12 Feb 2013 13:11

Serie A expert Mina Rzouki takes a look at the Italians ahead of Parkhead visit

Forza Juve! Alessandro Matri celebrates scoring against Fiorentina Forza Juve! Alessandro Matri celebrates scoring against Fiorentina

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After weeks of chaos that included sackings, arrivals of petulant heroes and the stuttering form of champions Juventus, Serie A returned to normality over the weekend. Lazio rediscovered the joys of attacking football, Napoli tinkered with a 3-2-5 formation, Diego Milito returned to guide Inter to a win, Balotelli scored and, as one would expect, Juventus won.

The Old Lady seemed to be struggling in 2013 as she picked up a shock defeat, a few draws and several injuries. Critics unleashed the ‘crisis’ word while the club’s management went into overdrive in the transfer market in hopes of picking up a few bargains to plug the holes. The win over Chievo Verona last week was expected but Fiorentina offered a different challenge.

Given the two sides' historic rivalry that brings with it the good, the bad and the tremendously ugly, it’s safe to say this wasn’t any old match. The Tuscans despise the side who took Roberto Baggio away, stole a Scudetto and very recently scuppered their deal with Dimitar Berbatov. Meanwhile Juventus, who are used to being hated, simply enjoy provoking the Viola.

Yet this great animosity was barely felt by the players on the pitch. Juve were permitted to dominate the game by a Fiorentina side that simply lost hope after conceding their second goal. A let down for the neutral, it was a match that further enforced the power of the Old Lady. There is no crisis, Juve are Juve - and the best Italy has to offer.

Alessandro Matri Goals galore: Will Alessandro Matri be celebrating on Tuesday night?

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So does that mean that Celtic will prove to be an easy match for the Italians? On paper it ought to be but in reality it will be anything but easy. Under Antonio Conte, Juventus have been transformed from a side pitied after their post-Calciopoli collapse into one that is feared. More importantly, they are back to being hated and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Initially loved by most of Italy, Juventus were the side owned by the great Agnelli family, founders of FIAT. At one stage the company once accounted for just under 5% of Italy's GDP and employed 3% of its workforce. Juvnetus were thus the team to support for the many workers.

The iconic Gianni Agnelli was credited with driving Italy's post-war miracle that saw the European country become the world’s fifth most important economic power. Agnelli’s beloved Juventus thrived in both Italy and Europe reaching seven Champions League finals, winning two of them and managing 28 league titles (30 if you don’t believe they ought to have been stripped of their two due to Calciopoli).

Gianluigi Buffon of Juventus FC celebrates victory at the end of the Serie A match between Juventus FC and ACF Fiorentina at Juventus Arena Top stopper: Celtic have to beat Buffon

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The team always relied on home grown Italian players and were celebrated for their intense style of play. Juventus always won - whether they were beautiful or not was hardly important. However, under Conte, they are beautiful. They rotate the ball majestically; their tactical flexibility is to be admired whilst their intensity can only be envied. Juventus only think of winning. Their mental fortitude has seen them flatten opponents whilst their physical strength on the pitch is unrivalled.

They boast Serie A’s best attack and the best defence. They rely on Andrea Pirlo’s vision, runners from midfield and attacking threats from all areas of the pitch. Their wing-backs are both disciplined and eager to contribute offensively whilst Mirko Vucinic’s creative feet improve the quality of play upfront. They press high up the pitch to win the ball back in dangerous positions. Midfielders make timely runs to drag defenders away to leave Pirlo space and time to create. They can play with tonnes of possession or with very little. In short, they really are the best Italy have to offer.

However, against Celtic they are without their main aerial threat in Giorgio Chiellini and they are unlikely to play Kwadwo Asamoah who has just returned from playing in the Africa Cup of Nations. While the latter provides defensive security, offensive penetration and the ability to tackle, Chiellini has the experience to contribute in addition to all his qualities.

Despite a plethora of strikers, Juventus have struggled to effectively convert the many chances they create. Much has been made of the fact they have no ‘world class striker’ and that lack of quality upfront has been especially felt at the start of 2013.

Celtic's Gary Hooper, right, celebrates his goal past Spartak Moscow's Artem Dzyuba Here's Hooping... Gary will be Celtic's dangerman

AP

 

There’s every possibility that one Charlie Mulgrew free-kick or a display of efficiency by Gary Hooper could shock the Italians. Moreover for a side that struggles to convert goal-scoring opportunities, Fraser Forster may well prove to be the Old Lady’s biggest nightmare in goal.

Far away from their home and against a side that feels it’s their destiny to get far after defeating Barcelona, Juventus will struggle. But if international football has taught us anything, it’s that one should never underestimate the Italians. Just ask Germany.

Filed under: Euro 2012

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