Champions League Preview: Can Juventus' Domestic Woes Help Land Their First Title in 25 Years?

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Serie A is still on, but attention must swing to Europe

A devastating defeat to title rivals Inter Milan at San Siro saw Juventus lose vital ground in the race for the Scudetto this season. With just half of the season played, Andrea Pirlo finds his side seven points adrift of current leaders AC Milan.

It was a real kick in the teeth for Pirlo - who is in his debut season in management - as it came just 11 days after an eye-catching 3-1 over Milan which at the time appeared to be a true statement of intent as Juventus chase a 10th straight league crown.

But now, with title dreams dwindling, it could give the Old Lady a chance to pursue the holy grail they have been wishing for since 1996: the Champions League. We take a look at why Juventus' domestic woes could be the difference in firing them to top of European for the first time in 25 years.

25 years in the making?

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What are the chances of another title in Turin?

Despite being a tiny margin behind Milan, Juventus still have a game in hand, but it is falling against Gennaro Gattuso’s Napoli side; a team they have had some problems against in recent years. With all the sides at the top dropping points regularly recently, anybody who can put a consistent run of wins together will more than likely find themselves at the summit.

AC Milan have the most arduous test of all the Italian sides, as being in the Europa League means they play an additional knockout round to Juventus, while Inter’s dismal showing in the group stage means they are out of Europe altogether, potentially giving them the slight edge in the race with a lighter workload to handle. There is also the fear factor of a Thursday night and Sunday afternoon fixture list as we enter February for Milan, as this is how the Europa League often works, much to the annoyance of managers.

If Juventus can win their game in hand and go on to narrow the gap to a few points, it will be in their own hands as their final two home games of the season are against both Milan clubs, so it is not time to panic yet.
Their squad has the experience of winning titles, while Milan’s youthful squad of players have not experienced these dizzying heights before, besides the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. At the same time, even though Antonio Conte has been there and done it with Juventus of all clubs, Inter have been perennial letdowns for the past decade since their treble-winning campaign under Jose Mourinho.

Inter are out in front as favourites at 6/4 with Milan not far behind now third favourites at 7/2, despite leading the way, and as for Juventus, they are priced at 9/4 to win the title once more.

Is Serie A still on for Juventus?

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What are the chances of another title in Turin?

The saving grace in Juventus’ season so far has been the instant impact made by so many of their youthful prospects. Dejan Kulusevski and Weston McKennie - both brought in this summer - have shone in what has been a frustrating season for the Turin side.

It was those two who linked up excellently for their third goal against Milan, and it is strange to see them both restricted to substitute appearances on a regular basis, as Pirlo prefers Alvaro Morata or Aaron Ramsey over Kulusevski, and Adrien Rabiot and Rodrigo Bentancur over McKennie. The Old Lady supporters have been pleading to see more of the duo, and with games coming thick and fast with the return of the Champions League looming, their wishes may be granted in Italy, to allow for the more experienced head to flourish in Europe.

Merih Demiral is another great prospect who was often being played in front of big-money signing Matthijs de Ligt, but his last 12 months have been plagued by setbacks after a serious injury against Roma at the start of 2020, meaning he has still only played 14 matches in 18 months at the club. With both Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci approaching the twilight of their careers, Juventus will be hoping the Turkish defender can recapture his excellent form from a year ago.

Striking a balance between a good amount of young talent and experienced pros is a vital cog to any successful side, and Juventus also boast some of the best over 30s in world football. Cristiano Ronaldo in attack is still, as per the norm, scoring most weeks, Giorgio Chiellini at 36 still captains the side and remains one of the best at what he does, and Wojciech Szczesny is easily the best and most consistent goalkeeper in Italy. If Juventus have ambitions of going all the way in the Champions League, then this balance is critical.

Juventus currently sit as fourth-favourites with Sky Bet to win the Champions League this season, available at odds of 12/1.

Ronaldo Still the Difference for Juventus

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All eggs in one glorious basket

The Serie A title is merely an expectation rather than a celebration these days for Juventus, given how they have won 36 league titles, which is 17 more than Inter and Milan's 19 each. As a result, all attention for a manager to succeed in Turin falls on the Champions League, as Maurizio Sarri brutally found out last year when he was sacked after failing to beat Lyon over two legs, despite winning the league and finishing as runners-up in the Coppa Italia.

Now, with Pirlo at the helm, things might be different. He may not have brought European success back to Turin during his four years at Juventus, but Pirlo played a key role in winning the Champions League twice with Carlo Ancelotti’s famous AC Milan sides. Even though that does not guarantee he will be capable of replicating it as a manager, the former midfield master should be given time to show what he can do in what is set to be yet another wide-open Champions League competition.

Even so, Juventus cannot afford another transition spell like they had with Sarri, especially in mid-season, but even he was able to win the Serie A title, so if Pirlo ends the season with just the Italian Super Cup to show for, Andrea Agnelli and the rest of the Juventus board may not have much patience, meaning the Champions League may be his only bailout.

They have been drawn against Porto for the last 16, a very similar level of opposition to the Lyon side which knocked them out in last season’s turbulent campaign as the two legs were played over five months apart. Now, anything but qualification for the quarter-finals will be disastrous, so Pirlo may opt to put all his eggs in the European basket to ensure the side are not humiliated again like they were by their French opponents in August.

Juventus have by far the biggest squad in Italy and Pirlo needs to utilise it, Serie A is still very much a possibility for a side that has fought off everybody for nine consecutive years, but if that become unattainable, Pirlo needs to rally his troops in order to reach the latter stage of Europe’s most illustrious tournament, otherwise, he may become yet another member of the 2006 Italian golden generation who has failed in management.

By Andrew Delaney

The Champions League's Greatest Ever to Shine Again?

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