantage stockpiled from their excellent form in the opening half of the campaign, but the defeat to Sampdoria last weekend and Sunday’s draw at Parma have seen their eight-point lead crumble.

And for the second time in successive weekends, the Old Lady had been in a winning position. Andrea Pirlo’s free kick, like Sebastian Giovinco’s penalty seven days previous, looked likely to take them on their way to three points, but instead they could not claim the maximum as defensive deficiencies shone through once more. Robbed of Kwadwo Asamoah, Giorgio Chiellini and Claudio Marchisio, the left side of their formation is unrecognisable, leaving Juve playing with a significant limp.

Just as Federico Peluso had been shown up down that channel by Mauro Icardi and Sampdoria, Martin Caceres was given the run-around by the Gialloblu at the Tardini, and it came as no surprise that Nicola Sansone’s 77th-minute leveller came from an attack down the Juventus left. Truth be told, Roberto Donadoni’s side deserved their point and perhaps could count themselves unfortunate not to have put the champions on the rack earlier, with their strong opening stretching Juve from the first minute.

With Andrea Barzagli, Peluso and Caceres all having failed to fill the significant space left behind by Chiellini at various stages this season, it may well be the right time now for coach Antonio Conte to look at new ways to cover for the loss of Italy’s best defender. Throw in the continued lack of firepower in the forward line, and there is plenty of reason to believe that Juventus may be able to regain control of games by switching to a 4-3-3 formation.

HOW JUVENTUS COULD LINE UP

GOALKEEPER

Gianluigi Buffon

RIGHT-BACK
CENTRE BACK
CENTRE BACK
LEFT-BACK
Stephan Lichtsteiner
Andrea Barzagli

Leonardo Bonucci

Paolo De Ceglie

CENTRE MIDFIELD
CENTRE MIDFIELD
CENTRE MIDFIELD

Arturo Vidal


Andrea Pirlo


Paul Pogba
(Marchisio when fit)

RIGHT FORWARD
CENTRE FORWARD
LEFT FORWARD

Fabio Quagliarella

Mirko Vucinic

Sebastian Giovinco

Conte used the formation a lot during his early days in charge of the Turin side in late 2011, and the change to a three-man forward line bore fruit in the midweek Coppa Italia victory over AC Milan. Having an extra player in attack would allow Giovinco to play in the wide left slot in which he was infinitely more successful with Parma last season than he has been so far this term. He is currently on course to fall short of his 15-goal output of 2011-12, despite playing in a more dominant side which has had much more success in terms of possession and territory. Coming from the left, he looks far more comfortable in taking on full-backs and picking holes in defences.

The switch to four in defence would help to make up for the loss of Asamoah as well as Chiellini. Though the Ghana international is not a natural defender, his influence down the left in a defensive capacity should not be underestimated. And without him on the flank, Juve have struggled to give Chiellini’s understudy the required assistance in closing out dangerous opposing attackers. If Conte were to employ an orthodox full-back such as Paolo De Ceglie, or even switch Stephan Lichtsteiner to the left with Caceres or Mauricio Isla employed on the right, centre-backs Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli would be provided with the extra support that is lacking right now.

Bonucci has never excelled in a back four in the way that he has since Juve first switched to a 3-5-2, but with each passing game without Chiellini, the more opponents are able to exploit space behind the wing-backs, stretch the back three, and find holes from there. For now, this has to be the better option at a time when the Bianconeri are struggling to put together anything like the kind of performances that have become their trademark over the past 16 months.

With the in-form Udinese to come to the Juventus Stadium next week, Conte must consider a change of formation. If the current run of bad form continues, then they could find themselves in a Scudetto race that seemed unlikely to ever exist only 10 days ago.

ELSEWHERE...

  • Udinese head to Turin in eighth place after coming from behind to beat Fiorentina. The Friulani have become much maligned over the past couple of years after missing out on the Champions League proper at the last hurdle, but despite a summer which saw them shorn of big stars once more, Francesco Guidolin continues to upset the odds with his side. The north-east side have lost only four games all season, a record bettered only by Juventus, and with Antonio Di Natale bang on form once more and teams above them faltering, who would back against them making it to Europe once again for 2013-14?
  • Lazio continue to fly below the radar in second place and are now just three points off the top after beating Atalanta 2-0 at the Stadio Olimpico. Most observers continue to regard Juve as runaway favourites for the Scudetto, well many more regard Napoli as their closest serious rivals for the title. However, Vladimir Petkovic's troops keep closing in, and while Anderson Hernanes and Miroslav Klose are given much of the credit for that, they must also be taken seriously thanks to a defence which has helped to make their anaemic attack good enough to challenge. They may only have the league's eighth-best finishing stats, but the third-best defensive record in Serie A makes them a real force to be reckoned with.
  • A Palermo side that was expected to improve once the January transfer window came around continues to struggle, with a pathetic showing against Napoli sending them to a second defeat in 2013. The 3-0 reverse at the San Paolo was notable for some atrocious defending, with new additions Salvatore Aronica and Andrea Dossena unable to help stop the rot against their old club. The inevitable question at La Favorita given the presence of trigger-happy president Maurizio Zamparini relates to the future of coach Gian Piero Gasperini, who is unlikely to last much longer if he cannot get his side working as a unit. Now in 19th place, one of the most well-regarded clubs in the top flight could become a Serie B side by May.
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