Some may say that Juventus won the championship because of Conte's flexibility, others, because of our impenetrable defense, and maybe, just maybe you will hear the odd "I blame it on Amauri" line. No matter how good Conte (or Amauri) may be, the truth is that without good personnel, we would not have finished where we did. And although we have had talented goal keepers, defenders, and forwards (I am not talking about Amauri), it is the midfield that really shone this year. Their work-rate, technical ability, and the desire to follow Conte's orders to the grave are arguably the main reason why La Vecchia Signora was able to add another scudetto to its already glorious history. So how good was our midfield? Scores after the jump
In no particular order:
Arturo Vidal 7.5 - Pick any game played by Arturo and now ask yourself, "Does it look like this is his first year in Serie A?" The answer should be a resounding NO. With 30 appearances (an extra three as a substitute) in Serie A, he was one of the most utilized players in Conte's winning side. With 5.4 tackles/game and 2.2 interceptions/game, his defensive game is nothing but solid. Add to that his seven goals, three assists, and 85.1 percent pass success, you get a player that may surprise your defense at any minute. The most exciting part is that he is only 25. In other words, there is plenty more to come. Although his games against Napoli and Roma really stand out, it was his work rate that won him the respect of his peers, coach, and fans. When Arturo was tired and not running as usual, it made the team more vulnerable defensively and more predictable offensively. If he can bring the same performances to Europe next season, all of our opponents should be worried.
Claudio Marchisio 7.5 - Il Principino really came of age this season. With 35 appearances and nine goals (I wanted him to equal Nocerino's total, but oh well), he was a force to be reckoned with offensively. Defensively his 2.3 tackles/game are less than half of what Vidal has contributed, however, his 1.9 interceptions/game show his technical ability to be at the right place. We all know he is a different player than Vidal, and that is clear by his more successful dribbles (50% more dribbles than Vidal), but also because he is dispossessed a lot less frequently. More than the numbers, he is slowly starting to look more and more like a team captain. From being the difference between winning and tying (this team doesn't know much about loosing) against Milan and Inter, to scoring that goal against Bologna that got us to the next round on Coppa Italia; the team is depending more and more on Marchisio, and the little prince doesn't seem to mind one bit.
Luca Marrone (AKA Luke Brown) 6.5 - For someone who played two games in the whole season (and three more as a substitute), it wouldn't have been unreasonable to give him a s.v. With that being said, he is not just any player, he is a Juventus youth product who has done everything right to be where he is at. Being inspirational to many Italian youngsters has to count for something, specially when you hear what Mario Ballotelli does every other day. But it is not only that, the kid has shown great maturity. His assist for Giaccherini in December, and his goal in the last game of the season show how good he is (credit to Conte for keeping him motivated). I am confident that with Europe next year, Luca Marrone will show us more of what he is capable of, and who knows, maybe provide a little healthy competition for Marchisio. Marrone is still young, and has much to learn, and for the looks of it, Conte is determined to be Marrone's only teacher.
Simone Pepe 7.0 - According to WhoScored, Pepe has played 15 games as a forward, however, his 10 games as a midfielder, warrant a short commentary in this post. I really struggled with his ranking, if it was 6.5, I thought it would suggest that Marrone was equally as good as Pepe (I don't believe so). Giving him a 7.5 would suggest he was as determinant this season as Marchisio and Vidal (I don't believe so either). Although in some games, his contributions left a lot to be desired, other times he was a game changer. His most important weapon was his versatility. Simone Pepe played six different positions in midfield: right, right attacking, left, left attacking, left defensive, and central. In all of those positions, he performed most times at least satisfactorily, with many very good games (see both Lazio matches). Although Pepe is a clown outside of the field, his all-business attitude inside the pitch have given the team the character it needed to overcome some difficult situations. His versatility, much appreciated by Conte, was central for this title. Simone epitomizes the four things Conte wants from his players: lavoro, lavoro, lavoro, and a lot of humility.
Paolo De Ceglie 6.5 - Jorid already did a superb job of analyzing Paolino as a defender, and most of what he said applies to him as a midfielder, so I won't go into too much detail. Although his defensive contributions have been pretty solid, I thought his crosses needed a bit of work still. However, bearing in mind that this is his first-full season in quite a while, and that he is only 25 years old, the future looks bright for him.
