With the winter break upon us in Serie A there is much talk of who is now in—or indeed out of—the title race, with Juventus increasingly mentioned as the team most likely to give early pacesetters Milan a challenge.
Much of this impetus was earned during of the win against Lazio two weeks ago which, coupled with the Rossoneri loss to Roma, brings the Old Lady within five points of the top team. There are a number of factors that play into this belief, prime among them being the good form of the Turin side—both collectively and as individuals.
Fabio Quagliarella, Milos Krasic and Alberto Aquilani have all made a number of match winning contributions during an unbeaten run that stretches back to Week 5, but perhaps the one man most deserving of credit is Gigi Delneri.
Every prerequisite of a good coach has been on display during the Friulian’s short tenure under the shadow of the Alps. His first task, one that has seen a number of recent failures by other men given control of the Juve bench, was to convince the teams figureheads to rally behind him and his philosophies.
Giorgio Chiellini, Claudio Marchisio, Vincenzo Iaquinta and perhaps most importantly Alessandro Del Piero have all done this immediately, giving the coach strong backing in the early part of the season when the sheer volume of changes meant it took time to realise their potential and come together as a unit.
Next he developed a tactical system which brings out the best in his players, a key factor for any new coach and one that was difficult given the hectic summer and large turnover of playing personnel. The last minute addition of Aquilani meant a late shift in style, but one the tactician has judged to perfection.
That formation has seen the key players given license to create while providing a framework that makes Juve a far more difficult opponent to break down, showing more solidity than they have at any time since returning to Serie A. Conceding only five goals away from home so far this term stands as testament to that cohesion and organisation.
One of the major factors in the resurgence of the Bianconeri has been the vast improvement of a player who last season was voted the worst in Serie A, Felipe Melo. The Brazilian midfielder imploded in the Spring, insulting the clubs fans on two separate occasions and generally looking like a very poor investment.
Under Delneri, however, he once again looks like the player Alessio Secco spent €25 million to sign from Fiorentina. His tackling, passing and temperament have all been superb and he has been almost like another new signing for the squad.
The team has also displayed tremendous spirit, winning games from losing positions, earning points with late goals and also displaying the famous grinta that is so synonymous with Juventus. Yet there is one more factor which may prove to be the major factor in any eventual title race, and that is Juve’s early elimination from the Europa League in the Group Stage.
While the effects of not playing twice a week are clearly beneficial, it is in two other areas where this may play directly into Delneri’s hands, first among them being the ability to field a settled side. The ineligibility of Aquilani, Quagliarella, Fabio Grosso and even the emerging Frederik Sørensen meant constant changes which will now no longer be required.
But by far the biggest effect will be the sheer number of weeks where the team is given seven full days to prepare for the next match. Any coach would enjoy this extra time, but Delneri seemingly revels in it. The meticulous planning and preparation that is as much his hallmark as the glasses, moustache and booming voice stalking the touchline and it comes to the fore during these "free" weeks.
Indeed, it has already paid dividends as on the four occasions the team has had no midweek fixture so far, a Serie A win has followed and it is no surprise they are four of the most important performances of the season; the 4-0 Lecce win, the 2-1 victory at San Siro over Milan, a 2-0 win at Genoa and the aforementioned vital dramatic win over Lazio.
So a sound tactical idea, the backing of the teams leaders, new players successfully integrated, last seasons worst player rehabilitated, masterful planning and strong team spirit. A remarkable first few months in charge and if Gigi Delneri could now just manage to get Amauri scoring goals he would probably get a FIAT named after him…