Italy was certainly divided on whether they would like Juventus to extend their unbeaten league run to 50 matches. But neutrals — for the sake of Andrea Pirlo and their brilliant midfield, and for the simple reason to see Juventus’ fairy tale continue — were surely hoping they’d get to the magical figure.
It was probably the same when Arsenal were unbeaten at 49 league matches before Manchester United ended that run in 2004. Even though Arsenal have never been the same after that, Juventus is unlikely to lose any steam after Inter Milan ended their streak last weekend with a 3-1 win.
Come this Saturday, Juventus will start from scratch against Pescara… but they have already made history.
Juventus, relegated after the Italian match-fixing scandal in 2006, came back to win the Serie A last season without a single loss, in what was a fitting end to a torrid five years. They had lost ninety percent of their players (barring legends Alessandro del Piero, David Trezeguet, Pavel Nedved and Gianluigi Buffon) after relegation but the Old Lady never lost her pride.
Juventus’ comeback is matched by the return to the fore of Andrea Pirlo. The midfielder genius, who was left to rot on the sidelines by AC Milan has been reborn in Turin.
As Paolo Bandini wrote in a blog on Guardian: The man with the Chuck Norris beard continues to resemble a sporting version thereof. Andrea Pirlo does not play football, he subjugates it. When an Andrea Pirlo pass appears to miss its target, that’s only because his plan was too sophisticated for human brains to process. The last person to see Andrea Pirlo lose a match is a liar.
To be fair, Pirlo was written off when his appearances diminished for AC Milan. He just managed 17 appearances in his last season at the Rossoneri. People had forgotten him even after he joined Juventus— away from the eye of mainstream football fans in Asia at least.
But along came Euro 2012 and Pirlo reminded everyone of who he was. With a bigger beard, scarier demeanor and a more calm and composed temperament, he was Italy’s main man. The chipped penalty against England is testimony to what ‘The Architect’ can do.
But much of what he does at Juventus depends on manager Antonio Conte’s tactics. Juventus, like Barcelona, can confidently say they have one of the best midfields in Europe— maybe even the best. With Claudio Marchisio’s flair and Arturo Vidal’s industry, Pirlo has the freedom to do what he pleases playing in a slightly deeper role. With young Paul Pogba slowly emerging as a regular now, Pirlo has to care less about defending and more about creating.
In Juve’s unbeaten 2011-12 season, Pirlo’s stats were: 2,778 completed passes, 414 long successful balls and a passing accuracy of 86.9 percent in the Serie A alone. All those numbers are more than that of Xavi, Yaya Toure and Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Vidal epitomises the box-to-box role in football. He is, literally, everywhere and it doesn’t come as a surprise that he is vital to Juve’s future.
Marchisio—smooth, silky and full of tricks is the perfect partner for Pirlo in midfield. Pirlo can play those long balls, blind passes and odd flicks knowing that Marchisio will get to the end of them.
But most primary to Juventus’ success is their 3-5-2 formation. With wide men like Stephan Lichsteiner, Kwadwo Asamoah and Mauricio Isla, they rely on the pace and fall-back ability to support three centre backs. Even when they were beaten, it was when Napoli and Inter Milan deployed a similar 3-5-2 against them.
The end of Juventus’ unbeaten league run was followed by a thumping 4-0 win against Nordsjaelland. Even though it was against a weak team, it shows Juventus will not dwell on records—they will carry on and push forward.
And don’t be surprised if they go on another brilliant run of form.