It’s been yet another dominant season in Serie A for Juventus. Do you feel that the lack of serious domestic competition has impacted or will impact this team in the UCL?
It’s been dominant in terms of Juventus having an 11-point lead entering this past weekend’s schedule of games. Has Juve’s play actually been dominant? No, not really. And I think that’s the biggest thing that has pulled at Juventini through the first five months of the season. Max Allegri has so much firepower available to him — and this is even with Mario Mandžukić, Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi all missing time due to injury — that many folks expected the attack to be free-flowing and creating goals, goals and more goals. It hasn’t been that way, though. Juve aren’t blowing teams away. If anything, they’re basically being the same kind of club they were before Cristiano Ronaldo showed up — Allegri is more worried about results than playing football appealing to the eye.
Hey, it’s effective. I won’t deny that. I just wouldn’t necessarily call Juve’s play dominant and I don’t know how that will really translate to the Champions League knockout rounds. This team has not even really touched its true potential on a consistent basis so far.
Has Cristiano Ronaldo lived up to expectations?
For the most part, yes. But, as we know with Ronaldo joining Juventus, the true verdict of his season will be how well he does now that the games in Europe are not guaranteed past the current round.
So much of Juventus’ season has been attached to Ronaldo and his dominance in Europe over the past decade-plus. We saw it first-hand last season. And the year before. And the year before that. And so on, and so on, and so on. You don’t go out and spend €100 million on a 33-year-old who’s the Champions League’s historical top scorer if you don’t have visions of ending a near-three-decade-long absence winning the whole damn thing.
Without a doubt, Ronaldo truly living up to expectations will be how far he leads Juve in the Champions League this season.
All Atleti followers know of and are traumatized by Cristiano, but who are the other key players to watch out for in this tie?
I will go with somebody that Atleti fans know quite well as well. His name is Mario Mandžukić. He’s a grumpy Croatian who rarely smiles. He used to play for Atlético Madrid before Juventus signed him. And he’s a player who just seems to do something of note whenever Juventus play a big game. I think it’s safe to say that Mandžukić is going to be playing in a big game when Juve make their way to Madrid this week. That’s the kind of atmosphere that Mandžukić has only continued to thrive in during his career for both club and country.
I’d say the two other key players for Juventus entering the first leg against Atleti will be their two center backs, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, simply because it’s going to be a race toward full fitness for both of them. Juve’s defense has been consistently inconsistent ever since both got injured a couple weeks ago, and I don’t think anybody is going to feel confident if Juve’s two starting center backs in Madrid are Daniele Rugani and Martin Caceres. So, yeah, the Italian media has been telling us that both Bonucci and Chiellini should be healthy in time for the first leg, but until we see them out there for the opening whistle it will be an uncertainty.
Atlético still have a few key players out and they are uncertain for the first leg. Any important injury updates from Turin?
Other than the Bonucci and Chiellini situations, pretty much all of Juventus’ key players are healthy. Knowing that Juve played one of the worst teams in Serie A in Frosinone on Friday and entered the weekend with a double-digit lead over Napoli, Allegri’s squad rotation had Atlético in mind.
Winning aside, what would make this the perfect first leg for Juventus?
Where they don’t play like complete idiots.
It sounds funny, but it’s true. When Juventus have stumbled in recent weeks — and, honestly, it’s not like their overall product going back to the beginning of December has been all that great — most of it has been through their own doing. Some of it can be chalked up to the absences of Bonucci and Chiellini, but when you’re a team like Juventus, you shouldn’t be blowing a pair of two-goal leads like they did against Parma earlier this month.
So, as much as this will be a meeting of the minds between Allegri and Diego Simeone, a pair of teams with good defensive reputations and all that stuff, this will have a lot to do with a whole lot of European games Juventus have played in over the last couple years — if they take care of their business, things should be a-okay.
2-2 draw. I don’t fully trust Juve’s defense right now, but you gotta think Ronaldo’s itching to get going in the Champions League against a rival he’s haunted so many times before.