Published On: Fri, Nov 23rd, 2012

Juventus Club Focus: A New Rotation Test for Antonio Conte

As surprising as it is, Juventus and her fans have a reason (somewhat) to be thankful for Inter’s 3-1 victory over the then unbeaten Juve. The loss reinvigorated a Juventus side that had been experiencing some symptoms of complacency, and now the side has gone on a great run.

The only “bad” result since the loss has been a 0-0 draw to Lazio, a match where Juventus completely dominated and the Biancocelesti didn’t even get a shot on goal.It all culminated this past Tuesday with a 3-0 drubbing of reigning European champions Chelsea, with Juve putting in (according to Giorgio Chiellini) the best performance of the Antonio Conte era.

Juventus so badly manhandled the London club that the loss inspired owner Roman Abramovich to fire (ex) Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo, similar to how last spring’s victory over Inter led to the end of Claudio Ranieri’s tenure with the Nerazzurri.

The most important post-Inter result is obviously the 3-0 defeat of Chelsea. It was crucial for Juve’s chances of qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League, and it was also a signal to the rest of the big European teams that Juventus is back and ready to take on any challengers. This was a match that will go down in Bianconeri history, but the bad news in the short term is that Giorgio Chiellini suffered a minor calf strain during the match.

Chiellini’s injury, plus Leonardo Bonucci’s fever, means that two of the three first choice centerbacks will be unavailable for the match against AC Milan this weekend. Juventus have shown that their squad is very deep with skillful players, and we’ve seen a fair amount of rotation amongst the wingbacks, midfielders, and strikers. However we have seen the smallest amount of player rotation in Juve’s backline.

There are a few reasons for this: for starters, the back trio is extremely able and cohesive, and there’s also a bigger gap between the starters and the substitutes.

Juventus signed a centerback this summer specifically for depth: Lucio.

Unfortunately for Lucio, he was injured during the pre-season and missed the first few games. Fortunately for Lucio, he made a very quick recovery and was able to get himself a very limited amount of playing time. He’s only made four appearances for Juve, one of which was the Italian Super Cup against Napoli where he played a full 90 minutes. The other three have been split between Serie A and Champions League. He played a full 90 against Chievo, then started against FC Nordsjaellend (the 1-1 draw) and a substitute appearance in the 4-0 victory against the same Danish side.

Lucio has been mixed in his performances so far, with some solid matches being overshadowed by his woeful performance filling in for Andrea Barzagli in the 1-1 draw against the Danes. It’s now being reported that he’s almost definitely going to be moving to a new club in January, so he’s not even at the top of the substitute depth chart anymore.

Instead the new “top” substitute centerbacks are Martin Caceres, and Luca Marrone. Marrone, who was (and still is) a bright midfield prospect, was converted into a centerback this summer and has already made four appearances (two starts, two subs) in the current Serie A campaign. While Marrone seems like he’d be a good vice-Bonucci, he’s actually been substituted for Chiellini on a few occasions. With Bonucci out this weekend, I’m expecting Marrone to take that center spot.

Then there’s Martin Caceres. He’s been playing in the centerback position throughout his career, even if he is better as a right back or a wing back. Caceres has made appearances for Juve this year in both roles, and he was an important substitute centerback last season when a sudden injury crisis appeared and Conte had to field Caceres and Vidal as his centerback duo.

Beppe Marrotta, Fabio Paratici, and Antonio Conte have assembled a squad with the depth necessary to make a deep Champions League run, and still compete at the highest level in both Serie A and the Coppa Italia. Conte has already shown that he can rotate his players without much negative consequences, as the squad is brimming with talent, but he has not rotated his starting center backs as much as he has rotated players in other positions.

This Sunday’s game against Milan provides him with an opportunity to prove that all sectors of his side have great substitute depth. VIP Lounge