Champions League: The time is now for Italian giants
Having won each of the last five Serie A titles, Juventus are well and truly the big boys of the Italian game and have been for some time now. With a sixth consecutive league title looking very much on the cards as they hold an eight point advantage at the top of the table with just five games left, the Old Lady’s dominance domestically cannot be questioned; however, it’s been a long time since the Italian giants were considered a dominant force on the continent.
During the early 1980’s, under the stewardship of legendary Italian manager Giovanni Trappattoni, Juventus boasted some of the world’s finest players such as Ballon d’Or winners Michel Platini and Paolo Rossi and were a major force in European football. 1985 saw them lift what we now know as the Champions League, a feat which meant that they became the first club in history to have won all three of UEFA’s elite competitions. Further success in the tournament came in 1996 when the Old Lady lifted their second European Cup, this time with the likes of Alessandro Del Piero and Didier Deschamps in their ranks. However, since then, European football’s major prize has eluded the Italian outfit.
With both Barcelona and Real Madrid dominating the Champions League in recent times – won five of the last eight renewals – Juventus have taken something of a back seat, claiming the tag of ‘also ran’ far too often. However, having beaten the aforementioned Barca with ease in the quarter-finals, now is the time for the men in black and white stripes to once again announce themselves on club football’s biggest stage.
The current crop might not boast world beaters such as Platini, but they do have one of the toughest defences in the game, not to mention some very gifted technical players. From a defensive point of view, Juventus are about as solid as it gets. Let’s face it, there aren’t many teams who can shut Barcelona out for 90 minutes, let alone 180. Italian stalwarts, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci provide the most concrete of foundations while the pace and guile of both rising star Paulo Dybala and Juan Cuadrado does the business at the other end.
Having overcome Barcelona in such convincing fashion, ahead of the semi-finals, bookmakers have installed Juve as joint-favourites in the outright market. Punters and tipsters will no doubt be getting stuck into the Italian side to go all the way and it really is hard to find a reason why they shouldn’t. Of the four teams left, Juventus are just about the hardest to pick holes in. Real Madrid were particularly lucky to get through against Bayern in the last round and look as though they could be overcome by a strong defensive unit, while Atlético, as strong as they are, seem to have a knack of falling at the final hurdle in this competition and perhaps lack the firepower if talisman Antoine Griezmann isn’t quite on it.
Monaco will face Juventus in the semi-final and that is by no means an easy draw. The French outfit have been rampant in front of goal this season, but whether or not they can replicate such form against Juve’s brick wall-like defence is another matter. After all, if the performance of Massimiliano Allegri’s men at the Camp Nou proved anything, it’s that they’re extremely hard to break down and are simply unfazed by relentless pressure on their rearguard. If anything, they seem to relish it.
They might’ve failed in the final of this competition in 2015, but this side seems to have come a long way since then and has shown very few weaknesses on the journey so far. Having already conquered the side who denied them this prize two years ago, Juventus have an excellent opportunity to regain a title that they last won over 25 years ago, and on recent evidence, it would take a brave punter to go against them now.
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