Why Juventus will win the Champions League
Squeezing past Spurs by the skin of their teeth, Juventus may just have the wake-up call they need to win the competition.
Tottenham was a wake-up call for Max Allegri.
Over the course of two nail-biting fixtures, Mauricio Pochettino’s side were undoubtedly the better team. Only the momentary brilliance of Gonzalo Higuaín separated keenly matched opponents, with the Argentine scoring three of his club’s four goals.
In the aftermath of the first leg, Allegri admitted being surprised at the quality of Spurs’ display. The admission that was itself surprising; the Juventus coach is the master pragmatist, wedded not to one particular tactical ideology but committed instead to flexibility, suiting his approach to the demands of each fixture.
As Spurs took an early lead at Wembley last week, Allegri’s tactical nous showed itself, though. Stephan Lichtsteiner gave balance and protection to a right-wing that had been terrorised by Heung-Min Son, with the aged Swiss even powering forward to assist Higuaín’s equaliser in the second half.
That kind of on-the-fly brilliance gives Juventus an advantage heading into the competition’s closing stages. That, and the crumbling majesty of their defence.
Decades of experience
Between them, Gigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli have decades of world-class experience. They have faced and beaten every kind of opponent, bested every hostile atmosphere and won nearly every trophy. The one that continues to elude them is the one that they are most desperate to win: the Champions League.
It is almost definitely the last chance for Buffon and Barzagli to do so. Both are not long for the professional game, and both will suffer if the cup with the Big Ears isn’t added to their roll of honours.
Time is running out. Chiellini is on the wrong side of thirty with Mehdi Benatia and Daniele Rugani waiting in the wings. It’s either this year or not at all for the Juventus stalwart.
In Paulo Dybala, Juventus have the perfect counterpoint to the greying brilliance of their defensive line.
The Argentine was quiet at Wembley, appearing to labour after returning from a recent injury. He did nothing all game, except score the decisive goal.
It’s a habit he perfected against Lazio a few days before, muscling Marco Parolo off the ball before scooping a finish past a desperate Thomas Strakosha in the last kick of the game. He can, and probably will be, decisive.
He isn’t the only threat, of course. Gonzalo Higuaín has already proven his mettle as a top-level predator, whilst Mario Mandzukic continues to flourish in a position that isn’t his own.
Douglas Costa and Juan Cuadrado might have floundered at past employers, but their speed and creativity on the flanks is the perfect accompaniment to a fully-stocked forward line.
Allegri is as Allegri does
Counterintuitively, the prolonged challenge from Napoli in Serie A might help keep Juventini sharp going into the season’s decisive stage.
Juventus, unlike for most of the last decade, haven’t been allowed to cakewalk their domestic calendar. Maurizio Sarri’s men have kept them focused and diligent, even if their own league hopes now appear to be petering out.
Up against Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester City, Juventus will be happy to be labelled as underdogs. Despite reaching two of the last three Champions League finals, they don’t have the squad or the riches of that glowering trifecta.
What they do have, however, is a coach with a proven ability to extract brilliance from his players and a squad upon whom destiny might finally be deciding to smile.
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