Last year was tough for Juve fans. The year started off with some promise, as the 2009-2010 edition of Juventus had had a decent enough first half, beating Inter shortly before the break to open up the Scudetto race.
But, the team soon began to careen off the tracks. While they managed to scrape a few points from their games in January (of '10) for the most part the six month span from January of 2010 to June of 2010 was a total catastrophe for Juve. Mostly because of the poor results, but there was also another thing that made the slump worse.
What made the slump worse was the total lack of determination and grit that last year's team possessed. I will say, however, that there were a handful of players that didn't fold in the face of adversity: Del Piero, Marchisio, Chiellini, Buffon and Diego.
Four of those men are staples of the Juventus squad for the past few years (Del Piero for even longer) while the fifth was a very talented player who had to be sold because he didn't slot into Delneri's plans.
This season though, Juventus has been the opposite.
For the first four months of the season they were just class. They had one of the hottest strikers in Serie A at the time (my boy Fabio), a fantastic midfield, a dangerous new scoring threat (Milos Krasic) and arguably the best center-back partnership in the world (Bonucci and Chiellini) and they produced some great results. Most notably they beat league leaders AC Milan 2-1 and tied reigning champions Inter Milan.
Why, then, is that very same team now plunging into the abyss of mediocrity?
The answer to that I do not know. What I do know is this, Juventus have gone from a title contender to a fledgling team that may not even qualify for the Europa League. At first it was the injuries—a problem which has plagued the team all season, which succeeded in spite of those injuries. But after watching the team play yesterday, after Udinese took the lead, I recognized something familiar.
It was the stink of surrender; something I know from last season's campaign.
I will not say the whole team quit, nor will I say the whole team played badly. That is not true, Juventus played very well, especially during the first half. Really, Udinese took the lead because of how they played. Obviously they played better than the Bianconeri, but it is not as if Juventus went out there and stunk up the joint (like they did against Parma), they just got some bad breaks toward the end.
But, the lack of fight after Udinese's game winner scares me. I fear that, much like last year, the team's failures will push them into a cycle of defeat. The one thing I have total confidence in is the coach, Luigi Delneri.
Having said that, yesterday while I was watching the game I thought to myself that unfortunately people might start calling for Delneri to be fired. As always, the coach gets blamed first, whether or not that is justified. At almost the exact instant as I thought that the announcer floated the possibility that that will happen. I sure as hell hope it doesn't as I think Delneri is a fine coach and he more than proved himself over the first half.
Moving on from yesterday's game, I was still holding some false hope that Beppe Marrotta would sign a striker to fill the gaping hole left by Fabio Quagliarella. Well, he signed a striker, but the new signing is probably not anyone's first choice.
His name is Alessandro Matri, which seems pretty good because players named Alessandro have done pretty well in Turin, but I must admit I didn't really know who he was before today. I knew he played for Cagliari, but that was it.
After the signing I did some research, and Matri seems to be a perfectly capable striker. He's had some scoring success with Cagliari, although that was with Robert Acquafresca there to provide some more distraction to opposing defenders.
He certainly is no Edin Dzeko, but I will gladly take another striker. The attacking corps is in dire need of reinforcement and I hope Matri can step up to the plate. And then, when Luca Toni comes back, Delneri will be given even more options in attack. Couple this with the eventual return of Vincent Iaquinta and I think the striker situation will sort of fix itself.
Finally, Leonardo Bonucci earned himself a red card in the closing minutes of the Udinese game, meaning that new signing Andrea Barzagli will get some time to prove himself.
Edit: 1/31/11: Amauri has now signed to Parma on loan. Let us all rejoice.