After winning 1-0 against Manchester United, thanks to a Paulo Dybala strike, Juventus have established themselves as a true favourite for this season’s Champions League title. Not just through the victory, but it was the manner of the victory which was most impressive.
For a team that has been to two of the last four Champions League finals, Juventus seem to drift through European competition without the same scrutiny or fanfare as their elite rivals. Massimiliano Allegri will hope this trend continues; a carefully curated team of elite football talent that doesn’t attract the spotlight, outside of Italy at least, that the quality of its players might expect.
And, in a composed and comfortable 1-0 win against Manchester United, their footballing philosophy seemed to reflect this. They were ruthlessly efficient, rather than brazenly spectacular; beauty in composure, rather than riotous expression. Their style might not blow teams, and fans, away like Liverpool, Barcelona or Napoli, but Juventus’ marker has now been laid down. In the Theatre of Dreams last night, they awoke from previous years’ dreams to the cold light of expectation.
Jose Mourinho is certainly well-aware of the possibility of the Old Lady winning only their third Champions League title this season. After the match, he praised a side that have “are a different level of quality, stability, experience and know-how.” In a concealed jab at his current situation, Mourinho also mentioned before the game how Juventus’ ambition in the transfer market is a reason they are among the favourites for the Champions League.
This focused ambition is certainly a hallmark of Juventus’ continuous development process. For every big name they have lost over the years – Tevez, Morata, Pogba – they equip their squad with a suitable replacement – Dybala, Higuain, Pjanic – and press on. After selling Leonardo Bonucci, who was impressive on Tuesday, they brought him back from Milan the following summer to bolster a defence that conceded 12 goals in last season’s Champions League.
But, more than their recruitment, it’s the swagger and confidence in Manchester that will cause their European rivals to stand up and take notice. They dominated the ball to such an extent that, discounting a speculative Paul Pogba effort that hit the post, Wojciech Szczesny could’ve kept his pre-match suit on.
Sixty percent possession probably doesn’t do the Bianconeri midfield justice. Miralem Pjanic and Rodrigo Bentancur strolled around the Old Trafford grass like they owned it, dictating the tempo and direction of not just Juventus’ attack, but the game at large.
Bentancur, the 21-year-old Uruguayan, looked utterly unfazed by the occasion, with boundless energy and a keen eye, and pass, for Paulo Dybala. While Pjanic was gliding about like a leaf caught in a gentle Manchester autumnal breeze, steering his team around the pitch, as much with his eyes as with his feet.
This unrelenting control was helped by a centre-back pairing that, Mourinho swooned afterwards, “could go to Harvard University and give classes about being a central defender.” This is what will worry Juventus’ rivals the most. Even with the formidable midfield talents across a variety of Europe’s top teams, trying to wrestle control of a game away from this Juventus side will be a tough ask.
The only way to beat them may be to blast them out of the game in 20 frenzied minutes, as Liverpool managed against some of their rivals last year.
Juventus have, over the past few seasons, been viewed with a certain air of hopeful expectation across Europe. They look to have built a team that could break the five-year hold that Real Madrid and Barcelona have had on Europe’s top trophy, but were completely outclassed by both those teams in the 2017 and 2015 finals respectively. However, the current edition of their team seems to now possess both the immovable objects and, in Cristiano Ronaldo, the unstoppable forces that might genuinely bring a Champions League title to Turin.
Before they played United, Giorgio Chiellini admitted that “Champions League is not a dream, it is a target.” Now is the time for Juventus to hit, rather than simply acknowledge, that target.