Why Juventus are the favourites to win the UEFA Champions League

Juventus Champions League

When Juventus picked up a steely 1-0 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford, many felt began pointing out the errors United had made and how bad they were in a much-hyped game in the UEFA Champions League. Jose Mourinho’s drew even more criticism for never really looking up for attacking, but very few looked at Juventus, who dominated the Premier League giants and kept them silent all the while.

And it was an injustice for a team like the Old Lady, who are very likely to win their eighth consecutive Scudetto title again this season. Currently top of the Serie A and unbeaten in the league, it would be easy to say that the Bianconeri would find it easy to play well and dominate their domestic league. But it would be fair to say that they have never been this good over the past eight years.

It was only a 1-0 win against United. But it was perhaps as convincing as a 3-0 win. They won 3-1 against last season’s Serie A runner-ups Napoli and it was as convincing as 5-1 or 6-1. Beppe Marotta did announce his departure as the club’s CEO after the win over the Partenopei, but Juve had more positives to take from that outing. They were up against a high-quality side, which went onto beat Liverpool, and they convincingly and soundly beat them.

One big part of how Juventus play is their way of managing games. Against United, they took the lead and following that, it was certain that they will close the game out. They have been this way under Allegri. Against Tottenham last season, it seemed as though the way the game will pan out was written in the canvas of Allegri’s head. They did concede in the second leg, but they knew that they would get their chances to come back. And within two minutes, it all turned around. Juventus won the game, despite possibly not being the better side.

Even in the Serie A, there have been games in which Juventus have preferred digging out games instead of putting four or five games past their opponents. It was seen in their games against Udinese and Bologna.

This aspect of their play has helped them do so well in the UEFA Champions League. They have reached the final twice, only to lose against Barcelona and Real Madrid. But now, they probably have a missing piece in their jigsaw. They fell short of it twice under Allegri and it was the inexperience of not having what it takes to go all the way that mattered. Barcelona and Real Madrid had a fair share of match-winners in their side. Now though, they do have a massive match-winner in Cristiano Ronaldo.

The summer signing from Real Madrid has scored four times, assisting seven times. And he has been one of Juve’s best players so far this season. But it isn’t just Ronaldo’s goals that gets a team over the line. What Juventus will benefit more from is the motivation and the leadership that he brings to the plate. He knows what it takes to win the UEFA Champions League, unlike about every Juve player.

Juve loaned Gonzalo Higuain out to AC Milan and sold Mattia Caldara to the Rossoneri and brought Leonardo Bonucci back. In Ronaldo, they have an upgrade on Higuain and in Bonucci, they have an upgrade on Caldara, who was again loaned out to Atalanta last season. The idea behind bringing both of them was not business itself, but it was attempt to increase the quality at the club. Attack and defence are two most important parts of a team and having Bonucci and Ronaldo is a big positive.

Bonucci and Chiellini formed one of the best defensive pairings before the former Milan man went off to the San Siro. The way they have played so far this season shows they are well capable of replicating that. Bonucci did disappoint in the early part of last season under Vincenzo Montella, but he was one of the rossoneri’s best players in the second half of the campaign under Rino Gattuso.

Ronaldo up front has brought them more goals and leadership to go the extra mile. And the way Allegri has used Paulo Dybala shows that the Argentine will not be risked in less-important games. The former Palermo man has only come on or featured during important games. During the relatively easier fixtures early on in the season, Dybala was not risked a lot of times. And very often, Federico Bernardeschi has been prefered ahead of him on the right flank, allowing Dybala to give his best in the bigger games. And he did score against United at Old Trafford, after he was on the bench against Genoa in the Serie A game before that.

Another big part of Juve’s side is the depth. The 4-3-3 allows Allegri to have two second choice centre-backs in Andrea Barzagli and Daniele Rugani. While Juve were looking to sign a left-back this past summer, they could not get one. But with Mattia de Sciglio back, the former rossonero is capable of playing either side.

Alex Sandro did endure a frustrating season last term, but he has come back to his best. And while Joao Cancelo was struggling during his first half of the loan term at Inter, he has carried on from how he was in the second half. And both of them have been very good.

The work-rate of Blaise Matuidi though, will be just as crucial as Ronaldo or the Bonucci-Chiellini pairing. The World Cup winner’s work-ethic changed the dynamics of Allegri’s tactics last season as Juve switched permanently to a 4-3-3 with Matuidi in midfield. The amount of ground he covers goes a long way in determining how Juve play and he sets the tone for it. If he doesn’t work as hard as he does, Juve’s work-rate will reduce and they look relatively easier to tackle in midfield.

Matuidi’s workrate allows Miralem Pjanic to do his creative bit. And the Bosnian dictates play at will. The presence of Sami Khedira or the talented Rodrigo Bentancur allows Pjanic more space and room to work and help the front three fire.

Its the hard-working approach to the game though, that brings them all together. While Barcelona could be closer to the title than they were last season, Juventus have already shown in the past that they can outclass Messi and co. Manchester City could also be closer than they were last season, thanks to how tactically flexible they’ve become this season, but Juventus are a touch above City in the knockout competitions on the European level. Quite the same is the case with Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, who will need to have more quality in their depth to come as far as they did last season.