In what has become a repetitive theme, Juventus find their knockout round hopes hanging precariously. Stephen Ganavas looks at what The Old Lady needs to do in order to improve on their previous showing in Europe’s elite competition.
Two games to play, two wins needed: this is the only thing that will guarantee Champions League qualification for Juventus as they prepare for a clash with Malmo at the Swedbank Stadion on Wednesday evening. Juventus were left reeling after two poor performances against Olympiakos which meant they only managed to win three points, after losing 1-0 in Greece, and salvaging a 3-2 win at the Juventus Stadium after coming from behind. However, this second result has left them in a precarious situation.
In the 95th minute of Juventus’ home tie, Arturo Vidal stepped forward to take a penalty which would put the game to bed, but more importantly, give Juventus a superior head-to-head record against their Greek opponent. The Chilean midfielder missed, the match finished 3-2, and Juventus must now rely on some help from Atletico Madrid and Malmo to reach the knockout rounds. But qualification still lies within their own control.
While Juventus fans will pray that Atletico Madrid can put a dent in Olympiakos’ hopes for qualification by beating them on Wednesday, ultimately, a positive result against Malmo, and a two goal victory over Atletico Madrid will still ensure qualification for the Bianconeri, but the question is, can they really beat Atletico Madrid? Simply, yes. Juventus fell to a 1-0 defeat at the Vicente Calderon after performing admirably and arguably deserving a share of the spoils. However, with the 3-5-2 formation Juventus never particularly threatened the Atletico goal guarded effectively by Diego Godin and Miranda. Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tevez were isolated in the regimented and structured 3-5-2 which limited the fluidity of Juventus’ attacks and made it easier for Atletico’s midfielders and defenders to break down these attacks.
Now with the 4-3-2-1, Juventus have scored 13 goals in three matches and look like a brand new team going forward with more conviction and fluidity than Juventus fans have seen for three years. Against Malmo, Juventus will continue to refine this formation from a defensive aspect in preparation for the Atletico tie.
Juventus were also exploited from set-pieces against Olympiakos with both of the Greek sides’ goals in the Juventus Stadium leg coming from dead-ball situations. This will need to be rectified before the Atletico match, as the Rojiblancos have demonstrated this season that they are the most dangerous side in Europe from dead ball situations. Koke’s delivery has been phenomenal (he has eight assists already this season), and La Liga sides have so far been unable to contain or deal with Miranda or Godin. So far this season, Miranda has scored four goals in 10 appearances, while Godin has netted two in 12. Atletico as a whole, have scored 14 of their 23 goals this season from set-pieces.
However, there is a new upbeat attitude around Turin. An upturn in fortunes seems imminent. The players have backed the coach and his new methods, and the new personnel brought in over the summer have blended into the squad homogeneously – especially Argentinian international, Roberto Pereyra, who caused Lazio’s defence all sorts of issues on the weekend as Juventus defeated Lazio 3-0 at the Stadio Olympico in Rome.
The squad looks intent on delivering success that evaded them in Europe last season and will be keen to avoid the explosive criticism that followed their shock elimination at the hands of Galatasaray in last season’s incarnation of the Champions League. Massimiliano Allegri himself has been vocal about his desire to return Juventus to Europe’s elite.
“I want to establish Juventus as one of the top eight sides in Europe and to be there constantly, aware that we cannot compete economically with the big clubs at the moment, but ready to make the most of any opportunity that might present itself,” he recently told reporters.
The vision is clear, but now he must guide his team towards that vision. Allegri has taken great strides in the past few weeks since that abhorrent defeat to Olympiakos and has begun to drift away from the methods of his predecessor Antonio Conte, towards a new method that allows his players to express their qualities. The task is clear though, six points from two matches. If Juventus can’t beat Atletico Madrid at the Juventus Stadium then they don’t deserve to be considered amongst Europe’s elite. If they manage second in the group, their quest to be amongst Europe’s top eight clubs is also in jeopardy and will rely on a favourable draw.
Destiny is still in their hands, but the doubts of last year and the memories of that snowy night in Istanbul still hang over this side. It’s up to Allegri to show that his Juventus is of a different ilk.
Written by Stephen Ganavas
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