The return of Juventus as a force in Italian football has coincided with the arrival of Andrea Pirlo on a free transfer and with former club captain Antonio Conte assuming control of coaching duties. Both Pirlo and Conte have been influential in Juve’s rise with the former Milan midfielder proving indispensable in several matches while coach Antonio has helped revive the squad’s damaged spirit.
Conte has been able to create a sense of belief amongst his players while not only boosting their confidence but also instilling the values normally associated the famous kit of the Old Lady.
It would be unfair to exclude a number of other players from praise after the club’s impressive start to the season, but there are two starters who deserve a lot of credit for Juve’s position at the table of the Serie A table. The two aforementioned players are former Udinese winger Simone Pepe and Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal. Pepe was signed on a permanent basis this season after a one-year loan spell which could be deemed as above average but not too impressive.
During the summer there were reports Juve were going to cash-in on the player they signed from Udinese but coach Conte convinced Pepe to stay in Turin. This might prove as one of the summer’s best moves as Pepe has become integral to the coach’s plans with his dynamic, non-stop running as well as his versatility. Pepe can operate on both flanks and can even revert to a full-back position when needed.
Pepe has already managed to score four goals this season to match his total from the previous year. His movement and his tireless running have been crucial factors in sustaining the impressive start to Juve’s season through the intense energy level in midfield provided by Pepe along with Vidal and Claudio Marchisio. The energetic trio compensate for Pirlo’s inability to cover much space in midfield as a result of his age and decline in stamina. The hard work of the three players allows Pirlo to move freely and to operate at a pace most convenient to his declining physical attributes. Besides freeing the influential Pirlo, Pepe and Vidal have been able to contribute on the offensive end as well.
While Pepe tends to struggle with his crossing at times, Vidal is relied upon to drive the Juve team forward while ensuring the Bianconeri retrieve the ball quick when it is lost. Vidal, like Pepe, deserves credit for his tireless running but what he adds to the equation is his ability to force opponents to make quick decisions while challenging them for possession. Vidal also provides impetus with his runs towards the opposing penalty box and has proven to be a successful passer of the ball in small space. Vidal might not be renowned for his long-range or pinpoint passing but his short-range passing is definitely an upgrade on former Juve anchorman Felipe Melo.
Vidal has contributed three assists and scored on two occasions in 12 matches, including nine starts and three substitute appearances in Serie A. His performances this season have given the Bianconeri fans something to smile about after a few years plagued by defensive midfielders incapable of retaining possession or properly passing the ball, in particular Christian Poulsen, Momo Sissoko and Melo who all failed to win the fans while wearing the Bianconeri’s famous shirt.
Together Vidal and Pepe have formed the dynamic half of an impressive partnership in midfield with Marchisio and Pirlo. While the experienced Pirlo control the match’s tempo and provides incisive passes for the attackers, Marchisio has become well accustomed to popping up inside the opponent’s penalty box to score goals or create scoring opportunities. The four players have been instrumental in Juve’s rise but Pepe often receives less praise than he deserves. Pepe might not get the praise usually reserved for the likes of Pirlo and Marchisio, but he has certainly been as decisive for the club. No one can forget his late equaliser against Napoli which helped the Bianconeri achieve a precious draw and maintain their unbeaten record since the beginning of the season.
Against Cesena, Pirlo was suspended but Pepe, Marchisio and Vidal all compensated for his absence by scoring, in the case of the latter two, and through their tremendous effort, particularly Pepe who did not stop running. When the season is over, the Bianconeri’s final position will be heavily influenced by the performances of the midfield quartet. Pepe in particular must be applauded because he has allowed the Bianconeri fans to forget about Milos Krasic who has struggled for form in this early stretch of the season after a positive start to his Juve career during the 2010-11 season.
If the Bianconeri do win Serie A, then much of the credit deserves to go the midfield with special attention reserved to the likes of Pepe and Vidal as well as Marchisio and Pirlo ofcourse. Conte, a midfielder during his playing days, must be proud to be coaching such a productive group and must have no qualms if any of the four had partnered him when he was still an active player.