The andata has officially come to an end. We're 19 rounds down, and have 19 more rounds to go in the 2015-16 Serie A season. There will hopefully be more than just two Champions League games sprinkled in throughout the next five months, hopefully more than just a nine-game Serie A winning streak to talk about over the next couple of days.
Juventus' season has been eventful, no doubt. It started with doom, slowly improved, and is now a bunch of good times filled with the squad winning lots of games. And that should make us happy — not only because of how the season got underway, but because we should like when Juventus wins. They are fun ... most of the time. And because of Juve haven't lost in nearly three months, they now sit all of two points out of first place as the second half of the season is set to officially begin this weekend.
To have such a turnaround happen within a two- or three-month period, Juventus manager Max Allegri needed both continuity in the starting and his better players to start playing like it. That's happened, with Juventus' best players showing their worth as this nine-game winning streak as gone on been extended into the new year.
This resurgence hasn't been a one-man effort by any means. We've seen a handful of players find their best form of the season during the current winning streak — which pretty go hand-in-hand at this point.
But who has been the best of the best?
Or maybe better yet, who has been the most valuable to the squad this season?
Let's just go ahead and try to answer that question ourselves. The nominees...
Because, who the hell expects a near-38-year-old goalkeeper to be this damn good at this point in his career?
Well, it's more than Buffon basically giving the middle finger to Father Time. It's more than just Buffon making crucial save after crucial save despite facing two and a half times fewer shots than the likes of Emiliano Viviano and Nicola Leali. It's pretty much applicable to every box you can tick. Wherever you look, Buffon's importance is as crucial and as big as ever.
Buffon has won games for Juventus both in Serie A and the Champions League. His saves have come at crucial times when Juve have both had the lead or been tied on the scoreboard. It's amazing when you consider that with Juventus' season getting better and better and the defense improving, sometimes the only save Buffon makes is one of the most important moments in the game. Or maybe we should be used to it by now because it's just Buffon being Buffon.
So, yeah, basically, it's just another Buffon kind of season. Who said you're supposed to regress in your late-30s? Apparently San Gigi missed that memo.
I'll just say this: Dybala is so fun to watch. So, so, so much fun.
Beyond the fun, seeing Dybala having this big of an impact this early into his Juventus career might be a surprise to some. He's already close to matching his goal tally from last season when he had his breakout campaign at Palermo. He's on pace to record double digits in assists for the second straight season. Basically, he's proving to be a player that is worthy of that huge transfer fee Juventus dished out over the summer.
His monster first half saw him zoom up the scoring charts just as fast as Juve shot up the Serie A standings. He's tied fourth in the league in goals with nine, tied for sixth in assists with five behind the five-man logjam at six. His goals have almost all been decisive in one way or another. And just by simply watching him you can see that the boy has all the talent that's needed to become a truly special player in this game.
If there ever was a prime example of a young, cornerstone kind of striker to build your club around going into the future, Dybala would be it. You just get the sense that he's only getting started.
It wasn't so long ago that some of us were wondering if Chiellini would get out of his prolonged funk that saw him make bad mistake after bad mistake. There is still the occasional slip-up out of the 31-year-old defender, but this season has seen him look more like the player of the past.
He might not be racking up tackles like he used to — he's only averaging about two a game in Serie A this season — but he's been so much more consistent than the past season or two. And when it comes to somebody who has the tendency to pick up brash and sometimes uncalled for fouls because he defends so aggressively, that's saying something. You have to go waaaay down the list to see Chiellini's name when it comes to how many yellows each Juve player has picked up this season.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that Chiellini has gotten back to looking like himself more than anything. See as who Juve have on their schedule the next couple of months, I feel safe in saying that's a pretty good thing.
With last weekend's victory over Sampdoria, we can now say that Juventus has officially won a game this season when Marchisio hasn't been in the starting lineup. Although, with this new-found success without Marchisio, I don't think it's a good idea to think of a world without Il Principino in the starting lineup all that often.
It's easy to see why.
According to WhoScored.com, Marchisio leads Juventus in both passes per game (67.1) and pass success rate (91.3). That's the statistical data to show just how dialed in Marchisio is right now. But, as we know, it's more than just numbers. Juve's midfield is just so much more balanced and functional when he's in the lineup compared to when he was out of the squad at the beginning of the season. Marchisio makes Paul Pogba better. He makes Sami Khedira better.
Marchisiio's importance and value to the squad may very well be at an all-time high these days. And with the way he's playing this season, I feel safe in saying that's definitely not a bad thing. The more Marchisio in the starting line, the better, I say.
The best part about Mandzukic quickly finding form and becoming a productive striker once again? Paulo Dybala has a running buddy up top. And since Mandzukic's goal total has gone up and up and up, we've seen Dybala get better and better as well.
But the main development with Mandzukic playing well is that it's giving Juventus' attack a second element to it. We know Dybala will create opportunities because he's so skilled and in incredible form right now. He will not only score goals, but set them up. Mandzukic, on the other hand, easily had his best stretch of games heading into the holiday break. On top of that, his goals in the Champions League this season — both against Manchester City, no less — either tied or won the game for Juventus.
When you look at his stats in all competitions, it's surprising considering how he started. But with nine goals in 15 games in all competitions, that's a pretty good sign that the striker who started his Juventus career so poorly has been replaced by the one who is so highly thought of by so many footballing minds.
This probably wouldn't have even been the case if we had cased a vote at, say, the end of September instead of the first half's conclusion. Much like Mandzukic, Pogba's struggles pretty much were a microcosm of how the team as a whole were playing. Those struggles aren't around anymore.
The sights of Pogba screaming at the top of his lungs out of frustration are long gone. So are the occurrences where Pogba is clearly trying to do too much and force the issue when things aren't going right. Instead, Pogba's game is now looking like the one we're all used to. There's still the tricks and flicks that makes Vine videos light up like a Christmas tree. (They're a little nicer when Juve's winning, I admit.) His pass success rate is third behind the other two starters in the center of the midfield, but he's now third behind Dybala and Juan Cuadrado in assists, third in goals behind Dybala and Mandzukic.
Not too bad for a guy who is trying to do everything while Juve were frustrating the living hell out of us in August and September.