Juventus' Best Starting XI of All 25 Years or Younger
Great football teams don't just win today. They find ways to prepare the roster for the future while maintaining competitiveness in the present.
Unlike basketball or hockey, there is no such thing as a world football draft. Instead, teams rely on scouts all over the world to find talent that can slowly be developed over time. Players join teams' youth ranks in the hope that one day they will be worthy of making the jump to the big leagues.
Juventus' youth program is one of the strongest in the world and renowned for its contribution to the Italian national team. Affiliates all over the world provide the Bianconeri with a steady stream of talented youngsters who receive both an education and the chance to play for one of the biggest teams in all of football.
While the current first-team squad consist mainly of savvy veterans, there are a bunch of hungry youngsters ready to take over when the stars decide to hang up their boots. But if the Bianconeri decided to field a team of youngsters right now, what would it look like?
In this article we'll determine the strongest XI consisting of players aged 25 and under that coach Antonio Conte could field right now. Forget about long-term potential: this is a team that has to be ready to fight for a championship right now.
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Laurentiu Branescu (18)
While most fans would expect Nicola Leali to be the man between the pipes, I'm going with Branescu on this one.
The Romanian stopper currently sits at the third spot on the depth chart (behind Gianluigi Buffon and Marco Storari) but is expected to take over the backup duties when Storari leaves the team at the end of this season.
There's a reason Leali was sent out on loan this season: at this point in time, Branescu is further in his progression than the Italy youth international.
Branescu has dominated at the youth level since joining Juventus and looks like an excellent future prospect with great size and reflexes. Leali's long-term potential might arguably be higher, but right now, Branescu is the better player.
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CB Leonardo Bonucci (25)
Twelve months ago, Bonucci looked like a major bust.
The Italy international had problems with his positioning and seemed to make one or two deadly mistakes in every game. He was a liability on the back line, but due to the lack of quality starters behind him on the depth chart, Conte was forced to stick with the former Bari man.
Fast forward to the present, and Bonucci might arguably be amongst the top 10 defenders in the world.
Gone are the mental lapses and the bad positioning. Bonucci is a changed man, combining a good understanding of what the offense is doing with a ruthless approach to making the tackle. He's one of the best at playing the long ball and is a force in the air.
Credit to Andrea Barzagli and the use of the 3-5-2 for his progression. Bonucci now plays like an elite force and will be the man leading this defence when Giorgio Chiellini and Barzagli decide to call it quits.
LCB Martin Caceres (25)
Perhaps the most versatile player on the Bianconeri roster, Caceres has been forced into the starting lineup due to the injury to Chiellini. While his recent performances have been less than perfect, the Uruguayan is still an excellent defender and one of the better backups in all of world football.
Better suited to play on the wing due to his incredible athleticism, Caceres gives it his all for the full 90 minutes. Very patient defensively, he fits in well with Conte's philosophy of defenders contributing to the attack.
Confident with the ball at his feet and strong in the air, Caceres will have the chance to show everyone he deserves a place amongst the starting XI in the next few weeks.
RCB Alberto Masi (20)
Hordur Magnusson deserves a mention here, as the young Icelandic prospect is easily the most talented defender under 25 Juventus currently have, but Alberto Masi showed everyone in the TIM Cup this year that he would have little difficulty playing for the senior side right now.
Just arrived from Pro Vercelli, Masi was forced into action straight-away against AC Milan and impressed everyone with his performance.
The youngster looked at ease against one of the stronger attacking sides in Serie A and easily outshone fellow new arrival Lucio.
Masi is a technical defender that relies more on positioning and vision than brute strength and hard tackles. Playing alongside a strong enforcer like Bonucci, he should have no problem manning the right side of the back line.
Bianconeri fans can feel safe knowing that when Barzagli decides to retire, Masi will be there to take over his spot. The youngster is currently on loan at Pro Vercelli.
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LW Kwadwo Asamoah (24)
Is it a coincidence that Juve have looked far less threatening and haven't scored that many goals since Asamoah left the team to represent his country at the Africa Cup of Nations? I think not.
