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What next for Juve?

March 19, 2010

While the English press rightly hailed Fulham’s triumph over Juventus, in Italy this will be seen as another embarrassing milestone in a horrendous year for the Turin giants. The defeat in West London followed Juve’s capitulation at home to Siena last weekend, when they were 3-0 up within 10 minutes against the league’s bottom club but ended up drawing 3-3. Ciro Ferrara’s short-lived and disastrous stint in charge of the Old Lady ended in January, and replacement  Alberto Zaccheroni has overseen a steady, if not overly impressive, start to life in Turin.

Under Zaccheroni, Juventus have won three, drawn three and lost one in the league following six defeats in eight in Ferrara’s final months. But now the Europa league exit means any chance of silverware has disappeared and the bianconeri face a tough battle to finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League. While the two Milanese clubs are fighting it out for the title, and a resurgent Roma side looks set to claim third spot, fourth place is up for grabs with a host of clubs in contention.

With 10 games left, Juve’s main challengers are Palermo (who currently lie fourth), Sampdoria, Genoa and Napoli, while Fiorentina will hope to make a late surge up the table. Missing out on Europe’s premier club competition would be a major setback for a club that has responded well to the effects of the ‘Calciopoli’ scandel which saw them relegated in 2006. Finishing second last year, and bringing in some exciting new players in the summer, it seemed as tough Juventus would regain their place amongst Europe’s elite, and be Inter’s main rivals for the Scudetto.

Clint Dempsey scores the goal that sent Juventus crashing out of Europe, Photo: Guardian.co.uk

As it turned out, the new players have failed to deliver consistently while the old ones look rather dried-up. We have seen a Jeckyl and Hyde team this season; that can appear superb in attack but far too often catastrophic at the back. They have been conceading leads in games that they looked in control of and the side that played Fulham last night barely resembled that which had outclassed the Premier League club in Turin just one week earlier. Roy Hodgson is no slouch, he could see the frailties in the ageing Juventus backline and knew how to exploit them. Cannavaro’s sending off last night undoubtedly had an effect, as did the fact Juve were missing Buffon through injury, but teams have shown all season how easy it is to breach the bianconeri backline.

The shape of the team has changed under Zaccheroni, often playing with three in central defence and employing wing backs, but the side still leaks goals for fun. Zaccheroni has recalled players whose careers had looked over at the club, such as Salihamidzic and in particular Jonathan Zebina, although injuries to key players has played a part. The plight of Juventus does not bode well for the national side either, considering they supply the largest number of azzurri players.

Buffon is a certainty and is still a world-class goalkeeper when fit, but Cannavaro, Chiellini, Grosso and Legrottaglie will need to find their form as Italy prides itself on being able to defend. Camoranesi was fantastic in the first half of the season and is still considered an important part of the national team, while Iaquinta has been unlucky with injury but should also go to South Africa. Claudio Marchisio and Antonio Candreva are outside bets to make Lippi’s squad, while Del Piero has not even been considered since 2008.

Juve have crucial games away to Sampdoria and Napoli coming up, and must also face Inter and Milan in the San Siro before the season is over. Although experience will favour them in the battle for fourth place, big improvements are needed. Whatever the outcome changes will have to be made during the summer, on and off the field.

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