Let us begin with Andrea Zanchetta's debut season as primavera coach. How has he fared? Has Fabio Grosso's World Cup-winning experience rubbed off on superstar in the making Vajebah Sakor and his young comrades?
Just a few days back Juve faced local rivals Torino in the Coppa Italia. The coach opted for an attacking 4-3-3 formation and, after starting strongly, forcing our opponents to play on the counter, the breakthrough came in the 30th minute, with some great work from Anastasios Donis creating an opening for Pol Garcia who tucked the ball away for 1-0. Soon after, it was 2-0, with Jose Cevallos shooting from range, the keeper's parry only reaching the feet of the hungry for glory fullback Luca Barlocco who made no mistake from close range to put us firmly in control of the tie. The swine did pull a goal back, but it was not enough to halt our progress to the semi-finals where we will play our good friends (hohoho!) from Florence in late January.
Mirroring the Champions league, the inaugural UEFA Youth League pitted us against Copenhagen, Real Madrid and Galatasaray.
Our first result in Denmark was a painful 2-2 draw. After Vladut Marin had scored a own goal, Garcia brought us level before Sakor plunged us into the lead. However, victory was snatched from our grasp in the 94th minute courtesy of a dubious penalty.
Youth League: Juventus-Galatasaray 3-1: highlights (via TMSVS10)
Next up was the home tie against the Turks. It proved a far more straight forward affair, with Moroccan prima punta Younes Marzouk grabbing the opener, before Matteo Gerbaudo made it 2-0 with 68 minutes played. The Turks pulled one back late on, only to see our gargantuan Guinean, Alhassane Soumah, add a third to leave the final score at 3-1. So far so good.
Unfortunately, next up was Real Madrid, who presented a rather more stern test. The positives taken from the game were another goal for Soumah and one for spanish front-man Sergio Buenacasa. The negatives were the six goals conceded, four of them coming from the boot of Narvaez...6-2 was certainly far from ideal. So moving on...swiftly. For why dwell on such horrors?
With the return match against the dastardly Spaniards appearing next on the fixture list, there was hope, not for victory, other than for those die-hard lunatics who throw caution and common sense and recent history to the wind. Whilst we managed to shackle and shut down our new nemesis Narvaez, we still went down 0-2.
And so, Juve were left with two fixtures remaining, and due to other results, requiring nothing short of victory against a weaker opponent to bring us back into a commanding position in the group (ring any bells???). Copenhagen came to town. They scored first, Soumah drew Juve level. Yet again Juve went a goal down, and whilst Gerbaudo drew level at 2-2, Juve just couldn't find the winner against a resolute Danish defense.
The final fixture drew upon us. Juventus ventured into the belly of the Turkish beast to face off against Galatasaray, assuming that Real Madrid would crunch Copenhagen and close to positive about what could happen over the 90 minutes in Istanbul. Bear in mind and heart the horrid mauling received at the hands of the Spanish both home and away, and our own dominance over Galatasaray in the reverse fixture. Soumah continued his rich vein of form by grabbing the opener, Marzouk went on the rampage to find his hatrick in between our Greek attacking midfielder star Donis chipping in with a goal. It finished 0-5. We had done our best.
And yet...something evil transpired in the other fixture. Something depraved, clearly the work of the devil himself, which will stay with me until I reach my grave (or we face Real Madrid again and crunch them). Copenhagen beat the Spaniards 2-1, leaving us out in the cold in third place, sent home before our time, for want of a better word...skanked.
Honorable mentions go to Sakor and Gerbaudo in midfield, Capitano Pol Garcia in defense and the two front men Soumah (four goals and and assist in six appearances) and Marzouk (four goals, three assists in five appearances).
As much as I would like to blame the Spanish, as with the seniors we must end our hunt for culpability with a long, hard look in the mirror of ugliness. Finishing third on our group was not shameful, but the two results against Madrid penned the writing on the wall. And that late equalizer in the opener against Copenhagen came back to haunt us in a vicious manner. Essentially, the experience can only be a good thing for the squad and coaching staff. We will be back, and I am sure we will return stronger, and filled with berserker desire for REVENGE. (Perhaps we should have Conte on the sidelines for high stakes encounters in the youth league?)
Finally, let us lock horns with the domestic primavera league table. Which finds Juve...fourth in the rankings, having played 11, won seven, lost four. Were the primavera to win their game in hand on the top three, they could be third. Presently trailing nine points from top, is far from awful, yet also, far from commendable. Up top, Marzouk has four goals from seven games with Beunacasa notching three from five outings.
