The coffee rocket is on the stove and the sound of a radio can be heard in the background. The roaring of boiling espresso dies down just in time to catch the thoughts of a caller to the talk show on air. “Antonio Conte has yet to understand that when he picks Mirko Vucinic, Juventus will always play with 10 against 12.” That was the morning of Bologna-Juventus.
The Montenegrin scored in the re-arranged fixture that same day, but it wasn’t enough to silence his critics or dispel fears over Juventus’ problems in attack. His languid style continued to infuriate, as well as mask his qualities, while strike partner Marco Borriello did very little to suggest that he will be signed outright in the summer once his loan deal from Roma expires.
Coach Conte has chopped and changed his forwards in recent weeks, with the arguably under-used Fabio Quagliarella and Alessandro Matri in and then out of the side. The only constant has been the lack of opportunity given to veteran Alex Del Piero in his final season at the club.
A shortage of goals from the forward department is clearly an issue for the Old Lady, a quick glance at the numbers illustrates that. Matri has 10 in 23 League games, but Borriello, Quagliarella, Del Piero and Vucinic have only scored six goals between them from a combined 55 appearances. Those are worrying statistics for a side – now without goal-shy Amauri – who are hunting down a Scudetto.
Yet those figures have been a constant throughout the campaign and not just during Juventus’ recent bout of drawitis. What has changed over the last two months are the lack of crucially important goals from Claudio Marchisio and Simone Pepe.
Given that Juventus don’t have a tin opener such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic or the inspiration of a younger Del Piero, they have got to where they are this season thanks to a team ethic which is borne out of self-sacrifice in the greater interests of the Old Lady. But as the tiring term has worn on, Conte’s decision to base his first team on a relatively small select group of players may have had an adverse effect on Marchisio and Pepe in particular.
The central midfielder was in the form of his life at the start of the campaign. His early displays suggested that this could be the season of his consecration, where promise had been transformed into consistent classy performances. Pepe, who’s had his injury problems recently, seemed revitalised too after a pretty mediocre first year in Turin.
In total, the pair have contributed 11 goals in Serie A this term. Marchisio’s six strikes in five separate games delivered five victories, while four wins have come from Pepe’s five net-ripplers. The problem for Juve is that Marchisio last scored on December 4 against Cesena and the Roman on December 18 against Novara. Since that game against their Piedmont rivals, Conte’s men have won just four and drawn seven in Serie A.
It has been tough to watch Marchisio struggle in recent weeks, while Juventus have clearly missed the contribution of Pepe – especially his link-up play with the diminishing contribution of Stephan Lichtsteiner.
The return to 4-3-3 will undoubtedly benefit the latter pair, but it seems clear that if the Turin giants do have serious ambitions of ending the campaign as Campioni d’Italia, then it won’t just be Vucinic and his striking colleagues who will have to start finding the net again.