For the last two seasons, Juventus has been the class of Italy. Their unexpected unbeaten season in 2011-12 was followed by another title last season—one that was wrapped up with three games to spare over second-placed Napoli.
That excellent run is likely to continue into 2014. Make no mistake: Juventus is once again the team to beat in Serie A this season—and by a large margin.
If one were to break the game down into the four phases of goalkeeping, defense, midfield and attack, Juve has been the best in the league in three of those phases for the last two years.
In terms of goalkeeping, team captain Gianluigi Buffon continues to play at a world-class level. The World Cup winner is still firmly in the discussion for the best in the world. No other team in the league comes close to his quality—particularly amongst the teams looking to dethrone the champions.
AC Milan's Christian Abbiati is old, and possibly in his final season with the team. Napoli's Morgan De Sanctis is likewise toward the end of his career and has recently been surpassed as Buffon's backup on the national team.
With Buffon in goal, Juve can be safe in the knowledge that any team that wants to put the ball into their net will have to beat the best to ever play.
Juve have similarly dominated the rest of the Serie A defensively. Ever since Antonio Conte switched to the 3-5-2, the back three of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini has dominated Serie A's attackers.
The three complement each other perfectly. Barzagli, though he has shown signs of slowing over the past six months, is a master tactician and knows where to put himself before the ball gets there. Bonucci is a tenacious tackler and quite possibly the best ball-playing defender in the world. His ability to make long passes can spring a quick counterattack or bypass the midfield on the rare occasion that that excellent unit is getting bogged down. Chiellini is a tenacious tackler who combines the best of the mental and physical aspects of the position, and is one of the world's best all-around center-backs.
Over the last two seasons, the three have given up more than one goal in a league game on only five occasions—and one of those games was the finale of this past season, when the title was sewn up.
It's not just Juve's trio of Italian internationals that make them such a fearful defensive team. Uruguayan international Martin Caceres can ably fill in in the back three, and the new signing of Torino's Angelo Ogbonna makes Juve's defense that much stronger and deeper.
Juve's midfield is not just the best in Italy, it's quite possibly the best in the world. The central core of Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo—known to fans of the club as MVP—is of surpassing quality.
Pirlo continues to do what he has done throughout his illustrious career—orchestrate his team's attack with precision passes from his deep-lying midfield position. Marchisio and Vidal, meanwhile, supplement the attack with deadly runs through the channels of the penalty area and set up the forwards with final balls. That central midfield core is backed up by young French phenom Paul Pogba, who was so good last year he forced Antonio Conte to change his tactics in order to get him into the squad.
The right wing will once again be manned by human bulldog Stephan Lichtsteiner, while the left will be left to Kwadwo Asamoah and Federico Peluso, depending on Conte's tactics. Backing them up will be Simone Pepe, returning after a season-long injury. The former Udinese man will give Juve a versatile option to back up either wing and keep up the supply lines from the wings.
It's been the attack where Juve has been lacking the last two seasons. Alessandro Matri has been one of the most efficient strikers in Europe in terms of his goal-to-shot ratio, but he tends to waste opportunities to get himself those shots. If his first touch is not true, odds are Matri won't pose a threat.
Fabio Quagliarella looked like one of the best strikers in Italy in the first half of 2010-11, but an ACL injury halted what could have been a breakout season and he's never returned to that form. Mirko Vucinic can be deadly when on, but he's maddeningly inconsistent and has been playing out of position as a central striker. The same is true of Sebastian Giovinco, whose best place is as a seconda punta, not as one of a strike pair.
Juve has finally rectified this problem. Fernando Llorente has been bound for Turin on a Bosman since late January, and the Bianconeri also completed a €9 million move for former Manchester City man Carlos Tevez.
Llorente is a deadly target man who is just as clinical with his head as he is with both feet. Tevez is as versatile as he is deadly in front of goal. The duo gives Juventus a lethal attack force that could compete with some of the best in Europe. Vucinic will likely be allowed to move back, letting him ply his trade in a role that better suits his talents.
All of this makes Juve the most complete team in Italy, by far. Every other team pursuing Juve has serious flaws.
AC Milan has failed during this transfer window to upgrade their center-backs, a glaring weakness that proved their downfall last year.
Napoli will in all likelihood lose Edinson Cavani before the transfer window is out, leaving Marek Hamsik as the lone remaining element of the Three Tenors and placing a huge amount of pressure on youngster Lorenzo Insigne. The Partenopei will also have to adjust to the system of a new manager, with Rafael Benitez taking over after the four-year reign of Walter Mazzarri.
Fiorentina and Roma are talented squads. La Viola, however, will be playing their first European campaign in several years and will have to get used to playing in three competitions again. Roma, on the other hand, will be adjusting to a new manager and must fix the discipline problems that have ruined their last few seasons.
Simply put, no team can match Juve's completeness and poise. They've won the last two scudetti, have the mental toughness and, in Antonio Conte, the tactical nous to overcome every challenge the league can put to them.
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