Massimiliano Allegri’s Juventus side sit at the top of Serie A but are at risk of exiting the Champion’s League in the group stages. Mina Rzouki takes a look at the Italian team and questions why they are yet to find their feet in Europe.
Rich, superior, glamorous and successful, there’s a reason why Juventus are dubbed the Old Lady of Italian football. They are Italy’s most successful team, were an example to follow and exuded prestige. That is until the Calciopoli scandal destroyed the Old Lady’s integrity, ripping the splendour away from her delicate clutches.
Finding her way back to the top has been a long arduous task that occurred largely thanks to Antonio Conte and his willingness to teach the Old Lady the values of the working class. In order to reach the top, you have to start from the bottom.
By demonstrating discipline, professionalism and a soldier like mentality, the Bianconeri ran relentlessly and fought incessantly to accumulate consistent victories. Playing with visible passion and a burning desire, opponents struggled to overcome the intensity and Juventus soon notched up three titles in a row, breaking records along the way. Invincible in their first year, they accrued 102 points in their last; how could anyone in Italy compete with such a winning machine?
While Serie A sides struggled to contain the dynamism of the Bianconeri, Juventus wilted under the light of the Champions League. Their individual mistakes tripled, their intensity dwindled and their nerves were made glaringly obvious. They were now facing sides willing to actually play football and take them on, rushing them into their passages of play and exposing their inefficiencies in front of goal. Each loss resulted in a blow to their confidence, reminding them that amongst the big boys, they were inferior.
The problem is, they’re not. Juventus truly are a magnificently thrilling team to watch when they play their own game with voracious intensity and complete confidence. They can attack from all angles, defend with complete conviction and they simply never give up.
“In my four years here, the toughest game I have experienced was that Champions League home game against Juventus,” Arda Turan has told FIFA’s official website last month. Why?
He added: “Against Barcelona you know they’ll have the lion’s share of possession, against Madrid you need to stop their counter-attacks, but the Juve game was just tremendous.”
With players like Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba and Carlos Tevez, they boast technique but it’s their intelligence that makes them winners. Each player understands their role and how to breathe life into the formation, allowing them to create an abundance of opportunities on goal. Last season, no other team in the Champions League managed as many shots as Juve, yet their inefficiency resulted in a humiliating exit at the group stage.
Having suffered two defeats, against both Atletico Madrid and Olympiakos this season, they’re at risk of another early exit. ‘Cheaters’ scream the Italians who believe Juve only win in Italy by paying their way. To these critics who feel the lack of European trophies is evidence of suspicious behaviour in the domestic league, perhaps we need to point out the fact the Old Lady reached four Champions League finals in less than 10 years – they dominated Italy and Europe. They may be serial chokers but they were certainly not European losers.
So what are the reasons for the recent defeats? Some claim it’s the 3-5-2 formation that makes them vulnerable to pace and quality play on the wings. Some believe they don’t possess enough quality players. Most feel it’s a psychological issue.
Juventus are expected to win their European matches. They are the Champions of Italy and the representatives of Italian football. They are not an unknown quality and a side than can benefit from the ‘underdog tag’, but one that is expected to win with ease based on their domestic form and prestigious history. All this has made them so scared to disappoint that they play with fear, without the confidence they exude in their own league. Add this to the fact that in Italy, they don’t face enough sides willing to play proactive football to help their development and one can understand the poor performances.
Against the Greeks on Tuesday night, only a win will suffice to keep them in the running. Another defeat will not only tarnish their own reputation but that of the entire league. Can Juve cope with the pressure?
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