My piece for the Boot Room on Juventus’ chances in the Champions League
Juventus are one step closer to returning to the top of the European hierarchy.
The Old Lady travel to France to play Monaco in the first leg of the semifinals on Wednesday in what will be an intriguing encounter.
Juventus have had a good few weeks since their impressive defeat of Barcelona at the quarterfinal stage. Their lead in the Serie A currently stands at nine points with four games remaining, thanks to Roma’s loss to Lazio on Sunday. Massimiliona Allegri’s men would also have been pleased to learn that Monaco, and not Atletico Madrid or Real Madrid, were their semifinal opponents. The French side are impressive and potent in the attack, as Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund will attest, but they are the least experienced of the Champions League semifinalists.
Juventus know they will still face a tough test but will be confident after nullifying the trio of Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez over two legs. That’s not to say the thought of facing either Real Madrid or Atletico Madrid would’ve had hearts skipping a beat. The Old Lady would have faced any of the semifinalists confident of reaching the final.
This Juventus side has to be considered the favorite to win the Champions League from this point on.
If the attacking prowess Il Bianconeri showed in the first leg against Barcelona wasn’t enough then the defensive masterclass at the Nou Camp should’ve vanquished any doubts. Of the four finalists, only Juventus has no questions marks over their path to the semifinals. Whether it be dubious defending, poor refereeing, weaker opponents or otherwise, Monaco and both Madrid sides haven’t been fully tested.
Juventus have gone about their Champions League campaign effectively, having topped their group while only conceding two goals in 10 games thus far. They made little fuss in dealing with Porto in the Round of 16 and upped their game against Barcelona. The confidence they showcased in those two legs are indicative of a side convinced they have what it takes to win the competition.
Juventus need not focus on the perceived luck of others though.
Allegri continues to enhance his reputation as a tactician and did so again earlier this season. The switch from the usual 3-5-2 system to a well-balanced 4-2-3-1 setup has put Il Bianconeri on the path to a treble. In each third of the pitch Juventus can match, or surpass, the main strengths of their fellow semifinalists.
With Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci as organizers and leaders at the back Juventus are a fortress defensively. The varied talents of Sami Khedira, Claudio Marchisio and Miralem Pjanic in the two midfield roles mean Allegri’s side can control a game and withstand a physical battle. The front four of Juan Cuadrado, Mario Mandzuki, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain has a solid mix of speed, creativity, work-rate and clinical finishing. Juventus’ odds of a treble look very good with this group provided there are no serious injuries between now and the season’s end.
With the Serie A title virtually wrapped up, Juventus can focus fully on their two-legged encounter with Monaco even with the derby against Torino this weekend and the trip to Roma after the second leg. Monaco have a three point lead and a game in hand in Ligue 1 but the young side will be tested mentally in such an important time in the season. Interestingly enough, Juventus has a recent history with all three sides.
The Old Lady played these teams at various stages of the 2014/15 Champions League season on the way to final against Barcelona. Juventus lost and tied against Atletico in the group stages and finished behind the Spanish side in their group. A tightly contested tie against Monaco ended with 1-0 aggregate win while Real Madrid were beaten 3-2 on aggregate without a loss. Allegri’s side can take solace in the fact that only Monaco has undergone similarly significant changes in terms of playing style and personnel and the Italians will have two legs to overcome them.
Juventus have all the tools at their disposal to conquer their remaining rivals who all have flaws despite their strengths. Monaco’s potent attack leaves them wide open defensively. Atletico have the defensive resilience and tenacity to match the Old Lady but they don’t have the firepower of Juventus. Real Madrid have shown an ability to win all sorts of games while playing poorly but their defense is suspect and if Cristiano Ronaldo is marshaled properly, as you expect with the likes of Chiellini and Bonucci, then they will struggle. One wouldn’t bet against Allegri finding a solution to any problems these opponents will pose.
Juventus aren’t clear favorites but are certainly the strongest side remaining in the Champions League. Barring a freak accident or poor decisions from referees they should be in the final. Their experience two seasons ago will serve as motivation to hoist silverware the club hasn’t seen for over two decades. The Italian side has an air of destiny about them and Buffon’s quest for the one major club trophy to elude him can galvanize the legendary goalkeeper and his teammates.
Juventus’ resurgence from the days of the Calciopoli scandal will finally be complete with a European title in hand.