It has been business as usual for Juventus at the start of the new Serie A season. Saturday’s 3-1 defeat of Sassuolo made it three wins from three for Max Allegri’s men, with the 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 champions already in a strong position as they attempt to retain their crown once again this term. But why are Juventus the Champions League dark horses?
Juventus’ dominance in the Italian top flight has come to be expected, so much so that many of the club’s fans would not consider this campaign a success if their side won the league but failed to make any meaningful progress in continental competition. Indeed, the two-time European Cup winners – who finished as runners-up two years ago after suffering a 3-1 loss against Barcelona in the final – look ready to mount another challenge for the Champions League trophy this year, with the Bianconeri arguably the best-placed team to break the recent oligopoly of Barca, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid.
Manchester United may have prised France international Paul Pogba away from the Turin-based outfit in the summer transfer window – Alvaro Morata also left to return to Madrid – but Juventus arguably have a stronger squad now than they did last term.
Miralem Pjanic was acquired from Roma for €32 million in June and will bring creativity to the midfield; Gonzalo Higuain scored 36 goals in 35 league encounters in 2015/16 and has already added a clinical edge at the top of the pitch after his move from Napoli; Bayern Munich loanee Medhi Benatia provides competition for Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli at centre-half; ex-Barcelona man Dani Alves, now 33 years old, is still one of the world’s leading right-backs; and the presence of Juan Cuadrado, who has signed on a three-season loan from Chelsea, and Marko Pjaca ensures Allegri has some excellent options in wide areas. Throw in Gianluigi Buffon, Claudio Marchisio, Sami Khedira and Paulo Dybala and it is clear that Juventus have a fine crop of players who, on their day, are good enough to beat virtually anyone in Europe.
The fact that Allegri’s charges are expected to triumph in Serie A with a degree of comfort could also work in their favour in Europe. Juventus have won the last five Scudetti by an average margin of 11.2 points; establishing a similar distance between themselves and their closest challengers in the coming months would allow them to rest key players before knockout ties, a luxury which may not be afforded to teams from England, Spain or even Germany, where Borussia Dortmund could push Bayern Munich all the way.
“Football is a matter of cycles, and at this time Barcelona and Real Madrid have something more than the others,” Sir Alex Ferguson told Gazzetta dello Sport last week. “But I think that Juventus, like Bayern Munich, can be one of those teams capable of winning anything, even the Champions League. A strong point is Massimiliano Allegri – he is a great coach – and another is the stadium: it is very beautiful and that is a rarity in Italy.”
Juventus’ European campaign begins with a game against Sevilla in Turin on Wednesday night, with both clubs expected to advance from Group H. With a little bit of luck on their side, the Italian giants could go all the way in the Champions League this season.