Serie A is ready to pack a punch again on the European stage with Juventus, a team built for a Champions League challenge
The Champions League has entered its final stage. The most emotional one. The most important one.
With the knock-out stages, there’s no second chance. The first round of games of the last-16 has proven that most of the big sides have all got what it takes, from Real Madrid to Bayern Munich, with the exception being a stuttering, stumbling Barcelona. But there’s another club who want the Champions League crown like never before and are built to go all the way to Cardiff to win it: Juventus.
The Bianconeri face Porto on Wednesday night to kick off the most crucial part of their campaign, after topping their Champions League group and leading Serie-A by a comfortable seven-point margin. The Dragoes may have experience at this level, but the Portuguese challengers simply cannot present a serious threat for Juve over two legs.
Today's history lesson starts with silverware! ? ?
— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) February 19, 2017
Having won five league titles in a row and gone close to grabbing the Champions League trophy only two-years-ago in the final in Berlin, where Luis Suarez and Neymar won it for Barcelona, the Bianconeri have decided to focus on European glory from the very start of the season. Miralem Pjanic, Dani Alves, Mehdi Benatia and especially Gonzalo Higuain were all brought in for big money to give the squad that final touch to challenge for the Champions League.
After months of steady performances, with coach Massimiliano Allegri busy seeking out the team’s best formation, the solidity of the past weeks prove he has finally found what he was looking for: a balanced side that has all the quality strikers on the pitch at the same time and doesn’t concede at the back. Essentially, a really solid outfit.
Since Allegri moved to his current 4-2-3-1 system, the Bianconeri have conceded only twice in seven games – despite having a more attacking team on paper – whilst racking up 15 goals. Having four at the back is a more European style of play, moving away from the Italian 3-5-2 formation that brought glory to Juve in recent years. The 4-2-3-1 system is arguably the most used around Europe nowadays.
This way, Allegri can count on the quality of two attacking full backs like Dani Alves (or Stephan Lichtsteiner) and Alex Sandro, covered by two between Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini or Benatia in the middle. A safe pick.
Sami Khedira in midfield guarantees cover as well as his attacking ability, combined with Pjanic’s quality or Claudio Marchisio’s intelligence. In front of them it is pure class. Whilst Mario Mandzukic – a real number nine – is relegated to the left flank to do the hard work defending but also attack when needed, Paulo Dybala in the middle and Juan Cuadrado on the right side bring tuns of quality to Juve’s attack, supporting one of the finest finishers in Europe: Higuain.
With Higuain up front every chance is potentially a goal: the Argentinian has already scored 22 times this season and has no intention of stopping. Against Porto he will want to score and Juve will want to send a message to all the other big clubs: the challenge for the Champions League is real.