Friday February 28 2014
Conte, concentrate on calcio

Cold hard results mean that recent criticism of Juventus is unwarranted, but they must keep their eyes on the prize, says Richard Thomas.

Thursday night’s performance by Juventus in their Europa League Round of 32 second leg with Trabzonspor provided a timely reminder to their critics, fans and most importantly themselves as to just what a fine team and squad they are when on song.

Granted, sterner tests than their Turkish opponents lie ahead but the manner in which an under-strength Old Lady side firstly quietened a hostile home crowd, then ruthlessly dismantled their opposition, showed they mean serious business in this competition and in continuing to fight on two fronts until the season’s end. In an extremely one-sided contest, the final score of 2-0 highly flattered the hosts and had it not been for a truly heroic performance from goalkeeper Onur Kivrak, it is not exaggerating to say it would have been at least triple that number.

It was however a performance at odds with what Juve have served up in recent weeks and Coach Antonio Conte admitted as much. “I am very happy, as it is certainly a better performance in every way compared to the first leg,” he told the media after the game. “We approached it in the right way, whereas in Turin we only did what we wanted to in fits and starts. We risked compromising qualification in the first leg.”

While Conte in this instance was specifically comparing last night’s performance to the one from last week’s first leg, the reality is it was a vast improvement on most of their recent showings and it is this that has attracted scorn from their detractors. They narrowly edged out Torino in last week’s Derby della Mole in a game in which they were fortunate not to concede a penalty and have a man sent off. That came on the back of the laboured performance in the aforementioned first leg, which in turn followed an unconvincing showing against struggling Chievo. On that occasion, sections of the Juventus Stadium grew increasingly frustrated with their side’s below par display and singled out forward Sebastian Giovinco for jeers when he was eventually substituted.

The week before that, Conte himself showed his displeasure with his team’s efforts when he reacted furiously to their throwing away of a two goal lead to only manage a draw at Verona. He promptly cancelled his players’ day off and ordered them in for extra training, a decision that infamously then proved to be the catalyst for an ugly media row with former Bianconero Coach Fabio Capello, all of which has been played out in the public domain.

With all of the hassle that has come with this, Conte has since had to field questions about whether he sees his future away from Italy. His references to the Calciopoli scandal as a means of criticising Capello were particularly ill advised, divisive and against the interests of the club who pay his wages. The subsequent criticism and unwanted attention it has attracted can hardly have had a positive impact on his team’s performances in the meantime.

All of this considered however, football is first and foremost a results business and despite the drop in performance levels Juve have, for the most part, continued to win on the pitch. The history books will show that in February 2014 they took 10 points from a possible 12 available in Serie A and successfully negotiated a potentially tricky European tie. They still lead Italy’s top flight by nine points, though Roma have a game in hand, and have set up a mouth-watering Last 16 Europa League match-up with rivals Fiorentina. On the basis of these facts, the notion that they are in any way struggling would seem at best harsh and at worst ridiculous.

With tough games now approaching though, firstly against Milan on Sunday and then a trio of encounters with the Viola to come in the space of 10 days following that, Conte will need his players to up their game once more. They may have gotten away with flat performances against the likes of Chievo and Trabzonspor first time around, but they are unlikely to do so against Clarence Seedorf’s improving side and Vincenzo Montella’s Champions League chasers. Conte can also play his part by resisting the temptation to become embroiled in any more heated and ultimately futile media sideshows.

In summary, the time has come for the Old Lady to draw a line under recent off-field events and focus solely on what happens on it. As they have shown on countless occasions over the last few years, and again last night, they can be a formidable side when they do that.

