For me, it was somewhat surreal, Juventus' 2-1 Champions League semifinal win against Real Madrid. Not the opponents, after all it seems like the most successful Spanish and Italian sides meet almost every year, either in the Champions League or some summer friendly. Not even the stage really, as an abstract; after all, Juventus had been here 10 times before Tuesday night. But watching Juve play for a spot in the biggest club game on Earth, I thought about how long it has been, and the struggles and triumphs that the years since 2003 have seen. Battles that have made this team, and her fans, what we are today.
Juventus is taking a 2-1 lead into the Champions League semifinal second leg, statistically in a coin flip for a spot in the Final. Historically, the first-leg winner is slightly more likely to advance, according to Spanish statistician Mister Chip by a margin of 287-280. Italian teams have been especially successful in the situation, having won 19 of 25 ties that started this way.
The bookmakers also have it as evenly balanced, with odds of around 8/11 for Madrid to qualify, putting the Old Lady at just a hair over even money.*
Once it seemed like a good Champions League run might have come sooner, after finishing second that first year back in Serie A. And then there was disappointment, years that the Champions League trophy seemed as far away as the moon, with setback after setback on the field, the bench and in the boardroom. But now Juventus is back.
Thanks to people with names like Elkann, Andrea Agnelli, Beppe Marotta, Fabio Paratici, Antonio Conte, and Max Allegri, Juventus is back to a team that can compete with anyone, anywhere. Back in a stadium that we can call our own, one that's among the best in Europe. Back in the semifinals, back to playing Real Madrid where it really counts.
This first semifinal leg saw a resilient and dangerous Juventus play Real Madrid in a balanced match that came down to a few incidents, with Madrid's injury list and some strange choices from Carlo Ancelotti playing into Juventus' hands. Sergio Ramos was brought into a midfield missing Luka Modrić, while Gareth Bale tried his luck up top alongside Cristiano Ronaldo. Both experiments were resounding failures in this match, with Ramos' move to midfield, and out of defense, especially giving hope to Juventus on the counterattack. If you're interested, Fabio Barcellona once again wrote an excellent tactical analysis, available here (in Italian).
Arturo Vidal was at his best as a man possessed in midfield, always both supporting the strikers and the defense. Stefano Sturaro and Claudio Marchisio were quick to pressure all over the field without the ball, and run past their markers when the team had a chance to counter. It was absolutely one of Juventus' best performances of the year, despite a few long passages of Madrid possession.
Álvaro Morata and Carlos Tévez caused no end of problems for the Madrid defense, with only Pepe coming out of the game somewhat respectably. In midfield Juventus were organized, disciplined, and more intense than the men in white, but with the technique of players like James Rodríguez, Toni Kroos and company, not to mention Cristiano Ronaldo, it takes very little to concede a goal or two.
With the second leg in the Bernabéu just a week away, there is no guarantee that a repeat of this Juventus performance will be enough. Real Madrid clearly have more to give, and it will be fascinating to see how both coaches interpret their tasks. For Juventus fans it's still all to play for, and oh how wonderful it feels.
*odds via Oddschecker and accurate as of May 6