Ranking Juventus' Top 5 Players for 2015

Sam LoprestiFeatured ColumnistDecember 31, 2015

Ranking Juventus' Top 5 Players for 2015

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    2015 was a banner year for Juventus.
    2015 was a banner year for Juventus.Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

    2015 was a banner year for Juventus. They ran away with Serie A for the fourth season in a row and won the Coppa Italia for the first time in 20 years. They also reached the Champions League final for the first time since the 2002-03 season and perhaps came an uncalled penalty away from winning a historic treble before eventually falling to Barcelona 3-1 in a game much closer than the final score suggests.

    When play resumed in August, things were different. The summer transfer window saw major player turnover, both in quality and quantity, and the Bianconeri started slowly as a result. After reaching a nadir at the end of October in a loss against Sassuolo, they suddenly surged, winning seven straight league games, jumping eight spots in the table and closing the gap at the top from 12 points to three.

    When a team has a year like that, it means much of the roster likely had great individual seasons. But who were Juve's best players this year?

    That's what we're here to find out today. For our purposes, the term "players of the year" means the calendar year of 2015, so players who aren't in Juve's squad for the current season are still eligible for the cut.

    Who were the team's top performers of the year? Let's take a deeper look and find out.

5. Alvaro Morata

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    Morata extended his Champions League scoring streak to five games in October.
    Morata extended his Champions League scoring streak to five games in October.GIUSEPPE CACACE/Getty Images

    When Alvaro Morata arrived at Juventus in the summer of 2014 there was excitement in the air. The young Spaniard was immediately given the No. 9 shirt, and fans were eager to see what the youngster could do.

    A knee injury, suffered on his first day of training, kept him from seeing significant time until the calendar turned. When he did, we saw what he was truly capable of.

    While his goal total for 2015 wasn't necessarily huge—12 to be exact—the majority of them came at huge moments. He scored in a club record-tying five consecutive Champions League games, including the decisive goals in both legs of last season's semifinal against Real Madrid and the equalizer in the final. His winners against Manchester City and Sevilla in this season's group stage were crucial for a team still trying to find its form to advance through the Group of Death.

    He's had a flair for the dramatic in other games as well. He scored the decisive strike in the Derby d'Italia in May and the winner in March's game against Palermo that put the league almost beyond doubt.

    Morata's form has waned this season, in large part because he has been required to play on the wing, which isn't a natural position for him. But without him, both last season and the current one would have been very different indeed—and that puts him on this list.

4. Claudio Marchisio

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    Marchisio has become the fulcrum of the team.
    Marchisio has become the fulcrum of the team.Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

    Claudio Marchisio hasn't had a year for counting stats since his breakout in 2011-12, when he was the team's co-leader in goals with 10 and helped spearhead Antonio Conte's unbeaten season from the box-to-box position.

    That spot was usurped by Paul Pogba as time went on, but the academy product and Turin native has repackaged himself as a surprisingly effective regista.

    With Andrea Pirlo out injured for two extended periods last term, Marchisio stepped into the spot in front of the defense and flourished. He doesn't play the position the way Pirlo does. Rather than the Maestro's slower, more methodical approach that made it look almost effortless, Marchsio plays with a bit more pace and a bunch more defensive steel.

    But his way is still incredibly effective—and he's just as important to the team as Pirlo ever was.

    The beginning of the current season has shown us that. Il Principino missed the first two months of the season, and Juve's midfield was completely out of whack. Since he returned, the team has only lost twice—and in one of those game he was rested.

    Understated though his game has been, when he's been on the field, Marchisio has easily been one of Juve's best men. He united the team through a tough transition and provided the glue that has brought it together as time has passed. He's even dropped in the occasional Pirlo ball, such as his assist to Paul Pogba for the team's final goal of 2015 in Dec. 20's 3-2 win over Carpi.

    Without him, Juve wouldn't be anywhere close to the 2015-16 title race.

