Feature

Juventus are Europe's smartest team

Juventus are through to a second Champions League Final in three years, they are on course to win the treble and they've done it by being smarter than the rest.

Juventus

Source: Getty Images

We measure teams by all sorts of metrics in football these days. Possessions, shots on goal, time in the attacking half and so on. 

All of that is the easy part. But how do you account for the things you can’t measure using statistics? Like intelligence? And how would you separate the measurement of off-field intelligence (all those decisions made outside the 90 minutes) from the on-field? 

Yet no matter how you spin it, or what data you use, Juventus fill both boxes with enormous ticks. Whether they are the best team in Europe will be answered next month – but what they already are is the smartest.

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Again in the final, almost certainly against Real Madrid, the Italians will go in as serious underdogs. But given how unified they are, and how intelligent this team is, I’m wondering whether they’re a genuine 50-50 chance to leave Cardiff with the main prize. 

And love them or hate them – there are plenty on both sides of that coin – Juve are the team that continually defies the stereotypes about Italian football. 

You know the ones: broken, washed up, finished. A faded power. All of which may occasionally be true about the game as a whole in Italy; just not about Juventus. They are, in fact, the opposite. A surging superpower without peer and unlike their local rivals, not desperately seeking foreign ownership.

A powerful return of 27 wins in 34 league games has all but secured them their sixth straight Serie A title, suffering only four defeats along the way. 

But it gets even better: they had to navigate one of the tougher Champions League groups (Sevilla, Lyon, Dinamo Zagreb) and one a brutal knock-out stage: ex-champions Porto, all-conquering Barcelona and the financial monster that is AS Monaco (who alone had seen off Manchester City and Dortmund). 

All up? Played 12, won nine, drawn three, lost zero. 21 goals scored, three goals conceded. Put simply, Juventus have the best record of any team in Europe this season (for the record, Real Madrid didn't even top their group).

This is despite losing their best player, Paul Pogba, at the end of last season. Like others, I initially thought it would end their European dream. And although most of the Pogba funds were spent on a striker, Gonzalo Higuain, that decision has proven an masterful power play, not only against Napoli, but on the continent.

Juventus now have a poacher who can score the critical goals in critical moments, complementing the sublime skills of the ever-improving Paulo Dybala and the explosive, uncompromising profile of Mario Mandžukić.

That’s a front third that can operate without too much instruction. The arrival of Higuain means coach Massimiliano Allegri gets to pour all his tactical energies into building a brilliant defensive machine.

And it really is a machine; a clinical, organised system that operates with all parts moving in harmony. For those who saw what Antonio Conte did with the national team at Euro 2016 (shown in this now-famous tactical footage), Allegri has been playing close attention.

 

Indeed, with so many players in the Italian team coming from Juventus, and Conte himself being promoted from Turin, such cross-pollination should hardly come as any surprise. With the benefit of weekly refinement, Allegri has been able to craft the defensive unit into Europe’s most dependable rearguard. 

Critically, he’s ensured the veteran four – Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and indomitable goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon – have remained in peak physical and mental condition, with new addition Dani Alves hitting some incredible form (capped by his wonder goal against Monaco). Not bad considering all have ticked over 30, with Buffon almost 40. 

What’s most impressive is the way the who team sets up to defend. The midfield group, inclusive of wing backs, invariably drop back to help out, and are collectively terrific at stalling the play and disrupting momentum, initially by defending space rather than the man. Patience is king.

But when an attack makes it through the first line, the defence is ready and waiting, like a giant Venus fly trap. Sometimes, you'd actually think they want the attack to come to them, just so they can swallow it whole and leave their crestfallen opponents out of position. This is a team that uses its age – or more precisely, its wisdom – to its advantage. 

And if it is Cristiano Ronaldo and co. who they face at the Millennium Stadium on June 3, rest assured, this Juventus side is too smart to leave anything to chance.




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5 min read
Published 10 May 2017 at 8:56am
By Sebastian Hassett
Source: SBS