For the last few weeks, many have argued that Juventus' form is different than last year. The team is accomplishing more but many have said that it lacks last years' intensity. Is there any truth to this, and if so, why is this happening?
Let's look at the numbers first. After 9 matches, Juventus is in first place with 25 points from a possible 27; Juventus has scored a whooping 20 goals and conceded 4. That translates to Juventus winning every game with a score of 2.2 - 0.4. Impressive, I think so. Here are more numbers, in only one match (against Fiorentina) have Juventus not scored, and only against Catania did Juventus back the back of the net only once.
However, with all of that dominance, there is still that feel that the team can be doing better. And to a certain extent I have to agree.
Of course, I don't mean better in terms of all that can be quantified (goals scored, goals allowed, and points), but in style. And not Barca style, but Juve 2011-2012 style. That team that pressed for 90 minutes, that team that had 60%+ possession every match, that team that did not concede late goals even when the result was all but decided.
Just to be clear, I prefer to win ugly than to loose pretty. With that being said, the team changed very little from last year so the potential exists to play a similar stye of football.
So where did Juve 2011-2012 go?
The Conte Effect
One big difference from last year is the absence of Antonio Conte. The guy is not just a great tactician, but a great motivator. Just look back at the Napoli match last year at the San Paolo. Juventus were 2 goals down twice and still managed to tie the match.
Moreover, I believe that last year's scudetto was not because we were the most talented team, but because we were a very good team with exceptional motivation. Those two factors contributing to make Juve the best team in Serie A.
Now that il Mister is missing, there is something lacking on the sidelines. Arturo Vidal said a few days back that he misses Conte screaming all match long. I am sure he is not alone. It is hard to press the opponent for 90+ minutes. It is also hard to maintain concentration when the result of the game is a foregone conclusion (see Roma match this year). Here is where Antonio Conte's winning mentality is sorely missed.
The worst part of this is that in my opinion Angelo Alessio is even less of a motivator than Carrera is. I hope that I am wrong, but with Alessio on the bench, I think things will get worse before they get better (i.e. when Conte returns on December 8th).
The Champions League
Last year Juventus played one match every week until December. Then, the Coppa Italia came along in January 2012 and drained the team's energy. It was then that we started to see the what some came to call "Drawventus". A team that could not keep its intensity when playing twice a week.
Fast forward to this season and Juventus have been playing two matches every week for the last two months. However, unlike last year, Juventus are not loosing points. At least not in Serie A. It is hard to not see the similarities.
In order to keep the same form as last year, Juventus would need to have two squads of equal strength as last year, something which we don't have.
The Eurocup saw Bonucci, Barzagli, Pirlo, Buffon, and Marchisio make it all the way to the final (with Giaccherini and Giovinco playing a lesser role). I am sure that if all those players had a little bit more rest during the summer, this Juventus would be playing with more intensity.
A Team That is Convinced of Its Own Strength
If Juventus were to get anything meaningful last season, they needed to play above and beyond their individual abilities. Paolo De Ceglie needed to double as a fullback and center back. Vidal and Marchisio needed to play center mid, center back and in some cases center forward.
This year the team is more complete. Yes, we are missing a center forward, but our left wing seems much stronger, and our right wing and center midfield have depth and strength. So the question is, if the team can win and save energies for Europe, Coppa Italia, and Serie A, why should they over exert themselves and come short in one of their objectives?
Admittedly, our Champions League run has been far from successful, but can you imagine how much worse it could be if Juventus were playing at full intensity in Serie A?
Unlike last year, this team knows its strength, and it knows that it can win a Scudetto just by playing at 80% of its potential. In doing so, it can save some energies for February and March, when Europe and Italy will be demanding 120% of them week in and week out.
At the end of the day, our lack of form and style is probably a mix of a number of reasons. It is undeniable that Conte will make a difference once he comes back. As for the other reasons, Juventus must rest assured that this team belongs in Europe, and that playing every 3 days should be a privilege, just like having players compete with their national teams.
So, ugly or pretty, if we make it to the end of December as lone leaders in Serie A, and qualify for the second round of the Champions League, I would say that we should be proud. There are few teams in the world that can keep on winning after having its coach banned for something he didn't do. And if Juventus win silverware this year, no one will remember how the scudetto was won. What will be remembered is that just like last year, Juventus would have won against adversity once again.