The Champions League Semi Finals are upon us once again, Juventus play Real Madrid, while Barcelona play Bayern Munich in the other semi. Considered to be the weakest out of the four teams, we shall look at Juventus’ chances in this year’s competition. Can they get past Real, and if they do, can they win the whole thing?
The underdog tag out of the four semi finalists is what helps Juventus, they have the chance to take to the field with no pressure, allowing them to relax and express themselves. They will be comprehensively aided in their search of European glory by the fact that on Saturday after winning away at Sampdoria, they have sown up their fourth consecutive Serie A title with four games to spare. Semi final opponents Real Madrid are still going at loggerheads with arch rivals Barcelona to win La Liga in Spain and cannot afford to slip up as they are 2 points behind. The ‘Old Lady’ now has the chance to rotate their squad and firmly concentrate on winning the Champions League, Juventus already boast a squad with much depth and they will take full advantage by resting key players.
Real edged past their city rivals Atletico in the last round with a late Javier Hernandez goal in the second leg to advance 1-0 on aggregate. This was a rare win as Real have been dominated in recent meetings by them. Atletico’s organised, disciplined and aggressive playing style brought them the League title last season and Real have especially struggled to neutralise it. Juventus play a high intensity game just like Atletico. However in the past they had been mainly playing with a 3-5-2 formation under former coach Antonio Conte, whereas Massimiliano Allegri has relied upon more a 4-3-1-2 system or a 4-3-3.
Gianluigi Buffon though in the twilight of his career is still a tremendous goalkeeper and will be spurred on by the fact he has yet to win the Champions League. Their centre backs are as disciplined and dominant as you would like; whoever starts out of Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, all Italian internationals, are all more than capable. Whether deployed at full back or wing back, Stephen Lichsteiner and Patrice Evra push forward and provide the energy down the flanks, which is pivotal to the teams style of play. Evra, a summer signing from United, has comfortably slotted in on the left, alongside the aforementioned centre halves, who have been so solid that Evra has not been as exposed as he was in his latter years at United due to his fading pace. Evra’s arrival has proved timely since regular utility full/wing back Kwadwo Asamoah has not played since Christmas due to keyhole surgery on a cartilage issue with his left knee.
Juventus’ all action midfield is another integral part of their set-up. This unit all chip in with goals, work hard from box to box and can easily interchange. French International Paul Pogba may not be back from injury in time to feature in the second leg, which is a huge blow, but they still boast a wealth of talent even if he does not return from injury in time. We all know of Andrea Pirlo’s brilliance, and his set pieces will be a key feature for the side from Turin. Claudio Marchisio is as reliable as they come, and England will know all about his long range shooting from his opener in their World Cup defeat to Italy in June. When it comes to all action box to box players, there are few better in World football than Chilean Arturo Vidal, who was the teams joint second top scorer in all competitions in the 2013-14 season. Argentine Roberto Pereyra is another name that could come into contention for a start; Juventus are a good match for anyone in the middle of the park.
Up top, Alvaro Morata, (bought incidentally from Real Madrid), has settled well and this has reduced fellow Spaniard Fernando Llorente’s appearances. The man Real will fear most though is Carlos Tevez. Juventus’ top scorer has been in superb form with 28 goals in all competitions this season. His industry will pressure Real’s back four and they will need to be on top form to keep him at bay. Let there be no doubt, any individual errors will be punished.
If we go back and look at the midfield though, this is where I think this tie will be won and lost. Real sold Xabi Alonso, who though is not a tough tackling midfielder, he picked his times to venture forward, much like Juventus’ Pirlo. Toni Kroos was the man who replaced Alonso, a great player but he generally plays 10-15 metres higher up the pitch. Real overall have lost part of their balance, and have made the likes of Isco and Gareth Bale have to track back and cover much more ground than they would have liked. Juventus’ better balance is why they could surprise Real and edge the tie. Whether Carlo Ancelotti chooses to play Pepe in a holding midfield position, like he did in the second leg against Atletico, we will see. It is unlikely he will use Sami Khedira, but his combative nature may be important in neutralising Juventus, who will more than likely set up shop to hit on the counter, allowing Real to keep possession. Real though, did this exact same thing to knock out Bayern last season, giving up possession and hitting on the break. If they were to try and execute this against Juventus, we could have one hell of a tie, if both teams throw caution to the wind, this though is maybe living in a utopian ideal society expecting two end-to-end games in back-to-back years. It would be better for any viewer to be prepared to witness a war of attrition over the two legs.
Juventus’ ability to change the pace of a game is why I feel they have their best chance for a while to claim Europe’s top prize overall. Whether they can restore some much needed pride to Italian game after so many years of hurt remains to be seen. Champions League holders Real are still battling to oust Barcelona domestically and this may take its toll on them and allow Juventus to advance. If Juventus can get through, we all know in a one off Final, anything can happen. Whether its Barca or Bayern Munich who make it through in the other semi, I believe that this could possibly be Juventus’ year, 12 years on from their last final appearance they might just get over the line.