Analysing Juventus’ Progress at the Winter Break

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juventus bleacher report

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Looking at Juventus from afar, it would be easy to assume that the team willpending their Supercoppa Italiana result against AC Milan on Fridayarrive at Italian footballs traditional winter break in good spirits.While they will hope to beat the Rossoneri in Doha, Qatar, the Turin club hold a strong lead over their domestic rivals and topped their Champions League group.Director general Beppe Marotta said in an interview with Radio Rai (h/t Juves official website) that both competitions are important to the club:President Andrea Agnelli has already said that winning a sixth Serie A title on the spin would be a legendary achievement. It would be truly unique. Wed be putting into practice something that a few years ago was a dream and that now has all the ingredients to become reality.[…]The Champions League remains a stimulating objective, but we cant forget that, whereas in the league its the strongest team that wins, in Europe there are many different factors that come into play, such as the draw, injuries and even weather conditions.However, after watching Juves performances in those competitions, there is room for much improvement.What follows is a look at each department of the side, identifying who has played well and what has worked while also noting the players and combinations that need to improve.GoalkeeperPerhaps the most surprising note among Juves goalkeepers is that Neto has already played more minutes (315) in Serie A and the Champions League than he managed in the whole of last season (270).The Brazilian, 27, was given his debut in UEFAs elite competition when Dinamo Zagreb visited Juventus Stadium earlier this month, adding a clean sheet to the ones he had already kept against Pescara and Cagliari.Indeed, he was beaten just once as Sampdoria struck in Octobers 4-1 Bianconeri triumph. Neto proved he is more than capable of filling in for Gigi Buffon when needed and is ready for the Coppa Italia to begin next month.Ah yes, Buffon. The mustachioed skipper of the side has been in ridiculously good form, his performances defying the fact he will turn 39 in January.He told a press conference earlier this year that he will “almost certainly” retire after the 2018 FIFA World Cup.He shows no sign of deterioration, though, with the video in the tweet above showing how he managed to put an insane amount of effort into merely preventing a corner against AS Roma.Buffon has conceded 13 goals in 15 Serie A outings, adding four clean sheets to the three he collected in Europe. He was beaten just twice in five Champions League appearances as both Sevilla and Olympique Lyonnais scored past the Italy captain.DefencePart of the reason Buffon and Neto have done so well lies with the defence in front of them. According to WhoScored.com statistics, Juventus allow opponents just 8.2 shots per game, the lowest figure in Serie A and 1.2 attempts fewer than any other side in the division.The likes of Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini, Patrice Evra, Dani Alves, Medhi Benatia and Stephan Lichtsteiner have all played their part when called upon. The latteras this previous post explainshas struggled the most, but it is three other players who have done the most to maintain Juve’s proud record.As he has for over a year, Leonardo Bonucci has been the driving force at the back. Now one of Europe’s elite defenders, the Italy international leads the unit perfectly, his blend of on-the-ball skill and man-marking prowess unrivalled by his peers.Juventus were pleased to announce via their official websiteon Monday that the 29-year-old had committed his future to the club, while Buffon explained the importance of keeping the in-demand star.”It’s great news, because Leo had been on a path of exponential and continuous growth,” the captain told Mediaset Premium (h/t Football Italia). “He’s a reference point for Juve and for us players, and the certainty that he’ll remain at Juventus for many more years is something very important and which will help all the fans sleep soundly at night.”They can indeed, while also knowing that Daniele Rugani has gone from being a talented prospect to an essential member of the team. Injuries to other defenders have pushed forward his case, and this previous post explains how the former Empoli man has seized that chance with both hands.Alex Sandro has continued his own growth too, supplanting Evra as first choice on the left side of the back line, marrying his innate attacking prowess with intelligent defensive diligence.MidfieldWhile the unit behind them has performed well, the midfield has been a serious problem for Juventus. The three obvious members of the starting XIClaudio Marchisio, Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanichave done well individually, but collectively they have struggled for cohesion and balance.Perhaps that is best summed up in the performances of the latter. Pjanic has done well when coach Massimiliano Allegri has used him behind the strikers in a 4-3-1-2 formation, but in a midfield three he has struggled to make an impact.There is an inescapable feeling the team lacks one more player in this department in order to make them a complete sidethat must become a priority when the winter transfer market opens.AttackMuch like the midfield, the Juventus attack has battled chemistry problems but has done well individually. Mario Mandzukic has fought as usual and weighed in with five goals, but he looked increasingly frustrated when Paulo Dybala wasnt beside him after they struck up a sound understanding last term.The Argentina international missed a sustained period of action after straining a thigh muscle in October’s defeat to AC Milan, but he has begun to look back to his best in recent weeks. His cameo appearances off the bench against Torino and AS Roma lend belief to the theory that the team will improve when he is 100 percent healthy.One man who appears to be firing on all cylinders, though, is Gonzalo Higuain. Well-marshalled by Roma in last weekends top-of-the-table clash, the former Napoli man decided the game with his one clear chance, dumping Daniele De Rossi on his backside and slamming the ball into the net.It took his tally to 13 in all competitions, prompting him to laugh off suggestions he has something to prove. “I do not know, I play only to help the team and win,” Higuain told La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Football Italia). “The opinions are yours, I respect them, but I am always quiet. Even when I do not score.”Juventus will hope he continues to let his prowess in front of goal do the talking, but the striker has helped mask some flaws. As 2017 gets under way, Juventus might do well to hope for health in defence, some new arrivals in midfield and a continuation of their improving attacking chemistry.That is the path towards being the complete team they need to be to achieve their lofty goals, which are certainly attainable should they manage to add those elusive elements.Read more World Football news on BleacherReport.com

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Daniel Harrison

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