Younes Bnou Marzouk (via rachid rami)
I am satisfied with the efforts in the UEFA Youth League, pleased by Juve's progress in the Coppa Italia, but uneasy about the position and performances in the league. I expect Juve to qualify for the play-offs at the end of the season, but it appears clear that Zanchetta does not yet know his finest first XI. Yet at this level, the prudent need to give every squad member the chance to develop and learn his trade must be noted. Winning is clearly beneficial to the club's reputation, but squad development as a whole offers the club far greater long term return on their investments.
Marzouk and Soumah have proven themselves the primavera's most potent strikers, yet both occupy the same position — leading the line. Garcia marshals the defence and team well enough, and Sakor and Gerbaudo stand out in midfield, as well as our Ecuadorian import, Jose Cevallos.
Considering the amount of youth internationals in the youth squad (see HERE), a case could be made for Zanchetta underachieving. It is early days, but with the squad under his command, I expect an appearance in the final of the Coppa Italia, the playoffs achieved in the league and a solid showing in the Viareggio tournament in January.
LOANS AND CO-OWNERSHIP
Dear Beppe Marotta and his wingman Fabio Paratici have been ever so busy in their attempts to vacuum up the cream of the youth crop domestically and globally. There is always a plethora of options for me to focus upon, at home and increasingly abroad, but I aim to shed light on the fortunes of the players who I perceive as the most likely to play a part in our future as potential graduates into the senior ranks of our beloved Juve.
The move to Torino has heralded an upturn in fortunes for Ciro Immobile who seems to finally be finding his feet in the top flight under the careful guidance of Ventura. It took the striker until early October to net his first goal, but since then he has been in hot form — eight goals and two assists in nine starts (12 apps.) is a very promising return. If such form continues, his value is sure to rise. Enough to warrant a move to our senior squad? It seems unlikely, although he does appear a useful potential understudy to Fernando Llorente. I suspect his future lies away from our ranks, and perhaps he can be used as a make-weight in a deal for Alessio Cerci. It would come as little surprise to find Beppe had spoken of such things during the summer and beyond with his Torino counterparts. And why not, eh? I am a strident fan of maintaining an Italian core to our Italian team. Not quite to the extent of choosing Italians over stranieri, but somewhere nearby. We have a grand history of attracting the cream of the domestic crop and a fleet footed skill-merchant lefty like Cerci could certainly offer us more options in the final third. (Torino coach, Giampiero Ventura, as many will already know, has had a major effect on Conte's footballing philosophy... see HERE.)
Over in Genoa, another forward on Juve's books, Manolo Gabbiadini, is not faring so well at Sampdoria. A paltry offering of four goals from 15 starts is hardly inspiring. Looking at WhoScored adds weight to an already sinking heart. For it lists his weaknesses, disconcertingly, as 'Passing and Finishing.'Definite room for improvement. Although the way things are going for Manolo, we may well be looking at a major loss on our investment.
Simone Zaza 2013 HD - Future Juve Star? (via colosimo99)
Eighteen goals in Serie B for Ascoli last term persuaded Juve to purchase a stake in Simone Zaza over the summer, with Sassuolo grabbing the rest of him and registration in their squad for the current season. His efforts in the top flight so far have led to five goals from eleven starts (16 apps.) which is encouraging. What I have seen of the player, has reminded me of former Juventino Gianluca Vialli in terms of his athleticism, muscular approach to the game and penchant for deft flick-ons. However, his chances have been limited in the Sassuolo starting XI, partly due to the form of another player Juve co-own — Signore Berardi.
Domenico Berardi - Sassuolo 2013/14 [HD] (via ReppinDK87)
Now we are getting warm. Turning our focus towards a player who is still only 19 years old, and yet lighting up stadiums regularly as he turns out for Serie A newcomers and necromancers Sassuolo! 7 goals and 2 assists from 10 starts (11 apps) is a solid return. If this kid can continue to dazzle in the upper tier, in a side lacking quality in many places, it bodes very well for his future and ours. Hardly a powerhouse in the air, always hustling the opposing rearguard, eager to steal the ball or force a mistake. Give young Domenico the ball, and tell him to charge forward; the chances are he will make something beautiful happen. He can dribble, he can shoot, he has grinta. Of all our young strikers he is the one who is leading the charge towards a possible chance under Conte.
