[OP-ED]: Juventus is back amongst Europe’s very top teams
Juventus has won the last five Italian League championships, but that is not big news anymore. The club from Torino has won more times the scudetto (32) than any other Italian squad.
Its closest followers are the two teams from Milan, Internazionale and A.C. Milan, with 18 championships apiece. Anyway, in the continent’s main competition things are very different. Juventus has only won the European title twice, while the two clubs from Milan joined efforts translate into 10 champions with A.C. Milan having won seven and Inter two.
In the middle of the 80s, Vecchia Signora (as the club is called in Italy) finally conquered Europe. Led by a constellation of stars that included French striker Michel Platini and Danish passing magician Michael Laudrup, Juve defeated Liverpool, 1-0, in 1985 in the tragic game held at Brussels’ Heysel Stadium. Eleven years later, in a final contest played in Rome, the squad from Torino claimed its second continental championship by defeating Amsterdam’s Ajax in penalty kicks after the game finished in regulation with a 1-1 draw. That Juventus squad was led by Italian forwards Alessandro del Piero and Gianluca Vialli. After losing the next two European finals, Juve disappeared from the Champions League’s elite. The situation was even worse when the club was found guilty of participating in Italy’s Calciopoli scandal in which teams pressured to get certain officials to referee their games. Juvents sanction was to be dropped to Italy’s second division: Serie B.
The club had to start all over again, but the strategy worked. Juventus came back to Serie A after one season of banishment and built a team that waited four more years to claim another scudetto, but since then has been unstoppable. The key to achieve success again in Italy relied in the hiring of manager Antonio Conte, who knew the club very well and guided Juve to league titles in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Anyway, the squad from Torino and its fans wanted more. It was not enough with winning one year after another a league which prestige failed below other European great competitions from countries like Spain, England, German and even France. To be back at Europe’s elite, Vecchia Signora hired in the summer of 2014 Massimiliano Allegri, who used to coach archrival A.C. Milan.
Since Allegri grabbed the helm, Juve showed a more offensive style of soccer, which was novelty in Italy’s defensively oriented game. In his first year with the club from Torino, the new manager shocked Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinals to reach a championship contest in which Juve was defeated by FC Barcelona, 3-1.
This season things are different. Juventus might not have glittering stars such as France’s Paul Pogba or Chile’s Arturo Vidal, but its game is strong collectively. The team, led by Argentinean forwards Gonzalo Higuaín and young Paulo Dybala, who just renewed his contract until 2022, and all-time great Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, is almost impossible to beat. Juventus’ defensive strength is perfectly defined by the following stat: in nine Champions League games this season, the club has allowed only two goals.
Last Tuesday, the Italian champion took a huge step to play the continent’s semifinals, crashing Barça, 3-0, at Torino in the first-leg contest. After the Spaniards comeback win over Paris Saint-Germain in the previous round, Juve is cautious about the second-leg game, but the team coached by Allegri is very, very near from reaching the Champions League final four. The most important thing, though, is that Vecchia Signora has earned its right to advance this far in European competition and the ancient club is a clear favorite to go all the way, something that had not happened in the last two decades.