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Have your say...
@immy Stallion

"capello may have been a good coach"... You havent watched that much football over the years have you? The man a living legend. respect.
on the 4th March, 2014 at 4:18pm
temper,temper,prof.we are all entitled to an opinion.if you think Juve are a good team who am I to argue.maybe you should go for anger management then you may see the bigger picture.chow
on the 3rd March, 2014 at 8:22am
I support Conte. He took over a team that had back to back 7th place finishes. He is now on the way to 3 straight titles. This is something special. Then you have Capello, someone who has been away from Italy, run his mouth that what Conte's Juve is doing is only because of a weak serie A. Of course Conte is going to put him in his place. Capello may have been a good coach at one time, but ask any Juve fan, where he ranks in the hearts of fans. He almost drove Del Piero out.
on the 3rd March, 2014 at 4:11am
I think Juventus is not as bad as people says.
In C.L they should have won their home games, if you watched their game in Madrid they played even better than madrid. Juve lost because of the no existing penalty and one man down.
Do not say that schalke, olimpiakos, leverkusen are the better teams than juve haha.
on the 2nd March, 2014 at 2:02pm
@uncle alberto:
I think you cant think clearly or you are another pathetic fan who watches a pathetic team E.g "Inter".

Juve is no good and they have players whose jersey numbers are like #1, #3, #6, #8, #10, #12, #14, #15, #18, #21, #22, #23.

Think again, Watch football games not rugby and most importantly follow Grande Juve games then somebody could read what you write on this blog.

If you watch teams whose best player is Guarin who even cant think clearly like u, Please spare us some time
on the 1st March, 2014 at 3:54pm
just a question for the fans, what the hell Isla and Peluso are doing with Juve!! Sorensen was even better !
on the 1st March, 2014 at 9:06am
Conte's public outburst against Capello was not a media row as much as it was a row with the fans and organization of Juventus. He cannot make comments about calciopoli. He's not bigger than the club and he deserves all the scorn he received. Which ultimately, in the space of 24 hours, inevitably forced him to backtrack on the "revoked titles".
on the 1st March, 2014 at 2:58am
if juve dont win these trophies it is because they are not good enough.They shouldnt need too much experience to win a poor league and a second rate european trophy
on the 28th February, 2014 at 9:15pm
IMO this is the thesis writing for Conte to test if he can graduate with Masters degree, He already achieved Seria A "Bach" so EL means "Master".

In sports language: Players are there to win the double, if he uses them wisely they will perform superbly e.g Gio in Trabz away game.

Luck in football does exists, but Juve fails in landing those trophies it will 'much of it' be because of inexperience.

2nd 1/2 Derby with Torino should never be repeated against teams like Milan, Fio, Roma, Napoli.
on the 28th February, 2014 at 5:45pm
The intensity and humility was back against Trabsonspor,we are a much stronger unit with these qualities which Conte demands.When the coach arrived to take the helm he stated that when he previously watched Juve the players walked off the field appearing unconcerned.He stated that his Juve at the very least should have their shirts soaked in sweat and blood if necessary and defeat should hurt.Conte is getting us back to that point,afterall we are Juve!!!!
on the 28th February, 2014 at 3:47pm
The third last paragraph is the only one that makes any sense here. Juve have had there ups and downs in terms of form, but they have dominated most of their games to the extent that anything less than victory is a surprise. I can think of only three games this season (Madrid home, Galatasaray home and Fiorentina away) that Juve did not command for the entire 90 mins. Extrapolate this form and you have over 100 points at the end of the season. What exactly is the problem???
on the 28th February, 2014 at 3:36pm
Whilst i agree it was good for Conte to defend his team, i do also agree with Capello that Juventus are a big fish in a small pond. Serie A is not competitive enough for them.
on the 28th February, 2014 at 2:32pm
what is wrong with the media row? all great managers have them. The coach is like a father, players, the children. If another man disrespects your father, even if you are annoyed with him, you would be furious if your father did not defend himself and verbally destroy the other man.

What Conte did was great, shows his players he is a man, not some little wimp that took capello's criticism lying down, as that would almost be an acceptance of him being wrong.
on the 28th February, 2014 at 2:31pm

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