Did Juventus throw away the title by drawing 0-0 in Parma after the scorless home draw with Siena? The Bianconeri continue to struggle in front of goal at an alarming pace which could cost coach Antonio Conte and his players the dream of winning the Serie A title. There are a number of factors but below is a list of some of the major concerns which were on display against Parma:
1) Vucinic: For the umpteenth time summer signing Mirko Vucinic failed to score while making wrong decisions or rushing his shots. Vucinic has managed only 3 goals in 16 league matches which is certainly not what the Bianconeri management and supporters were hoping for. Vucinic’s shot selection was questionable against Parma and this is perhaps due to a lack in confidence.
He was Juve’s most notable summer capture but he has failed to deliver. One thing is for sure: if Juve’s management expected Vucinic to contribute at least 15 goals a season then they might be off the mark because the attacker has not managed more than 14 goals in Serie A during his best season with Roma while he scored 19 goals in one Serie A campaign for Lecce.
2) The Forwards: The forwards at the disposal of coach Conte might be strong on paper but none of them appear ready to guarantee 15 goals a season for various reasons. The legendary Alessandro Del Piero is nearing the end of his historic journey in Bianconeri colors while Fabio Quagliarella is still trying to get back to his best after an injury-plagued year.
Considering Vucinic’s well-documented lack of scoring, there is tremendous pressure on Alessandro Matri to deliver the goals. Matri has been solid, if not spectacular, yet he remains Juve’s best hope for goals (at least among the attackers). Matri has scored 9 goals and assisted on 3 others. January signing Marco Borriello cannot be assessed at this stage.
3) Fatigue Factor: There are 16 matches left for the Bianconeri this season yet some players appear to be tired or lacking the cutting edge at this stage of the season. After a scintillating start, both Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal have slowed down. Marchisio was exceptional early in the season and has managed to score 6 goals in the league yet he seems to be tired and had to deal with minor injuries in recent weeks.
Simone Pepe is another player performing below his early season form when he scored 5 goals in Serie A. The incisive runs and aggressive play of both Marchisio and Pepe had been decisive in Juve’s rise to the top of the standings. Since the duo started facing fatigue, fitness and injury issues, the performances of the Bianconeri have declined.
4) Possession Game: Coach Conte seems to insist on following an approach similar to that of Barcelona. Juve’s midfield is a mix of talented, skilled and hardworking players yet the club does not have someone of Xavi’s or Cesc Fabregas’s caliber. However, Juve’s midfield has to be considered as one of the best in Europe. The combination of Marchisio, Vidal and Pepe along with the masterful Andrea Pirlo has turned the Bianconeri from an average side to a challenger capable of keeping possession and pressuring opponents.
One thing Barca has been suffering from is the lack of a scoring punch (for a number of reasons such as the lack of a genuine centre-forward) and it seems Conte’s team is facing the same problem. While Matri qualifies as a centre-forward and the same can be said of Borriello, both attackers do not have the physical presence to trouble opponents. Matri is not an aggressive player while Borriello is short on match fitness having settled for the bench most of the season (both with Roma and now Juve).
Against Siena and then Parma, the Bianconeri players possessed the ball for 70% and 63% of the time respectively but could not translate this dominance into a single goal. It appears Conte’s Juve adopted the possession game of Barca but unfortunately took along some of the few negative aspects attributed to such a style such as the lack of a killer instinct. The Barca style of play highlights patience and keeping the ball but seems to suffer from inefficiency and at times appears toothless in front of goal.
5) Undefeated Record: At times the Bianconeri and their coach Conte appear more concerned about preserving their unbeaten record as opposed to pushing harder for victories. In recent weeks there has been talk of how Perguia lost the Serie A title to Milan decades ago despite going the entire season without a single defeat in the league. While Juve employ a patient approach even against weaker opponents, there seems to be a fear factor involved, in particular in the last 20 minutes of matches. The Bianconeri seemed a bit rattled towards the end against both Siena and Parma.
Talk of going through the whole season undefeated has surfaced at times and some are even making comparisons between the current Juve team and that infamous Perugia side. A Bianconeri loss can perhaps open the floodgates and allow the players to perform more freely and with less pressure. Against Parma, Emanuele Giaccherini should have played more minutes because he tends to take up more dangerous positions and creates more scoring opportunities when compared to the less dangerous Marcelo Estigarribia.
6) Conte’s System: Coach Conte relies on three midfielders who might be different in style yet who can all interchange positions on the field. These three midfielders will ultimately decide whether the Bianconeri can win the league title. The influential trio, namely Pirlo, Marchisio and Vidal, do not have a replacement on the squad and no one comes close to their talent level when they are forced to miss a match, are underperforming or playing while unfit.
Pepe’s injury has somewhat exposed Juve but the presence of Giaccerini and Estigarribia can somewhat compensate for the winger’s absence; however, no one on the Juve squad can take Pirlo’s or Marchisio’s place in the starting lineup. Even Vidal has no replacement on the bench. The fact all three play at the same time means whenever there is a suspension or a forced absence, the Bianconeri will likely struggle to compensate for the costly absence.