The thing about expectations is that sometimes you’re not going to live up to them. That’s just the nature of the beast, and even the best of folks in their respective field don’t always get it right and reach what is expected (no matter how much they probably say they do). Sometimes you meet those expectations and everything is great, other times you’re left wondering what the heck happened when said goals aren’t reached.
Based on what they did during the 2021-22 season, the expectation is for Joe Montemurro to lead the Juventus women through the Women’s Champions League qualification stage and back into the group stage.
In reality, that is still very much something that is up in the air.
On Wednesday night in Alessandria, Juventus Women and Danish champions Køge will face off for the right to advance to the UWCL group stage. After the first leg in Denmark last week, the two sides are tied 1-1 on aggregate, with Juve very much struggling in the final third to cope with Køge’s defense-first and numbers-behind-the-ball approach. It’s all very simple when the two sides take to the field at the Stadio Moccagatta, though: Juventus Women win and they’re through to the UWCL group stage for a second consecutive season.
And after all, that’s the first goal that Montemurro and Co. are trying to check off the list.
@montemurrojoe: "I expected the level to be higher. We have to face different situations and therefore find new solutions. Pressure is a privilege, we must always want to compare ourselves with the best."— Juventus Women (@JuventusFCWomen) September 27, 2022
On the face of it, Juve enters the second leg against Køge far from the kind of form that saw them roll through the qualification stage last season. Since coming back from the first international break of the 2022-23 season, Juventus Women have won just one of their four games, picking up draws against Inter Milan, Køge and then Sassuolo this past weekend. There have been plenty of injuries along the way as well — especially in defense with what feels like just one or two central defenders available at a time — while Juve’s usually very good attack has been far from one that has scored for fun as of late.
It’s just a four-match sample size, sure, but it’s not like there’s been a lot of instances since they’ve come into existence that we can say Juventus Women sit in fifth place in the league table and have drawn as many games as they have this season already. (Because that’s basically already at the same number of games that they drew all of last season.)
So now Montemurro’s side goes into a very, very important match against a tricky opponent trying to crack the code in which they couldn’t totally solve outside of a Amanda Nilden 21st-minute goal that made it 1-1 last week.
Montemurro said entering last week’s first leg that Køge is the kind of team that will sit back and try to hammer you on the counterattack. That is basically what happened and how the Danish side got their goal less than eight minutes into the game. With how dangerous Køge proved to be on the counter, it’s not like Juventus should really expect anything different come the second leg. (And if that’s how they played at home, then they will definitely look to do the same thing they did in Denmark when they step onto Italian soil.)
The difference this time is that there is no room for error. It’s either win and advance to the group stage or come up short in the quest to make advancing to the UWCL group stage more than just a one-time deal.
That’s the only way that they’re going to continue the upward trajectory that started the day Montemurro took over as manager. Last season saw the Australian-born Italian manager show why he was brought in and make success in Europe more than just something that many thought was still a few years down the road.
But because of that immediate success, there is now the expectation level that making the group stage after the Women’s Champions League’s still-new yet very interesting qualification process is simply the minimum for what this team needs to do to keep the good times going. Consistent runs into the knockout rounds might be something that doesn’t always happen, but making the group stage is now very much where the conversation should start rather than being the big-time accomplishment it was last season.
That’s what success breeds — the adjustment to what was previously the norm or what the team strived to achieve. And if Juventus want to try and make it to the knockout rounds for a second straight season, they’ve got to get to the group stage first — which is set to be determined over 90 minutes on Wednesday night.