This evening Juventus welcome Monaco to the Juventus Stadium on the brink of qualifying for the Champions League final in Cardiff at the beginning of next month, and there is rightly a sense of optimism among the fans that this could finally be their year once again. Boasting a two-goal advantage – two away goals at that – the expected outcome is that Juventus will be heading to south Wales for the showpiece event.
Juventus are no strangers to the latter stages of the competition. Two years ago in Berlin, Juventus were played off the park against a Barcelona team that will surely go down as one of the best ever under Luis Enrique. 3-1 was the final score, with Rakitić, Suárez and Neymar scoring the goals and Lionel Messi pulling the strings. It was heartache again for the Bianconeri, but again a feeling that Juventus fans are no strangers to. In the European Cup, no other team has finished runners-up more than Juventus have, on 6 occasions may I add, with the most recent coming in 2015.
You have to go back to 1996, the Stadio Olimpico in Rome for the last time Juventus were victorious in the Champions League. After 120 minutes of football, it had finished 1-1 between Juventus and Ajax. A brilliant young Ajax side which consisted of Patrick Kluivert, Edwin Van Der Sar, Edgar Davids, Nwanko Kanu and the De Boer brothers, managed by Louis Van Gaal, and coincidently were the current holders of the competition. Ajax fell just short on this occasion losing 4-2 on penalties. Juventus were champions of Europe again.
The wait for that second and last European crown was 21 long years. Since then they have been beaten in four finals: 1997 against Borussia Dortmund, 1998 against Real Madrid, 2003 against AC Milan and 2015 against Barcelona.
The last 21 years in between have been, let’s say, eventful, for Juventus. Four Champions League final losses, helping the national team win the World Cup in 2006 and then a match-fixing scandal that rocked Italian football and saw Juventus relegated so Serie B. A hefty fine, points deduction and the loss of some star players followed. Since those dark days of the Calciopoli, Juventus have responded as expected. They’ve rebuilt the squad on several occasions, purchased their own stadium and are now back at the top in Italian football and instilled stability back at the club.
Max Allegri was brought in to replace Antonio Conte, a decision which was not met with rousing joy as Allegri had been recently in charge of AC Milan. He endured a tough start as the manager and after a 4-1 thrashing from Fiorentina, but Allegri showed that he is adaptable and switched things up. Out with the 3-5-2 that had served Conte so well and in with the 4-2-3-1 which has, especially this season, taken Juventus up to another level.
Their backline has seen them concede only two goals in the Champions League so far, both of which were in the group stages. Since qualifying for the knockout stage Juventus have kept clean sheets against Porto, Barcelona and Monaco.
Allegri has brought in Dani Alves and Alex Sandro, two flying fullbacks that don’t neglect their defensive responsibilities. The rugged centre-back pairing of Bonucci and Chiellini have not once been fazed this season no matter who they have come up against. They’hre two old school defenders that do what defenders are supposed to do: defend! With the evergreen, Gianluigi Buffon in goal, his experience and communication skills are vital to orchestrating those in front of him.
Allegri has also brought in Sami Khedira to sit in front of the back four, their insurance policy, a World Cup winner too with plenty of experience to offer; another great piece of business. It’s worth noting that Khedira and Dani Alves were both free transfers, just as Pirlo was a few years prior. Astute in the market when needed to be.
In 2014-2015 Juventus in their Champions League campaign never really put anyone to the sword, barring a good away win in Dortmund. They were wasteful in front of goal and ground out results over the two legs. Ultimately they did enough to get over the line and make it to the final. Against Barcelona, they fell short both offensively and defensively. Chiellini was a big miss, out through suspension.
Allegri has made Juventus more ruthless up front. Splashing the Pogba money on Gonzalo Higuain has seen the Argentine linked up wonderfully with comrade Paulo Dybala. The pair have shown a lethal touch in front of goal this season in the competition with 50% of the goals coming from them (9 of the 18). The remaining 50% of the goals in the competition are well spread amongst the squad which goes to show that even though Higuain and Dybala are the main men, Juventus are not heavily reliant on them.
Juventus have that something special about them, and Dybala has given them that extra dimension. Technically gifted with a great left foot, he scurries across the pitch, terrorising defences. He is mature beyond his years too with great composure and balance, he has the ability to drop his shoulder, shift his weight and glide past the defender.
Juventus have dominated domestically in Serie A for the past 5 seasons, but the 21 years wait for continental success is too long for a club like Juventus and it’s fans. They crave to lift the Champions League trophy again, it’s the ultimate club prize. It’s where everyone wants to be and where the ones that are not, are green with envy.
Juventus are certainly more equipped than ever to win the holy grail again. Allegri has them playing fast flowing attacking football with players that can hurt opposition defences, the real key for them though is the fact that they are more resolute at the back. Bonucci, Chiellini and Buffon have formed Turin’s very own great wall and they will be confident of bringing the 21-year wait for Juventus to an end this season no matter who they get in the final.