For Juventus, the start of the Champions League this season is different than others.
That’s not because I’m expecting them to breeze through the group stage because, come on, this is still Juventus we’re talking about here. And when you think Juve in the group stages, you think about six stress-free games, don’t you? It’s simply due to the fact that Juventus’ expectations for the Champions League have been set so high that they really can’t be matched by any other season in recent memory.
You sign somebody like Cristiano Ronaldo, that’s what happens.
So, that means Juventus head into their Champions League group stage opener with Valencia on Wednesday night as the clear-cut favorite to win Group H. That’s not because there aren’t any other good teams in Group H. It’s because with Ronaldo’s arrival, Juventus aren’t just the favorite to win Group H, they’re one of the top clubs being picked to win the whole damn thing. Don’t believe me on that? Well, it’s one of the things that the Italian press is talking about during Tuesday morning’s newspaper round.
To get to that place where people think Ronaldo can take Juventus, it starts here.
Maybe you like Juventus starting off the group stage against historically solid opposition. (Although they’re currently sitting just outside the relegation zone in La Liga, so “solid” isn’t exactly how many would describe their season to date.) Or, knowing just how insanely-high the expectations are, you’d want them to start off against the likely fourth-place team in the group, Young Boys, and get off to a little bit of an easier start so that Juve could ease into things a little more.
But, for Max Allegri and Ronaldo-led Juventus, this is the dawn of the new day.
For as much as we like to see Juventus win in Serie A and rack up Scudetti like they’re going out of style, the Champions League is why Ronaldo is here. Not just to beat Valencia or Manchester United in the group stage, but to do what we haven’t seen Juve do in nearly three decades — win the whole damn thing.
Obviously you aren’t going to win it on the first or second matches of the group stage. But grinding through the group stage has become so synonymous with anything but easy routes to the knockout rounds in this post-calciopoli world.
Juve enter the Wednesday night’s Champions League opener in better shape than their opposition — at least on paper. They’ve won 4 out of 4, they’re sitting on basically the completely opposite end of their respective league table as compared to Valencia. So, by the eye test,
Yet this is Juventus. And this is Juventus in the group stage of the Champions League.
We want them to make it a little less of a grind for all of us, but we also know that’s been the goal in so many years before. Just as we know about Max Allegri and talked about following Sunday’s win over Sassuolo, the more things change then the more things stay the same.
But it is nice to know that we can now root for Cristiano Ronaldo to score goals in the Champions League as compared to all of those years prior.
Juventus has the best-ever goal scorer in the Champions League now on their roster.
That’s more than we could say last season.
Juventus head into the Champions League group stage playing ... not great!
1) Can Juventus show us something?
Juventus are the favorites to win their Champions League group. They’ve been that before. But they’ve never been this kind of favorite, one where they are under this kind of microscope in Europe because of the guy who is now wearing the No. 7 jersey.
This is a new kind of adventure — in a whole lot of different ways.
Juventus’ performances thus far have been mixed, to say the least. We’ve seen moments of good play, but we’ve also seen moments that make us want to scream to the high heavens because it’s so reminiscent of previous seasons’ issues.
The expectations of what Ronaldo’s arrival will be hanging over Juventus no matter how far they go in the competition this season and every year that he is with the club. That is something they’ve known about since the day they’ve signed him, and it will be something they’re reminded of with every good, meh or bad result in the group stage and beyond.
We’re about to find out, at least in one game, how they handle those sky-high expectations that pretty much everybody outside of Ronaldo himself have never dealt with in Europe before.
2) Can CR7 kick things into gear?
The common line of thinking regarding Ronaldo’s goal “drought” ending over the weekend was this: Once he got the first goal(s), then y’all better watch out because it’s about to become a regular occurrence.
Well, Ronaldo’s gotten that first goal. And a second.
Now, we wait to see what the result of that first (and second) Juventus goal means.
You could tell that, at times, Ronaldo himself was forcing the issue a little too much. Same goes for the fact that Ronaldo’s new teammates were trying to essentially try to force feed him chances in front of goal ... which didn’t exactly end in even a shot on target.
His goals against Sassuolo were two very different kinds of finishes — the first a simple touch thanks to a massive defensive error; the second a left-footed hammer off one of the best counterattacks we will see from Juventus all season. But they were both the thing that could very well have Ronaldo look more like the Ronaldo who has dominated every competition he’s played in on the club level over the past decade and be the driving force during Juve’s new Champions League focus.
The good? No more talk about how Ronaldo has yet to get on the scoresheet through Juventus’ first few weeks of the new season.
The better...? Ronaldo is about to start his latest season in a tournament where he has absolutely dominated. That is why Juventus signed him, right?
3) Juventus’ fullbacks ... whoever they hell they are.
As I prepared to write this bullet point, I checked out Twitter. I saw a predicted lineup from one of Italy’s daily sports outlets. This is what I saw:
- Starting at left back — Joao Cancelo
- Starting at right back — Juan Cuadrado
That is something that I probably wouldn’t have thought would be possible a couple of weeks ago. Hell, I wouldn’t have thought it would even be an option a couple of hours ago.
The only thing that seems a certainty is that Mattia De Sciglio will not be playing.
Other than that, it’s a guessing game as to who plays where.
Based on how he played on Sunday, it’s a given that Cancelo will get the start against his former club. We just don’t know where. (I guess the good thing going for him is that he did spend some time on the left wing during Juve’s preseason tour of the United States this summer. )
So, if that means it’s basically down to Alex Sandro or Cuadrado, who you got?
It’s probably a decision that seems easy to some, but any kind of squad selection game that involves Allegri and Cuadrado always has a little twist in the formula.
And, to be honest, I don’t know if the theory of terzino-ing Cuadrado is something that really needs to happen on the big stage like in your Champions League opener. That’s just me, though. Feel free to prove me wrong.
When: Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018
Where: Mestalla Stadium, Valencia, Spain
Official kickoff time: 9 p.m. local time in Spain and across Europe; 8 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 3 p.m. Eastern Time; 12 noon Pacific Time
HOW TO WATCH
Television: UniMás (United States); Sky Calcio 3 (Italy)
Online/mobile: B/R Live, Univision Deportes en Vivo, Univision NOW (United States); DAZN (Canada); Sky Sport Arena, Sky Go Italia (Italy)
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