Juventus’ Champions League journey – From Turin to Porto, Barcelona, Monaco, and now, Cardiff.
At the beginning of this campaign Juventus, led by coach Massimiliano Allegri, were not considered by many to be favourites for the Champions League. Barcelona, Bayern, PSG and both Madrid teams were seen as more likely candidates for the coveted trophy. Italians, in particular Juventus’ own fans, may have felt the outfit was underestimated, as they had reached the final in 2015.
In the early group stages, Juventus played well, winning four and drawing two. Although they didn’t set the world alight, they found themselves progressing to the next round in first place of their group. This group consisted of Sevilla, Lyon and Dinamo Zagreb. Despite finishing top, Juventus’ summer signings seemed to have not yet gelled together and they didn’t win in the fashion which was expected of them.
Round of 16 – Porto
Nevertheless, in the Round of 16, the team from Turin drew FC Porto. Certainly not a pushover, but a favourable match-up for the Italian champions. Prior to this game, Juventus suffered a shock loss to Fiorentina in the Italian Serie A, which was preceded by losses to Inter and AC Milan. Allegri decided something needed to change. He implemented a new 4-2-3-1 system, which allowed Juventus’ four top attackers, Gonzalo Higuain, Mario Mandzukic, Paulo Dybala and Juan Cuadrado to all play together. This change proved to be a catalyst in sending Juventus to the final.
In Porto, this new system was seen in action for the first time in Europe and it worked excellently. Juventus’ midfield partnership of Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanic controlled the game. The defence was rarely made to worry, and when it was, veteran Gianluigi Buffon kept Porto scoreless. Pjaca and Alves scored and this meant the “Bianconeri” brought a 2-0 advantage back to Turin. In the return tie, a Paulo Dybala penalty meant Juventus were heading to the quarter-finals for the third time in three years with a 3-0 win on aggregate.
In the next round, disaster seemingly struck. Juventus drew tournament favourites and the team which beat them in the final two years ago, Barcelona. Barcelona were spearheaded by the best attacking trio in the world, Luis Suarez, Neymar and Lionel Messi. 11th of April, Barcelona arrived in Turin. Barcelona had just overcome a 4-0 deficit to beat PSG 6-5 on aggregate, so the task of defeating the Catalonian side seemed daunting. Juventus, however, rose to the occasion. Juventus’ experienced back line of Chiellini, Bonucci, Dani Alves and Alex Sandro kept Barcelona’s magnificent trio scoreless. Whenever the seemingly impenetrable defence cracked, Gianluigi Buffon rescued the Italians. It wasn’t just the defence which showcased its class that day, with the young Paulo Dybala announcing himself. He scored two superb goals on his left boot. Another came courtesy of the head of Chiellini.
After a spectacular performance in Turin, Juventus travelled to Catalonia to the intimidating atmosphere of the Camp Nou, Barcelona’s home. Despite holding a significant three goal advantage over Barcelona, fans were wary. Barcelona had just turned a large advantage on its head and with the ability of their front three, anything was possible. However, Juventus held strong and the defensive prowess of Chiellini, Bonucci and co. meant the Italians managed the incredible feat of keeping the best attack in the world scoreless for 180 minutes.
After this performance, the tune began to change regarding Juventus. Talk changed from them being outside favourites perhaps, to being tipped to win the whole competition. Thus far, Juventus had only conceded an impressive 2 goals in 10 matches and the defence began to look impenetrable. Simply scoring against this squad was impressive, and winning was even more so. In the semifinals, Juventus met high-flying Monaco, led by a rejuvenated Radamel Falcao and the 18 year old prodigy, Kylian Mbappé.
Monaco had been scoring goals at will, putting 6 past Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund. They seemed impossible to stop, and this tie against Juventus became a case of unstoppable force vs. immovable object, Monaco’s blistering attack vs. Juventus’ unpassable defence.
The “Bianconeri” headed to the south of France, the Stade Louis II stadium, to face Monaco. 29 minutes into the game, a ball is played to Dybala, who lays it off to Dani Alves with an elegant flick. Alves gives a one-two with Higuain and arrives into the box. With a deft touch he laid the ball into Higuain’s path and the Argentine promptly guided the ball into the bottom left corner. A stunning team goal to put Juventus 1-0 up.
After 59 minutes, Alves again crossed the ball to Higuain, who touched the ball into the back of the net. 2-0 to Juventus. The Italians saw out the rest of Monaco’s attacks with another thoroughly solid defensive performance. They returned to Turin with a two goal advantage, courtesy of a man of the match Dani Alves
In the return leg in Turin, Alves once again ran the show. Just after half an hour, the Brazilian set up Mario Mandzukic. Now, Juventus lead by three goals on aggregate and Monaco’s attack, who had looked unbeatable in previous games, struggled. Then, just on the stroke of halftime, Alves strikes a wonderful volley into the back of the net. The tie was over at 4-0, it appeared.
Alas, after over 600 minutes without letting the ball in the back of the net, a lapse in the concentration of Juventus’ otherwise magnificent defence led to Monaco’s young gem, Kylian Mbappé, scoring one goal with 20 minutes remaining. Other than this moment, Juventus never seemed troubled, and were heading to another final with a 4-1 defeat of Monaco
Now, on the 3rd of June in Cardiff, Juventus face last year’s champions, Real Madrid. Madrid are looking to be the first team to win back-to-back tournaments in the modern era. Juventus look to win for the first time since 1996, having lost three finals since then. Juventus lead their domestic league and are in the domestic cup final, and are on course to win the treble. Real Madrid are currently second place in La Liga, with a game in hand. The Champions League final of 2017 is set to be an enthralling match whatever way the result goes.