MILAN - In a modern game dominated by
fancy new phrases like playmaker, snoods and men in the hole,
Juventus have revived their Serie A fortunes thanks to the
rediscovery of old-fashioned wingers.
Juve and Italy wideman Simone Pepe is not the most
technically-gifted player but he can run all match long, has
only occasionally been spotted wearing a neck warmer and usually
gets up as soon as he is kicked.
His efforts on the left, combined with those of Serbia's
Milos Krasic on the right, have helped Italy's most successful
club to climb to second after limping in seventh last term.
With AC Milan six points clear at the top and Juve
embarrassingly knocked out of the Europa League at the group
stage, Pepe is not getting carried away and is keeping it simple
- just like the best wingers always do.
"I'm not talking about the scudetto at this stage of the
season," he told Reuters.
"Juve are a good side and if we continue like this, bit by
bit, then we'll see in March if we have a chance of the title."
Sunday's 2-1 home victory over rivals Lazio, where Krasic
grabbed a stoppage-time winner, was just the sort of game Juve
would have surrendered last term when morale sank almost as low
as 2006, the year they were demoted in a match-fixing scandal.
The big problem last season was the failed attempts of Ciro
Ferrara and then Alberto Zaccheroni, who replaced him as coach,
to integrate new Brazilian playmaker Diego in a system which cut
Diego was packed off to VfL Wolfsburg in the close season
and coach Luigi Del Neri arrived from Sampdoria intent on
bringing back 4-4-2, which had worked so well in the past with
players such as Pavel Nedved tearing down the Turin touchlines.
"Juve are showing we can consistently put in strong
performances and improve gradually," added Pepe, who scored in
the recent 3-1 triumph at Catania and 1-1 draw with Fiorentina.
"It's a great satisfaction if the team is getting better and
so am I. This is important."
Juve boast Italy's young central defenders Giorgio Chiellini
and Leonardo Bonucci while keeper Marco Storari is in fine form.
Usual number one Gianluigi Buffon has been warned by Del
Neri that he faces a battle to regain the shirt once he recovers
from back surgery in January, sparking speculation he may be
As well as the Europa League disappointment, which many fans
see as a blessing in disguise, Juve's main difficulty this term
is finding the right balance with their strikers.
Fabio Quagliarella and Vincenzo Iaquinta impressed at
Catania but their partnership is a work in progress while Amauri
has struggled with injury and form for a year and Alessandro Del
Piero plays sporadically at 36 years of age.
Media reports have therefore linked the twice European
champions with a January bid for Catania striker Maxi Lopez.
"If he is in the plans of Juve and Juve take him we will be
really happy," Pepe said of the former Barcelona front-man.
"But let's see what happens," he added in typical style.
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