The Ghanaian is a force of nature playing on the left wing, using his ridiculous athleticism and burst to drive defenders insane.
He runs up and down the wing over and over, completely shutting down any attacker that ventures close to him while providing cross after cross for the attackers, and than he runs some more.
The scary part is that the former centre midfielder is still learning the nuances of the LW position. Possibly the steal of the previous transfer window, Asamoah will be the engine that powers Juventus to future success.
RW Mauricio Isla (24)
Isla came to Turin as part of the deal that saw the team acquire Asamoah, but unlike his colleague on the left wing, his impact has been limited.
That's not to say the Chillean has been bad—he just hasn't been as good as Asamoah.
Isla is less athletically gifted than Asamoah, but only slightly. He's been battling Stephan Lichtsteiner for the starting RW spot and seems to have gained the trust of the coaching staff. He's a good crosser and an excellent defender that should really start contributing to the team once he too gets comfortable with his new position.
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Lucca Marrone (22)
A product of Juve's youth system, Marrone looked like he would be converted to a central defender before starting in place of Andrea Pirlo against AC Milan.
And while he makes for a solid defender, his best position clearly is in midfield. Marrone has excellent vision and is a good passer of the ball. He won't wow you like Pirlo but then again, who does?
Marrone might not be flashy, but he's effective and he's finally getting the chance to prove what he can do. Look for him to receive more minutes as the season goes along.
Paul Pogba (19)
It's incredibly difficult to talk about Pogba without mentioning Alex Ferguson, but I'll try.
The Frenchman has been sensational for the Bianconeri this season, providing Antonio Conte with the option of resting one of the members of Juve's coveted MVP midfield.
Pogba is very calm on the ball, has great technique and vision and knows how to score. On top of that, he's a hard worker on defense and very comfortable heading the ball.
Did I mention he's 19?
Arturo Vidal (25)
This slot was originally reserved for Ouasim Bouy, the young Dutchman that has really impressed out on loan this season at Brescia. But then I realised Vidal is only 25.
I might be biased, but I remain convinced Vidal is the best box-to-box and arguably the most complete midfielder in all of football. I mean, the guy is one of the leading tacklers amongst all active midfielders this year and consistently ranks amongst Juve's top scorers.
That's just ridiculous.
Vidal provides a lot of cover for Pirlo, allowing him to focus on doing what the maestro does best. Because of that, his scoring, his effectiveness against the counter and his strong leadership, Vidal is Juventus' true MVP.
SS Sebastian Giovinco (25)
Giovinco is not a goalscorer, and as a result, fans often question his frequent inclusion in the starting XI.
What he is however, is an excellent facilitator. The Atomic Ant has excellent pace and is a very agile player, and his running around stretches the defense and creates space for his fellow striker.
Giovinco is comfortable in front of goal and has the potential to score between 15 and 20 goals every season, but his greatest asset is the fact that he sets up other players by not playing as a true goalscorer. He has excellent touch on the ball and is very good at crossing, so when paired with a bigger, more physical type of striker, he truly blossoms.
CF Richmond Boakye (19)
Provided Boakye doesn't end up being a bargaining chip in order to bring Luis Muriel to Turin (let's hope that's not the case) he should be a full-time member of the senior squad next year. The Ghanaian might be the reason Juve are reluctant to shell out top money for a class striker, as he has the potential to develop into one of the very best.
On loan at Sassuolo, Boakye is having a phenomenal season. It's not just that he's scoring; he simply looks too big and fast for everyone else on the field. Paired with Domenico Berardi (another future star) he terrorises Serie B defenses on a weekly basis, scoring regularly and always looking dangerous.
Conventional wisdom suggests Boakye is still too young to make the jump to Serie A, but watching tape of his previous six months at Sassuolo, one can only imagine what he could do with some good wingers and midfielders providing him the amount of chances Fabio Quagliarella and Alessandro Matri are currently receiving.
Remember the name, and if you have a few minutes to spare, watch the video. This kid is the real deal.