Through the last seven magical seasons, this one is beginning to stand out. It feels different. Juventus has looked, for most of the season, like the best team in Europe. Mistakes have taken place, most notably the final 5 or 10 minutes of the Manchester United a week ago. But, even still, this season for the Bianconeri feels different, and could finally be different.
Don’t get me wrong, this Juventus side has a long, long way to go before we can crown them kings of Europe. They have showed the potential to be the best Juventus side yet, and they have also shown terrifying flaws that give you pause. Still, this team feels destined for something big, and is united in the belief that they will do so. The ship that set sail in Turin to begin the season was charted for a course aimed at the eternal horizon of fame and glory in Europe; but ultimately the team itself will determine whether or not the raft successfully traverses the treacherous waters it will face to reach its possible destiny.
Juventus may or may not be destined for the Champions League title. Only time will truly answer that question. There is, however, an undeniable truth surrounding this team. This Juventus squad can achieve greatness if they can find the desire and the courage to succeed where, in the past, they have failed.
The only question that remains: How?
Why Juventus will win the Champions League
Well, for one, adding the Champions League’s all-time leading scorer in Cristiano Ronaldo to a team that has made it to two finals in four years doesn’t hurt your odds for getting over the proverbial hump. But there has been a good reason as to why Juventus has failed over the past four years. It has had nothing to do with goals. Ronaldo’s surface level contribution to Juventus will be the sheer amount of goals that he scores. Underneath the goal-scoring, however, are other contributions that go less noticed but have the potential to be much more important.
Ronaldo has brought a noticeable air of calm to this club that has seen them stave off many rocky moments in the first three months of the season. Despite the late-game implosion that took place in Turin against Manchester United, Juventus’ resolve does not concern me. The result felt unfair because it was. Juventus played a flawless 170 of 180 minutes of football in two legs against United . Unfortunately, those last 10 minutes will carry much more weight in everyone’s memory. It was a meltdown, and one caused because Juventus was abhorently wasteful in the final third. But, we fall so we can get back up. Juve will learn from this, because that is what great teams do. Still firmly in the driver’s seat of their group in the Champions League, the timing couldn’t have been better for a humbling result.
Moving on from that game, one attribute that Juventus did not possess last season was the ability to field a proven winner in their starting XI. Talented, world-class players can make up a phenomenal team. Juventus has had a phenomenal team for years now, with world-class players and arguably the best manager in football. But what are you supposed to do when Paulo Dybala and Leonardo Bonucci, two of your best players, show up to a Champions League final without knowing how to embrace the moment. That is what it felt like when Juventus lost to Ronaldo’s Real Madrid in the final back in 2017. We had players that weren’t sure how to approach the monumental weight of playing in a Champions League final; and they had Cristiano.
Now Juve has Cristiano. And it feels like we do. The team plays with an inner belief that was not present in the years past. Serie A has been Juventus’ doormat for seven years, but the Champions League has remained a foggy mountain top we have been unable to scale.
This season has so much drama left to behold. Juventus do, however, finally look up to the task. No longer do we have to hope that our players will be ready for the grand stages that this season will see us step foot on. Now it is more apparent than ever we will be prepared. Ronaldo has ascended the highest peaks that football has to offer, and multiple times at that. His inner belief and serenity has already rubbed off on his teammates. That fact alone has created the possibility that this season will finally be different. Juventus has always checked all the measurable metrics on what makes a team successful. Now, they can finally check off the immeasurable aspects of success as well.
Why Juventus will come up short
Delving into the numbers, it is evident that Juventus is simply not playing the type of defense that fans are used to seeing. The iron wall pitched in front of goal by Giorgio Chiellini and Bonucci in seasons past has seemed to have disappeared. It isn’t even the lack of clean sheets so far that has raised concern. It has more to do with the goals they are giving up. The first goal allowed against Chievo in the Serie A opener saw Chiellini defending a blade of grass while Mariusz Stępiński rifled home a free header on the edge of the 6-yard box.
And, no, it was not just rust from the first game of the season. The goal that saw Genoa become the first team of the 2018-19 Serie A season to wrestle a point away from Juventus by drawing in Turin was more awful defending. A short corner was taken by Genoa, which was met with a lazy attempt at on-ball pressure by Sandro, which resulted in him giving up a free touchline cross. That cross, of course, met the head of Daniel Bessa, who embarrassingly backdoored Bonucci to tuck home the header. If Sandro had given a full effort to pressure the short corner, the cross would not have been so lethal. And if Bonucci had been mindful of his surroundings, he would have put a body on Bessa and not allowed the free header, even if he was not in a position to win the header outright, which he was.
Most recently, the last 10 minutes of the aforementioned Manchester United tilt. Giving up clumsy set pieces at the end of a match is one phenomenal way to let a team you have outclassed back in it. These are immature mental errors that, frankly, no one is used to seeing out of Juventus.
These lapses of concentration are a weakness that Juventus need to rectify before they become the source of our inevitable downfall. The margin of victory is already so tight in the Champions League, even if we put in a near flawless performance. But with mental mistakes, Juventus may create an insurmountable deficit, just like it did against Real Madrid in the Champions League quarterfinals last year (Yes, Juve did almost pull that one off ... but still).
What is most concerning about all this is, while Bonucci and Chiellini have been historically great defenders, they are advancing in age. Juventus fans must be prepared to face the reality that neither of them are what they once were. It is too early to make that proclamation, but as Bianconeri manager Massamiliano Allegri races to find a solution to his defense, we must all brace for the possibility that their advanced age is one of the problems. And it is a problem that may not be so easily solved, with the alternatives on our roster either too old, too young, or disgruntled in the case of Medhi Benatia. The defense is most likely a problem that can be solved, but nothing is guaranteed.
Juventus, by all accounts, is poised to make a deep run this season. All signs are pointing to a memorable season. And, hopefully, one that is remembered by history as the season that Juventus finally broke through to become Champions of Europe. As this ship sails along a sea of trials and tribulations, we must all buckle up and try to enjoy the ride.