Also at Sassuolo, we find midfielder Luca Marrone, who after returning from injury has been a major part of his side's upturn in form and results. Three assist from his nine starts is fine and dandy for a defensively-minded regista. Now integrated in the side, the second half of the season will surely prove pivotal to Luca's future. Does he have the talent to persuade Conte to bring him home as the new Pirlo? The early signs are upbeat, but far removed from conclusive.
Ghanaian muscle-man, Richmond Boakye, has been toiling away in La Liga, with struggling Elche, who find themselves at this stage in the season, a mere two points above the drop zone. Whether this frantic for survival environment is conducive to Richmond's development, is a question only Beppe Marrotta and his hatchet-man Paratici can answer. Boakye has three goals from goals starts.
Which leaves us with Freddy 'the iceman' Sorensen. Whose Bologna side sit perilously near the drop zone. The centre-back, who did so well for us in his debut season, is performing consistently dutifully. Not much can be judged from his seven tarts (eight apps) in the current stagione, but at worst, his progress seems stable. Reports aplenty have suggested a connection between German side, Werder Bremen and Juve, with some sources mentioning Freddy as the first of potentially many, of our younger talents, heading to the Bundesliga. I am a fan of young Freddy. His abilities as a marker and tackler are of a high level, he works hard, shows a good positional awareness and rarely loses out in one on one confrontations.
My last port of call is Serie B, where too many to list of our loaned or co-owned players are plying their trade. I will isolate those who I feel have potential to carve out a career of note, on current and previous endeavour.
Nicola Leali -Best of - 2012/2013 (via HugoLloris86)
I doubt many, if any, would or could argue with my Serie B analysis beginning with Nicola Leali. His Spezia side are three points away from the play-off zone. His sixteen starting appearances confirm his progress. Not bad at all for a 20-year-old who won the award for best goalkeeper in the second tier last term. Nicola has continued to perform heroics. The stakes are higher this season, and if he can maintain his position as number one choice between the sticks, as Spezia charge towards promotion, I expect to see him find a place at a Serie A club next season. Still raw, still making amazing saves, still showing his understandable immaturity on occasion; we will not know his true worth, which surely must be 'Can he replace Buffon?' until he is tested in the top flight.
In the same squad, and in the same first eleven on the team sheet until a recent injury, Gabriel Appelt has continued his journey from Brazilian prodigy to mixing it right and dirty with Italian football. His 12 starts for Spezia in the defensive midfield anchorman role reminiscent of how we deploy Pirlo, is reason for good cheer. Let us toast our festive drinks to Gabriel and hope he prospers.
With John Smith blunderbussin in my ears, my hell-hound rancid and rageful, for no good reason at all, and the vague recollection swaying in my vodka addled mind, of cooking home-made pizzas for my Lady, I best wrap this up sharpish.
The brightest of our other young starlets attempting to make their mark amongst the big boys, Stefano Beltrame, the second striker who did ever so well for our ex-U19 coach Baroni, found himself at Bari over the Summer, after an apparently feisty show of eagerness between several clubs for his signature. Just the two assists in 7 starts (12 apps) is yet to transplant his wonderful skills displayed for our primavera last season, into the senior game.
As you can tell, I am tiring now, and with the gorgeous aromas of my freshly baked pizza bases adorned with olives, hot cacciatore, chili, mozzarella and tomato paste, finding me from the nearby kitchen, I am eager to wrap this up, give myself to feasting, familial charm offensives and the vodka vixen.
Before I depart from this virtual soapbox, I should mention...
Hordur Magnusson...our 20-year-old stopper who has made a commendable 6 appearances for Spezia.
And also...lastly, but far from leastly...
Daniele Rugani...another centre-back we co-own, who has made a wonderful 17 appearances, at 19 years of age, for table topping Empoli. He is my other tip for greatness, alongside Berardi, Leali and Sakor.
Park-Like Setting - Philosophy (via chadiotreetrunk)
With the Russian fire-water coursing majestically though my crimson rivers, causing me to sway in my seat to the smooth beats of Park-Like Setting – Philosophy, late christmas presents still to cover haphazardly with paper I fought fang and claw for at the local supermarket earlier today, my intense rage at my supervisor at work a distant memory I can finally laugh at, I can look at the above, and feel content, that I have met my aim of bringing you all up to speed...
Wishing every one of you a wonderful end to 2013 and lively start to 2014, the Phoenician year of the Conte...