In recent years, Juventus has had their fair share of trials and tribulations when playing in the first portion of a Champions League campaign.
Last season’s group stage contained a thrashing 3-0 by Barcelona at the Camp Nou, as well as a draw against both Barca and Sporting within a month of each other. In previous seasons before that, there were draws against Borussia Monchengladbach and a loss against Sevilla, as well as a loss to Olympiacos the year prior.
The thing about Juventus in Europe over the course of these seasons was that while the team was making runs to the Champions League final in 2015 and 2017, the group stage always seemed like it was a complete conundrum. Oftentimes Juventus wouldn’t play to their own caliber and drop points in matches to teams of less quality. The team took time to kick it into gear, not really showing up as one would expect until the knockout rounds. There was never a consistent run of great form on European nights in those first 6 matches of the Champions League.
It’s for that reason it is so welcoming and exciting to see Juventus do this well through the first half of the group matches this season. Three wins from three matches and a maximum amount of nine points already has Juventus with one foot through the door to the Round of 16. In past years, there were times we wouldn’t know the fate of the team’s fortunes until deep into group play. Take last year for instance, where we didn’t know until the last match day win against Olympiacos if Juventus or Sporting would take that second spot. It’s nice to have security early on.
And secure is just what Juventus is at the moment. Not having conceded a goal in Champions league play yet, Juve sit five points above second-place Manchester United, the team they just dominated last Tuesday at Old Trafford. Dominating possession and locking down defensively saw Juventus impose their strength and quality on United from the off. Paulo Dybala got on the scoresheet, and Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci were as masterful as ever at the back.
Against Young Boys, Juventus easily handled business as Dybala scored a hat trick. It’s teams like this that Juve had trouble beating in years past. But on this night, the Bianconeri convincingly handled the Swiss club, even without Cristiano Ronaldo as he served his one match suspension. Max Allegri masterfully managed his lineup under the circumstances and reverted to a 3-5-2, and the results speak for themselves as to a response.
The Valencia match at the Mestalla was also an example of a game where, in the past, Juventus may have faltered, but in this case rose to the occasion. Ronaldo, in his first Champions League match with his new team, was sent off early in the 29th minute under suspicious circumstances. Instead of shrinking due to the moment and the atmosphere at the Mestalla, Juventus converted two penalties thanks to Miralem Pjanic. Wojciech Szczesny saved a Dani Parejo penalty late on to secure the clean sheet for the team that had been so admirable in defense after going down to 10 men. The team which seemed to go into a shell at times in the past kept their composure and let their skill carry them over the line.
These past three matches can only be seen as massive positives to use going forward this Champions League campaign. The two toughest away matches ended in wins, and Juventus is now able to deal with United and Valencia at home. Young Boys was easily dealt with and gave us a look at how the team could line up differently in another formation. European form has been met equally by league form, and Juventus show no signs of slowing down.
Moving into the knockout rounds, Juventus will feel as confident as ever in their prospects of winning the entire thing this time around. There’s a different feeling around the club at the moment that I, as well as many other I presume, are able to sense. The team is one of if not the strongest I’ve ever seen, strong in with the depth it has — up until recently with the midfield losses — and every one from Ronaldo to Dybala to Chiellini and Rodrigo Bentancur clicking. Allegri is as masterful as ever, and the entire club has that one, massive goal in mind.
I love European nights.