It’s been another excellent league campaign for Juventus under Antonio Conte. They are well on their way to winning Serie A for the third straight season after being by far and away the best and most consistent side in Italian football. As in the previous two seasons, much of this has been down to hard work and a team mentality above all else. However, there have been a number of stand-out performers this season…
Let’s begin with everyone’s favourite Italian. Serie A’s Player of the Year for the last two seasons may have had part of his season disrupted by a knee injury but he has still contributed his world famous brand of control and style that few, if any, can come close to matching. Goals have never been a massive part of Pirlo’s game but his ability when standing over free kicks is almost unparalleled and has led him to his highest goal tally in a season for Juventus. There have been important goals as well – his free kick at Fiorentina in the Europa League undoubtedly saved a disjointed Juve from elimination. It says a lot about Pirlo’s quality and importance that, even at 34, Juventus were still keen to offer him a contract extension to keep him at the club beyond the summer. Happily for Juve fans, Pirlo will be around Turin for the next two years at least and they can expect plenty more beautiful and excellent performances from the man they call “il professore”.
While Pirlo provides the artistry and takes the majority of plaudits, Vidal has been perhaps more important to Juve’s success this season. There can be little argument that the Chilean has impressed since his move from Bayer Leverkusen in 2011 as he has developed into the most complete the midfielder in the world without question. His work rate is incredible as he does the hard running that allows Pirlo to sit deep and dictate play in midfield. Vidal is a tenacious defender and likes to get stuck in as his disciplinary record will show (12 yellow cards already this season, considerably higher than anyone else). Most impressive about Vidal though is his attacking prowess. His constant movement makes him a danger to any side and he sits on an incredible 18 goals in all competitions this season, only one behind top scorer Carlos Tevez. He has developed goal scoring instincts better than some strikers in Serie A and became the first Juventus player since 2000 to score a hat trick in the Champions League. It is without question that Vidal has been a star man for Juventus this season. He may have missed out on a Ballon d’Or nomination at the end of 2013 but don’t be surprised to see him named Serie A Player of the Season in the coming months.
Juventus’ biggest area of weakness over the past two seasons has been up front. There was no world class striker who would bang in 20-30 goals a season for them. Many tried – Nicolas Anelka, Mirko Vucinic, Alessandro Matri, Fabio Quagliarella, Sebastian Giovinco, Marco Borriello and Nicklas Bendtner have all played for the club with varying degrees of success – but none have succeeded. So, there was a conscious effort to try and improve the striker situation in the summer and one of the solutions was the much maligned Argentine Carlos Tevez. More famous in recent years for golfing mid-season, Tevez has been a man possessed as he bangs in goals left, right and centre. He currently has 19 goals in all competitions with 18 of those coming in the league alone. More importantly, Tevez has provided a striker that fans can rely on and someone they can idolise. While Vucinic, Giovinco and Quagliarella are good players, they have a tendency to be inconsistent and not provide as much as they sometimes should. Tevez has provided good performances on a regular basis and is beginning to make the £10 million fee look like one of the bargains of the summer.
A free transfer signing during the summer, Llorente may have experienced a hangover from his controversial departure from Athletic Bilbao. However, he has proven to be an excellent foil for fellow summer recruit Tevez with his ability to hold up the ball and win it in the air. He has also contributed a good return of goals in his first season in Italy. He has 14 in Serie A and got 2 in the Champions League games against Real Madrid to take his season tally to 16, better than any of the strikers in the previous two seasons. He has quietly been racking up the goals and helped keep Juve moving forward toward their third Serie A title in a row.
The young Frenchman had a breakout season last year and has only solidified his standing as one of, if not, the best young players in the world. 2013’s Golden Boy has forced his way into the starting XI past Claudio Marchisio and has produced performances of the highest quality in the biggest games. Like Vidal, he is very much an all-round midfielder with good work rate, excellent defensive and tackling skills and brilliant attacking prowess. His goal scoring record is nothing amazing but his goals tend to veer towards the spectacular. The most impressive skill that Pogba has shown this season is his ability to control games in midfield. He is not afraid to get on the ball and, behind Pirlo, is the best playmaker Juve possess. There have been French midfielders compared to Patrick Vieira for years without success but Pogba is beginning to look more and more like Vieira with every passing game. It must hurt Manchester United fans that Sir Alex Ferguson never used him considering their midfield woes now.
Do you agree with these choices for Juventus’ stand-out players this season? If not, who would you say has stood out this season? Let us know in the comments section below.