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There and Back Again: Defense has propelled Juventus back to first place in Serie A

Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

First place. It’s taken me two days to fully comprehend what exactly this Juventus team has accomplished in the span of four months. I am literally typing flabbergasted by the fact that this team has strung together 15 wins on the trot while climbing 12 (12!) spots in the standings. Ask the majority of Juventus fans back in October if they would be happy with Champions League qualification and I can safely assume 80 percent of us would have signed on the dotted line.

However, we should’ve known our Old Lady always has a few tricks and surprises up her sleeves and that this season was far from over.

Let’s get one thing straight, this season is not finished. There is no trophy for best comeback of the season and team spirit. What matters is that Juventus finishes the 38th game of this Serie A season with more points than all of the other 19 teams. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take a few minutes to sit back and acknowledge just exactly what this team has done. September seems like so long ago, doesn’t it? It was not long ago it looked as if our empire was crumbling at the bits, but our champions never quit, and that is exactly what our players are — Champions.

That is the only way to describe the composure, calmness, and serenity with which our boys handled the disastrous start to the season. Make no mistake, any other team would have collapsed at the first sign of distress, but fino alla fine is not just a catchy merchandising phrase, it is a way of life. A motto passed down to our Bianconeri from every single Agnelli generation and that’s what makes this epic resurgence all the more sweeter. The fact no matter how low we plummeted in the standings Gigi Buffon & Co. knew it would be alright, and even if we as fans woke up in cold sweats thinking about the standings, our team was working tirelessly while never pressing the panic button.

There is one particular facet of this comeback that I would like to heap praise on and that is our superb defenders. It was not long ago that the efficacy of our defence was being questioned by those around the team but they have rebounded and look like the elite defensive presence that stood in front of Buffon in 2015.

Quick translation of that tweet says "Juventus has played 10 games in 2016 (8 Serie A and 2 Coppa Italia) allowing 14 shots on goal and conceded only one goal by Cassano against Sampdoria." That is an absolutely incredible feat. It is a winning recipe for success when you can keep opponents to 1.4 shots a game and unless they take advantage of that one chance on Gigi, chances are Juve is going to score and win.

Just take a look at the Napoli game. Remember Gonzalo Higuain's shot attempts? Me neither, because this was Higuain's one attempt on goal Saturday:

Your eyes do not deceive you, Serie A's leading goal scorer and one of the most in-form strikers in Europe was held to ZERO shots on target throughout the entire 90 minutes. Andrea Barzagli man-marked Higuain like a hawk and it paid dividends to Juventus' game plan. And just when it looked as if Higuain had snuck by Barzagli for his one chance on goal, Leondaro Bonucci proved why he is one of the best in Europe.

It isn't just the men in the middle who form the defensive bone of this team, Max Allegri has his team playing a team defence that would make the Juve of Scirea and Gentile jealous. Take a look at the compactness of the entire defensive unit just before Simone Zaza breaks the deadlock with his rocket outside the 18:

Total defensive cohesiveness in that video — 11 men behind the ball shifting side to side making sure there are no open spaces available for Napoli to penetrate our 18. The result is a giveaway and the rest is history, 1-0 Juve and the greatest comeback in the three point era was finally complete.

There is no particular player who deserves the accolades in Juve's revitalized defence since that gloomy Wednesday night defeat to Sassuolo way back in October, but this team has given us a reason to believe again and with the biggest clash of the season coming up, we have every right to dream and to dream big.

This staunch defence was left for dead only a few short months ago but if this is what we will be witness to against Bayern Munich, maybe our dreams just aren't big enough.