Straight from the dark heart of Italy
With Juventus finding themselves top of the table, the inevitable title talk is in the air - but their superstitious coach Antonio Conte is having none of it.
Having defeated both Inter and AC Milan, the Old Lady left the Olympic Stadium in Rome on Saturday with a 1-0 win over Lazio tucked in her overnight bag, with a one point advantage and a game in hand over Milan and Udinese. That fixture will take place at Napoli on Tuesday evening.
Victory at the San Paolo – and the four point gap that would open - would be considered a genuine breakaway at the top, but for now all talk of the Scudetto has been banned, with Conte well aware nothing can ever be taken for granted where Juve are concerned.
The club’s former midfielder is more than happy to lead from the front, and although his short managerial career may have been littered with setbacks, he has never lost his belief that his way is the right way – and in fact his methods have long been hotwired into the Juve psyche.
There has always been the class of the old guard – and now that takes the form of Andrea Pirlo and Gigi Buffon. The former took the pitch in Rome on Saturday with his knee heavily strapped, but was still standing at the end of 90 minutes of raw combat, while the latter made a miraculous save to deny Tommaso Rocchi and looks back to the Gigi of old.
The desire to battle for every ball and work as a team manifested itself in the unlikeliest figure to chase back - Mirko Vucinic - popping up at left-back to make a couple of clearances and on one occasion a challenge that had Giorgio Chiellini grinning from ear to ear.
Then, the clinical finishing to kill off the opposition just when they seem to be holding the upper hand – that came from a three-pass move which saw Vucinic release Alessandro Matri along the left flank who whipped in a low cross for Simone Pepe to sweep the ball home for the only goal of the game.
And then there is the drill sergeant on the sideline, who never finishes a match with his voice intact. But what most makes his side genuine title candidates is his lack of reliance on one or two big names - as Milan do with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The whole team has taken on the plan one hundred per cent.
“It’s a war and you need to be battle ready,” is how Conte has described his approach to football in the past and that is why the Bianconeri are top and can now deploy their troops to Napoli in good heart.
Some will point to the fact that Juve have had no European duties to distract them, and they will certainly hope to impose their physical approach on Napoli, who after their exertions against Manchester City were fortunate to come away from Atalanta with a point thanks to Edinson Cavani’s last-gasp equaliser.
Milan knew they needed to respond on Sunday evening and a 4-0 thumping of Chievo - with Ibra passing the century of goals in Italian football and Pato on the score sheet for the first time this season - sent out loud and clear the message that the reigning champions remain in rude health.
Despite their impressive performance, the arrival of Carlos Tevez is looking more and more likely, and this will ramp up the pressure on Alexandre Pato and Robinho, whose starting places will come under threat.
It would be unlike the Brazilian pair to throw a hissy fit (cough, splutter) but word around Milanello is that some of the senior players are none too keen on the Argentine’s potential arrival, even if the team is in dire need of additional offensive cover in Antonio Cassano’s absence.
However, with Juve distancing themselves from the troublesome South American, the way is open for Milan chief Adriano Galliani to persuade City to accept a loan deal. The reaction of the rest of the Rossoneri squad will be key to how their season unfolds – lose their discipline and they could well lose their title, especially as there seems little danger of anybody in Turin breaking rank.
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