Simone Padoin 5.5 - Three Serie A games (three more appearances as substitute) and one Coppa Italia match is not much to judge a player by. Yes, he scored a goal, but that game was all but over. Padoin is a squad player, he will gladly sit on the bench and, at 28, it would be a little optimistic to imagine he will become a great contributor to this squad. However, silverware is won with depth and consistency, and Padoin provides both.
Emanuele Giaccherini 6.0 - When we played Cesena last season, Giaccherini ran circles around our players. This year he got to run circles in a Juventus jersey. Giaccherini scored one goal in Serie A and two more in the Coppa Italia. Given his stature, weight, and ball control, he is a tough player to dispossess. Also, if he made it to the byline with the ball at his feet ,he caused defenses a lot of trouble. Giaccherini has proven effective both as a starter (12 times this season including Coppa Italia) or substitute (14 times). In more than one occasion he has come off the bench to make the team more dangerous, specially when crosses stop to work, and when Pirlo is marked well. Just as with Pepe, Giaccherini has been all about lavoro, lavoro, lavoro, and plenty of humility.
Marcelo Estigarribia 5.5 - His season is not as easy to judge. He scored one goal in the whole season (a very important one against Napoli). But he only played nine matches (an additional four as a substitute and three full games in the Coppa) in Serie A. Not too bad for his first year in a new league. He also had an assist for Chiellini in the away Roma game — again, not too bad. The problem is that he has missed innumerable chances, and that is not just this year. Estigarribia was notorious for messing up in front of the net before he came to Italy. Looking at whoscored.com, his strengths read: "Player has no significant strengths," whereas his weaknesses are: "Very weak aerial duels and weak passing and tackling." However, with all of this, Conte chose him for many important matches. So, what gives? My conclusion is that the player tries hard in training. He is a better dribbler than De Ceglie, but not as good as Giaccherini. He is a good crosser. He can't finish if his life depended on it. Maybe next year his contribution will be more meaningful, and he will show similar displays to those in the last Copa America. I, for one, wouldn't mind giving him another year to try.
Andrea Pirlo 8.5- Thank you, Milan. He is injury prone? Excuse me, the guy played 37 games. He is past his prime? He has completed 86.9% of his passes (and take a look at what kind of passes he has made). He has been man of the match eight times (the next closest are Chiellini, Vidal and Matri with four each). I could continue with the numbers, but those you can find everywhere, and fortunately, they don't tell the whole story. Andrea Pirlo has been arguably every bit as important as Conte in achieving this tittle. His calm approach to the game, even with the team in trouble, allowed everyone to do their job. All of the accolades that he has received by other players who are exposed to talent time and again, speak volumes of Andrea's skills. With that being said, when Juventus started playing in midweek, Andrea became a little tired and the team felt it. Let's hope next year we have a solution for that problem. The other minor criticism of Pirlo: stop taking penalties. At the end of the day, his contribution to the team was so much more than the penalties he missed. In Andrea we have a leader, a point of reference, and a champion for a few more years. Too bad Galliani didn't give him to us earlier.
Michele Pazienza, Milos Krasic and Elijero Elia s.v. - Milos scored one goal this season, so I can't say he didn't contribute. Elia had a couple sweet moves as well. However, considering how little we saw of them, it is unfair to give them a grade. Milos, I am sorry to see you leave but your time here is over. I respect you as a professional. Elia, I am so glad you came to show the world that coming as a big name doesn't mean you get to play. You put your head down, you work hard and you follow orders, if you don't like it, don't let the door his you on your way out. Michele Pazienza was unsatisfied with his playing time and it must have shown in training, since Giaccherini and Marrone moved higher up the pecking order. I am glad we found him a club, and if we can give him as payment for Asamoah, I won't be complaining. Thanks for your service.
The midfield was pivotal in getting us the Scudetto this year. Next year, the understanding between players will be better, benefiting the Old Lady. With an average age of 26.3, our midfield is probably not even at its peak, and with Buoy, Giandonato, and Appelt showing good displays, the future looks bright. To make things even better, if we get our hands on Asamoah, Pogba, and Verratti, we would have one of the most solid midfields in the world. Although that should be a source of pride, it is also a continuation of a great tradition. Juventus has rarely envied other teams in any department, the midfield is no exception.