The Champions League final is on the first day of June. It will be played at Atletico Madrid’s new crown jewel of a stadium, the Wanda Metropolitano. That just so happens to be where Juventus will be their next Champions League game on Wednesday night in the tournament’s round of 16, a matchup that has the potentially to be one of the round’s best.
There’s obviously going to be a lot to happen between the middle weeks of February and the first day of June where most teams will be thinking about the summer transfer market rather than playing a game that night. Juventus can’t jump from one game at the Wanda Metropolitano to another with the snap of Paulo Dybala’s fingers.
But, for Juventus, it’s still simple. At least in terms of what’s at stake.
In a season where so much more of the club’s attention has been placed on the Champions League because of who now wears the No. 7 jersey, this is the time of the year where the true verdict on Juve’s 2018-19 campaign will start to truly be written. And for Max Allegri, that means it’s the time of year where he needs his team to be not only getting closer and closer to being at its best when the stakes get bigger — which is setting somewhat of a low bar based on how the first five weeks of the calendar year have gone — but also one that picks up results.
Lots and lots of results.
Since the month of December, Juve’s performance have been, well, kind of a mixed bag of sorts. You can blame it on the injuries to Mario Mandzukic — who’s since returned and is still very, very grumpy — and the defensive duo of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, and that would be fine. (Luckily Juve’s center back pairing both returned a few days ago, so we can check that worry off the list for now.) But the overlying concern, even with a pair of 3-0 wins over Sassuolo and then Frosinone this past Friday, is the fact that Allegri’s squad has looked far from a powerhouse — or anything close to it — over the past eight or 10 weeks. Not only because they’ve dropped points and looked pretty bad doing it recently. Not only because the midfield, a position that entered the season as one of this team’s biggest question marks, has looked disjointed and not entirely effective.
But the return of the Champions League signals this: If this is truly the point in the season that Allegri wants — and hopes — his team is going to start to truly be hitting its stride and starts playing its best football, there’s no better time to show it than now.
With Napoli’s scoreless draw against Torino on Sunday night, Juventus’ lead atop the Serie A table is 13 points. THIRTEEN, YOU GUYS. THIRTEEN FREAKIN’ POINTS. And it’s not even anywhere close to the home stretch of the season yet. At this point, Juventus losing a few games in league play won’t even be that big of a deal at all from a standings standpoint.
13 - Juventus have 13 points more than Napoli: in the three points era (since 1994/95) only once there have been a wider gap after 24 MDs between first and second team of the table (14 points between Inter and Roma in 2006/07). Deep.— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) February 17, 2019
That’s the long way in saying this: It’s time to go all in on the Champions League now that Serie A has basically been put away with more three months to go.
Yes, even more than before.
Things couldn’t have developed better in the league for Allegri to set this squad up for a deep run in the Champions League. A huge lead in Serie A with plenty of time to go means that squad rotation is possible. Setting this squad up to reach heights in Europe that we’ve been waiting nearly three decades to see Juventus achieve once again should be the priority.
And in a season that had Juve thinking Champions League glory even before they had a full-team practice over the summer, that was always going to be the case.
That’s the way it should be. And it falls on Allegri to do so, doesn’t it?
With Ronaldo around, it’s was always going to be this way. For as much as a cyborg he seems to be physically, Juventus’ window to take advantage of one of the two best footballers the world currently has is only so big. Allegri’s window to take advantage of Ronaldo being a player he coaches is only so big — and that’s not even taking into account what he said about his future at the club at his pre-match press conference last Thursday.
It’s why we entered the season with expectations sky high. And it’s why the likes of Allegri, Andrea Agnelli, Pavel Nedved and the players themselves were openly talking about the desire and chances of winning the Champions League. They know that is the expectation level now. It’s not just Serie A dominance anymore. It’s about Scudetti and the Champions League trophy.
Essentially, expectations can be a blessing ... and also a curse.
It’s up to Allegri to both manage them, his team and deliver on the highly-placed bar that has been there ever since Agnelli was enjoying a glass of champagne with Ronaldo, his family and his agent in Greece back in July.
Juventus’ goal isn’t just to make it to the knockout rounds or into the quarterfinals. You don’t do what they did, upgrading the squad in the manor they did just to be one of the last eight teams left in the Champions League.
This is about winning the whole damn thing — and it’s on Allegri to make a potential third trip to a Champions League final during his tenure as Juventus’ manager the charm.
So, about the first step in trying to make this Champions League dream a reality...
It starts on Wednesday night at the Wanda Metropolitano.
Let’s up that’s the first of two visits to Atletico Madrid’s pretty new stadium this season.