3. Leonardo Bonucci

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    Bonucci is turning into a true leader.
    Bonucci is turning into a true leader.Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

    At the end of the 2010-11 season, Leonardo Bonucci was nearly persona non grata in Turin. Juve had endured a horrible season, and the young central defender's unsteady performance was keyed in on as one of the main reasons why.

    What a difference four-and-a-half seasons makes.

    You would be hard-pressed to find a player in the whole of Europe who has improved to the degree Bonucci has in that time frame. It took the arrival of Antonio Conte—and the 3-5-2—to start his ascent. He has since shed the mantle of three-man specialist and developed into one of the best very best defenders in the game.  It's even arguable that he's surpassed his teammates Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini.

    As always, he augments his dogged defending with excellent passing skills.  Indeed, he's had claim to the title of world's best ball-playing center back for several years, and his ability to bypass the midfield and trigger a break with one well-placed pass has helped Juve break an opponent's pressure on many occasions.

    Just as impressive as his improvement with his feet was his improvement with his head. He went from being a deer in the headlights to one of the most assured presences on the field. That evolution has been a joy to watch. Ask a Juventino about garlic candies sometime and watch them chuckle.

    Bonucci has turned into the cornerstone of the best defensive unit in Europe. His play has bound the back line together.

2. Carlos Tevez

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    Tevez was Juve's engine up front for two years.
    Tevez was Juve's engine up front for two years.Michael Regan/Getty Images

    The biggest weakness of Antonio Conte's first two Juventus teams was the lack of a game-changing striker. That was rectified in 2013 when Giuseppe Marotta managed to buy Carlos Tevez from Manchester City at a steal—just £10 million.

    El Apache scored 39 times in his two years with Juventus and finally provided the clinical striking Juve needed to truly dominate games.

    The fact he was only a Juve player for half the year—he left to finish his career at boyhood club Boca Juniors in the summer—and is still this high on the list shows you just how much of a difference he made. He scored 14 goals in all competitions for Juventus in 2015 and supplied two assists. His off-the-ball movement pulled defenses apart, allowing Morata, Fernando Llorente and the midfielders to burst into space and get chances.

    He picked the right times to score as well. His backbreaking third-minute strike against Borussia Dortmund at the Westfalenstadion in the second leg of the 2014-15 Champions League round of 16 propelled Juve forward in the Champions League.

    Tevez was a true difference-maker. Fans can only imagine what another year of him in Turin would have produced—especially if he had had the chance to mentor Paulo Dybala—but his impact on the team was immense.

1. Gianluigi Buffon

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    Buffon is the soul of Juve.
    Buffon is the soul of Juve.Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

    There is no one who embodies the spirit of Juventus more than Gianluigi Buffon.

    Buffon's contribution to the team in 2015 was immense. At the age of 37, Buffon is still a massive figure in goal. The number of 'keepers better than him can be counted on one hand.

    Buffon is the fulcrum of Juve's excellent defense. His ability to marshal a back line is unparalleled, and while he may no longer be at his World Cup-winning prime, his reflexes are still good enough to make saves 98 percent of goalkeepers won't make. When the Bianconeri have a bad day, eight times out of 10, Buffon keeps opponents out enough to eke out points.

    But beyond what he does on the field, Buffon's leadership is unparalleled. When Juve's season reached its lowest point after their 1-0 loss at Sassuolo on Oct. 28, the 'keeper ripped into his team. "Our first-half display was unacceptable," he told the club's website after the match (h/t Sky Sports).

    "If we'd been a provincial side, I might have been satisfied with the way we played over 50 minutes with 10 men," he continued. "If you don't win any of your 50-50s or aerial battles and you can't string together three passes, then that's no recipe for success."

    The tirade had the desired effect. Three days later in the Derby della Mole, Juve beat city rivals Torino on a injury-time goal for the second time in as many years despite playing badly. It was the first of seven straight victories that propelled them back into the Scudetto race.

    For his fantastic on-field play and incredible leadership, Buffon was truly Juve's best player of the year.