The disappointing debacle of how Juventus crashed out of the Champions League still weighs strong on the fanbase, and even more so this week as the European competitions resume after the World Cup hiatus with the knockout stages being played over the next two weeks.
After five defeats in the group stages, the Bianconeri only pipped minnows Maccabi Haifa to the third spot in Group H on goal difference which allowed them to continue their continental journey in the Europa League. Things do get trickier from here as the unseeded Italian side will now have to play away in the second leg against Nantes. The Ligue 1 side is in fine form with only two defeats in their last eighteen games in all competitions.
Coach Massimiliano Allegri started off his pre-match press conference with a squad update.
“Juan Cuadrado will be there, even if he won’t be 100%. Leonardo Bonucci too, he will be called up to let him breathe the team atmosphere. Then everyone is available except Paul Pogba and Kaio Jorge.”
The 15-point deduction Juventus have been hit with has pretty much put paid to Champions League qualification for next season, so this competition takes on added importance.
“Tomorrow starts the Europa League, it’s the European journey. We were eliminated in the Champions League, but it can be a gateway to the next Champions League.
“There is the play-off with Nantes to then go to the Round of 16 and try to go all the way.”
What were his side’s emotions about the manner of exit from the Champions League?
“Being knocked out of the Champions League has left us bitter and angry. The Europa League is not easy, playing it and winning it.
“Nantes come from the last 10 games with only one defeat against Marseille, making six clean sheets. They have fast, technical players, tomorrow we have to put the foundations in place so that we can go to Nantes with a good lead.
“For me tomorrow is a debut in the Europa League. All the more reason to respect Nantes. The guys are showing they are a team, we need commitment and respect.
“Nantes are solid, they have technical players. But let me send a hug to the Nantes player [Ignatius Ganago] who lost a young son in the past few days.”
Paul Pogba appears to have returned to training.
“We hope to have him as soon as possible, he is still behind. He has to be assessed day by day, one small step at a time. Arkadiusz Milik, I didn’t mention him before, he’s recovering but still not recovered.”
Allegri has been even more animated on the touchline in recent games, has the pressure on the club been getting to him?
“I am not a leader but a coach. At the base of everything is the club, which is the base of all of us. There are moments and there are moments, in some moments things have to be done.
“Right now, the compactness has to make the difference, a team that has 15 points taken away overnight is upset. And you have to find situations to pull ourselves together quickly.
“In fact, we lost against Monza at home, it was another blow after the reaction against Atalanta. Now we have reassembled, we need to take one step at a time. We have to win to prepare for Spezia in the best possible way.
“For us as a team, the 15-point deduction is in the past, we don’t have to think about it. After the upset, we realised that there is a goal. The other things don’t concern us, we look at what happens on the pitch.”
How would the midweek games change his focus with the hectic scheduling ahead?
“We are focused on the present, we’re taking one step at a time. We absolutely must not lose that, it must be our strength from here to the end.
“In the league, in the cup and in Europe. We have to work and improve some things, ball control has to be done better, and we have to try to make up as many points as possible in the league.
“Europe gives the possibility to fill up the calendar. To go weeks without playing is boring, it’s better to play Sunday-Wednesday or, since we can’t play on Wednesday, then Sunday-Thursday.
“We are all recovering, the important squad allows us to play, the five changes help, but playing Thursday-Sunday is not a problem. We play when they tell us to!”
Is winning the Europa League a priority for Allegri?
“At Juventus you always have to think about winning. In the league we have to get back on track, tomorrow we have to win and there will be a full stadium and that’s a good signal from the fans. After the point deduction they compacted and are helping us a lot.”
Brazilian defender Gleison Bremer was the designated player spokesman for the press conference, and he acknowledged that his errors had led to lost points in recent performances.
“Positive: I had a few matches that weren’t up to scratch, but I found myself, I’ve grown and next year will be important.
“My negative matches? I’m not looking for excuses. I did badly, with Monza and Napoli I wasn’t up to the mark.
“Five years ago, nobody knew me, last year I won the title of best defender. Resilience, that’s my secret, I look ahead.”
On this competition’s priority and what his side has to do to close out the remainder of a tumultuous season.
“It’s an important competition, we have to get to the top but one game at a time. It starts tomorrow. We are a good team, a good group, we had a few matches not up to scratch, but we won eight games in a row in the league. The team is there.
“We have to give our best and look at every match as a final and then see what happens.
“They gave us a 15-point deduction, we don’t know if that’ll stay or not. We have to finish the season and think about the next one, the expectations will be different starting from scratch.”