Starting a season this early isn’t new to Joe Montemurro or the Juventus Women squad. All they have to do is look back exactly 365 days for an example of that. And it is exactly one year to the day in which Juve’s brand new season will get underway in the same competition that it did on Aug. 18, 2021.
No, not in Serie A Femminile.
It’s in the Women’s Champions League — again.
For the second time in as many seasons, Juventus Women’s season begins in the first round of the Women’s Champions League qualifying phase. Just as it was a year ago, a four-team pod will take to the field at Juventus Training Center to try and win the right to advance to the second (and final) round of the qualifying phase and a spot in the upcoming group stage. Juventus, mainly thanks to Italy’s poor coefficient, has to go through the Champions Path qualifying route. Despite winning a fifth straight Serie A Femminile title and making the Women’s Champions League quarterfinals last season, Juventus Women have to go this direction because they don’t get a direct spot in this season’s group stage.
But it’s also a time to qualify for the Women’s Champions League once more that now comes with expectations now. That’s simply because of what happened last season and how the club has approached the summer transfer window, the first of its kind after women’s football in Italy reached professional status.
The route to get to the second phase of qualification is simple — win the opener, which takes place Thursday night against Racing Union (20:30 CEST), and then beat either Flora Tallinn or Qiryat Gat in the “final” of the four-team pod otherwise known as Champions Path Group 6.
There is more to it than just a raised level of expectations, but that is the most simple of terms. Juventus didn’t just sign players to add to the squad’s depth or to maintain the top spot in Italy. No, no — this summer transfer campaign was about having an intent to strengthen the Juventus Women squad for the entirety of the competitions in which they will be competing in. Specifically, the Women’s Champions League.
@MontemurroJoe: "It will be important to immediately find the balance in the team, reinforcing the game concepts and reminding us that the most important thing is how we go on the pitch. Expectations are always high, I like to experience these challenges."#JuveRacingUnion— Juventus Women (@JuventusFCWomen) August 17, 2022
Montemurro’s first season came with the very large talking point even before the ball was officially kicked off that he was hired to take the squad to the next level. Rita Guarino, the woman who guided the Bianconere to their first four Scudetti, had parted ways with the club and it was clear that they were searching for somebody who could try and get the squad to the next level when it came to Europe. Montemurro, who had left just left his post with Arsenal at the end of the Women’s Super League season, was quickly hired to try and do just that — bring Women’s Champions League success.
Previously, Juventus Women’s European runs had ended barely after they had gotten started, although the fact that the Bianconere had drawn two of the best teams in the game in Lyon and then Barcelona in consecutive years.
But the change in how the Women’s Champions League was structured allowed Montemurro to establish an early confidence level on the European stage right off the bat. Of course, unlike this summer, he had a full preseason to work with the entirety of the squad, and a solid transfer market over the summer to help fill the holes left by key departures, namely Laura Giuliani and Yaya Galli.
Fast forward to the end of first group stage of the new-look Women’s Champions League and Montemurro’s side finished second behind Wolfsburg and made it to the knockout round for the first time ever. If making it to the group stage was the initial goal, then getting to the quarterfinals was hitting the jackpot while playing with house money.
It didn’t end well, with a first-leg win over Lyon going by the wayside back in France. But when you look at it, Juve gave themselves a chance to even make more noise before eventually falling to the team that went on to win the whole damn thing. (At the Juventus Stadium, no less.)
It’s that run that has now raised the bar. Montemurro knows it. The front office — most notably the man running the show, Director of Football Stefano Braghin — knows it. And the players certainly know it, too.
They’ve brought in a player in midfielder Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir who has European experience galore and has won just about everything you can at the club level during her time with Lyon. It’s that kind of signing that signals both the desire to continue to try and become a consistent threat in Europe while also the ability to attract high-quality players to Turin now that professionalism has gone into effect.
Now, with a short summer to go off of and a team that is a little shorthanded due to injuries (namely in defense), Montemurro and Co. look to pick up where they left off in Europe last season. And hopefully the qualification phase goes about as smoothly as it did a year ago.