Generally speaking, Juventus are a force to be reckoned with. The Turin side have won the last eight Serie A titles, featured in two of the last five Champions League finals, and boast a financial might unrivaled in Italy.
Coming into the 2019-20 campaign, Juve looked stronger than ever. They had a new coach in Maurizio Sarri and they had strengthened the squad with several statement signings.
Before a ball was kicked, Juve were expected to win Serie A at a canter while potentially hoisting their first Champions League crown since 1996.
But going into their maiden Champions League match of 2019-20, Juventus are struggling to follow the script.
The campaign opened with a narrow 1-0 win over Parma, courtesy of a bungled Giorgio Chiellini tap-in. The following week, they needed a 92nd-minute Kalidou Koulibaly own goal to seal a rollercoaster 4-3 win over Napoli, in which their typically disciplined defense was atypically undisciplined.
And this past weekend, Juve dropped points on the road at Fiorentina, in a match where the home side had 10 more shots on goal and 10 more corners.
A moment in that match involving superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and Franck Ribery may be viewed as a microcosm of the season so far. Ronaldo took possession and all signs suggested he would sprint ahead of his competition, but the 36-year-old Ribery instead caught up and derail his plans.
Juventus, it would seem, are struggling to get past a proverbial Franck Ribery in this campaign. After three matches, they sit in third in the league table, having slipped from the top for the first time in over a year and a half.
This is not the ideal backdrop for the Old Lady to begin their Champions League campaign. In their opening match of Group D, the Bianconeri will travel to Atletico Madrid, a team prospering with an expensive Portuguese forward of their own in Joao Felix. Juve will need no reminding that they suffered a 2-0 defeat at the Wanda Metropolitano in February, a match where they were stifled by their Spanish opposition.
However, in spite of this slow start, there is sufficient evidence to believe that Juve will translate their domestic dominance to the continental stage for the first time in 24 years.
Make no mistake: The Italian giants are hedging their bets on Champions League success.
After adding Ronaldo to their ranks last year at great expense, Juve signaled their intent to conquer Europe this summer. In addition to bolstering the midfield with the additions of Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot, they beat some serious competition to the $83 million signature of Dutch prodigy Matthijs de Ligt.
De Ligt may be off to an inconsistent start, but the fact that de Light came to Turin, instead of one of the Spanish giants or the Premier League, suggests an intention to shift the balance of power back toward Italy.
The next boon for Juve was the acquisition of Sarri, whose lack of silverware prior to Chelsea’s Europa League win doesn’t seem befitting of Juventus’ stature.
Sarri’s former Napoli sides, however, gave Juventus the closest run they have had in the league in many years. The attractive “Sarri-Ball” style for which he is famed is the attacking approach that is craved in Turin, after years of former manager Max Allegri’s more conservative tactics.
Sarri started the season fighting a bout of pneumonia and the trip to Fiorentina was his first opportunity to view his new side from the bench. The manager’s absence from daily proceedings is a logical explanation for Juve’s slow start, as is the learning process for his style. His Chelsea side required a long time to get used to his system, and even then the manager confessed it might take two seasons to instill everything.
Having seen the virtues of Sarri-Ball at Napoli firsthand, it stands to reason that Juve’s players will have less objections, and will require less time to adapt. Not to mention Sarri delivered silverware at Chelsea despite reticence from fans and players. Imagine what the Italian can achieve with Juventus’ talent and a healthy dose of belief?
Besides, The Old Lady are far from the only side to have stumbled out of the blocks this season. Manchester City, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain have all dropped points in matches they would be expected to win on paper. As Pep Guardiola sarcastically reminded us at Norwich this past weekend, it is only September and there is a long way to go before the wheat is sorted from the chaff.
Put simply, Juve’s slow start belies the incredible team they are about to become.
They boast their strongest squad in years, they will be encouraged to play exciting, attacking soccer, and they are aiming for success in a European competition where they have pedigree and the requisite caliber of talent.
Currently, Juventus are being given odds of around 4/1 to reach their third Champions League Final in six years. They’re at around 13/1 to claim the big prize. Those are very tempting odds for a side who have all the ingredients for continental dominance.
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