Zaccheroni: A month of good decisions

BY foxsports • March 2, 2010

As Alberto Zaccheroni completes his first month as Juventus coach, the Old Lady has seemingly broken out of the slumber which enveloped the club in the final weeks of Ciro Ferrara's reign.

Results were slow to come at first, but then the wins arrived, along with a firm understanding of the new man's tactical ideas. The team appeared to be heading in the right direction before suffering its first loss under Zaccheroni on Sunday.

Before that result, the coach has received some much deserved credit for this turn-around, for the ease with which he has implemented his theories onto the teams pattern of play and for his all-round knowledge of the game.

Indeed a number of players have spoken publicly of their admiration for the new coach. Gigi Buffon says the squad has "changed," and Momo Sissoko went so far as to label the 56-year-old a "genius."

What has not been so widespread however is acknowledgement of some of the tough choices and decisions Zaccheroni has made during his brief spell in charge. They seem simple enough changes, but if they were so easy, then that raises a number of other questions.

The obvious change is a tactical one. While the three-man defense, with which Zaccheroni has been synonymous with since his time at Udinese in the late 1990s, took just one game to implement it was the unconventional formation that was the hallmark of all his previous teams.

Be it Udinese, Lazio, Milan, or Inter, the 3-4-3 went along with him, the two were seemingly inseparable. The players just had to find a way to fit in, no matter who they were. Changing it to a 3-4-1-2 seems minor, but for this coach it is a serious shift in mindset, something he has not done on a permanent basis before.

Following this alteration has been a strong conviction when selecting the players to fill his formation. The two Fabios, Cannavaro and Grosso, were high profile summer acquisitions, yet they spend most Serie A Sundays under Zaccheroni on the bench. Both have lost out to players that have never been first team regulars in Turin.

Zdenek Grygera has emerged as a fine defender in this new formation, typified by his stellar performance in the Europa League game with Ajax this past week. Previously he has featured at right back, but his lack of attacking skills always hindered his contribution.

Now as part of the back three he can do what he is best at, defending. To do so to the extent that nobody questions the exclusion of the Italy Captain is as much a credit to the manager as it is the player.

On Sunday Cannavaro returned to first team action, starting his first game for some time. Zaccheroni also altered his formation, a lack of options for the right side of midfield forcing him to play with a four man defence. Both changes failed, and perhaps this as much as anything vindicates the coaches earlier decision to axe both Cannavaro and the back four.

Perhaps a more surprising development is seeing Paolo De Ceglie establishing himself as a first team regular. While Ferrara recognized the youngster's abilities, and clearly preferred him to the now departed Molinaro, he still rarely got the starting slot.

It is pace, the ability to cover defensively while thinking attack first and a good range of cross—all traits usually associated with Fabio Grosso—that make the 23-year-old first choice while benching the hero of 2006.

While these seem like simple moves, they make sense and nobody who cares for Juventus is asking questions of Zaccheroni for making them. Yet why did his predecessor, Juve legend Ciro Ferrara, not make them himself?

Why did nobody on the coaching staff advise the rookie coach that these were the right options? Of all the people working at the club, does it really take a man who has been unemployed since being fired by Torino in 2007 to point out these seemingly simple solutions?

Zaccheroni has also defied conventional wisdom when it comes to the symbol of Juventus, Alessandro Del Piero. Now 35, it was the widely held belief that the Captain could no longer play every game, especially when European fixtures meant two games a week. Not only does he start every game under Zaccheroni, but Del Piero is regularly playing 90 minutes too.

While doing so he is thriving, scoring goals, winning games, supplying assists to team mates and forging a great on field partnership with another revitalized star, Diego.

The Brazilian playmaker is not the only one to enjoy a vast improvement under the new regime either. Momo Sissoko, Amauri and Felipe Melo have been heavily criticized for their performances prior to Zaccheroni's arrival, yet all three are now playing well, and deserve their places in the starting 11.

Indeed, despite the criticism he has received, perhaps the absence of Amauri was most damaging against Palermo, robbing Juventus of their target man as they pressed forward in search of an opening.

Add to this the continued good form of Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Martin Caceres, and Claudio Marchisio and there are many reasons to believe Zaccheroni can take Juventus to where they want to go, and realize the full potential of a good, balanced squad of players.

Once the short term injuries subside Zaccheroni will have more options in tough games, able to bring changes from the bench he was without this weekend.

Alberto Zaccheroni will face more tough choices in the coming months. As players like Vincenzo Iaquinta, Mauro Camoranesi, and David Trezeguet return to full fitness it remains to be seen how he will incorporate them into his new look Juventus. What is clear is that until now he has made the best choices for the team, and it has worked well for him.

The loss to Palermo should merely embolden Zaccheroni, as it proved many of his previous convictions about this Juvenus to be correct. Lets hope that he continues to make the difficult decisions right, and maybe people will even begin to notice?

Adamo Digby is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, the open source sports network.

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