European Football

UEFA Champions League Final: Why it is now or never for this Juve side

Photo: Leandro Ceruti CC BY-SA 2.0

THE CURRENT Juventus side has to do it this season or reluctantly accept the team that brushed all aside in Italy this past half decade will not win the UEFA Champions League.

This is not a young Juve side with its future ahead of it, but the club has the resources to build a new team that can consolidate its position among the European elite in the years ahead.

Consider the likely line-up for Cardiff – Buffon, Chiellini, Barzagli, Bonucci, Alves, Khedira and Mandzukic are all 30 and beyond. Higuain is 29, Pjanic 27 and Sandro 26. Only Paulo Dybala is under 25.

Juventus can complete a unique treble if they win the Champions League and it would provide the perfect monument to the current Juve team and its run of success since 2011-12.  Only one Italian team has completed the treble of Serie A, Coppa Italia and Champions League before – Inter under Mourinho in 2010.

Although they seemed to make hard work of finishing off the title race, this has been another momentous campaign for Massimiliano Allegri. Juve may have won the double for the third consecutive season, but don’t say it too loud – it could just be that the rest of Serie A is starting to catch-up on La Vecchia Signora.

While Juve have acquired more cunning in Europe, the gap between Allegri’s team and the rest of Serie A is closing. The margin of victory this season was four points, with Roma breathing down their neck in the final weeks. Roma were one of five teams that beat Juve, the others were Genoa, Fiorentina, Inter and AC Milan.

In recent seasons, Juve have had more points to spare, nine in 2016, 17 in both 2015 and 2014 and nine again in 2013. You have to go back to 2011-12 for a season that has been so tight.

Maybe Juve were suffering from fatigue towards the end of the campaign. Certainly after their Champions League semi-final ties against Monaco, they were held at home by Torino (the only time they failed to win a league game at their stadium) and lost at Roma.

With seven players 30 and over, it is no great surprise that they may have run out of some steam. The core of the team has been an outstanding defence, possibly the best in world football and comprising Buffon, Chiellini, Bonucci and Barzagli, all of whom have long teeth.

However, Juve’s two-legged victory over Barcelona showed that if you use your legs wisely and harness a couple of younger players, you can beat the best in the world. Juventus beat Barca 3-0 in the first leg, but Allegri was smart enough to know that three goals was not necessarily enough against a team with Messi, Neymar and Suarez lining up against you. But Juve’s defence was superbly organised and, above all, calm. The best preparation Allegri should have insisted upon was to make his players watch the sheer panic-stricken Paris St. Germain in the round of 16.

It is Juve’s defence  – just three goals conceded in the competition this season – that will be the decisive factor in the final against Real Madrid. Real’s attacking prowess is their strength, but if the established and trusted backline performs, it can frustrate the life out of Ronaldo and Benzema. If they can do it to Messi and co., they can do it to Real.

But don’t overlook Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala, who have over 50 goals between them. Higuain doesn’t always get the credit he deserves, mainly because he’s not svelte or toned in the way that Ronaldo is. Not for him eel-like movements that allow him to weave his way round players. He’s something of an old-fashioned centre forward who wallops the ball into the net – with regularity. Dybala is different, he is slippery and agile. Between them, they’ve got the attributes you need up front.

Dybala, should he stay at Juventus, represents the future. But for most of this team, 2017 might be the best chance they get. Can they do it? Their path to Cardiff suggests it can happen – beating one of Europe’s most exciting teams, Monaco, home and away, showed they knew how to manage such an important tie. Disposing of Barca hinted they have evolved since 2015 when they were beaten in the final by the Catalans. Porto, Lyon and Sevilla were no pushovers, either.

The Champions League’s knockout stages have been thoroughly engaging this season, and Juventus have played their part. The past three seasons have been all-Latin affairs, either all-Spanish or Spain v Italy with the Spaniards have come out on top every year – it is time for a change and if Juve’s elder statesmen stand firm, the Champions League trophy may be heading back to Turin.

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