Despite his insistence that a record sixth Serie A title in a row remains Juventus’s priority, Massimiliano Allegri must recognise that his expensively assembled and methodically built side have a serious chance of Champions League glory this term.
Its coming up on seven seasons since an Italian side won European football’s biggest prize. Seven seasons since the Jose Mourinho-inspired Inter Milan lifted the trophy.
And in that time, only Juventus have even managed to contest a final. Can Allegri be the man to return Italian football to the top of the pile?
PSG, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid appear to have already landed knockout punches in the first legs of their round of 16 ties. Can Juventus follow suit on Wednesday night as they visit Porto?
On the basis of domestic form, the Bianconeri should be capable of delivering their own a statement of intent at the Estadio do Dragao in Portugal’s second city.
After suffering a surprise defeat in Florence last month, Allegri responded with a system change and a run of six league wins on the trot, the latest being their routine 4-1 victory over Palermo last Friday night.
As Jurgen Klopp often says, the mark of a good team is how they respond to setbacks. On that basis, Juventus are a very good team indeed.
That’s obviously been the case in Italy over the last five and a half seasons, and it’s become increasingly apparent under the tutelage of Allegri in recent years on the European stage.
Two seasons ago, he guided the club to the Champions League final against Barcelona, only to fall to the sorcery of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Andres Iniesta and co.
And last season, they scared the daylights out of Pep Guardiola’s Bayern before exiting in dramatic fashion in Munich in the last 16.
Much is and should be expected this season. The more so given that arguably there is no overwhelmingly dominant club in the competition.
And there are several sides now who have the squads and wherewithal to win it – the Old Lady of Turin amongst them.
The aforementioned system change has brought Allegri – who humbly insists he’s not one of the game’s deep thinkers – a lot of plaudits.
Fresh impetus was required after the Fiorentina defeat in which his side’s 3-5-2 formation was exposed time and again out wide.
In fact, Juve’s four defeats this season were inflicted in similar fashion, with the opposition making hay in the space behind their wingbacks.
The switch to four at the back shored up the weakness and has been getting the best out of the Bianconeri’s marauding Brazilian left-back Sandro.
Further forward, Allegri has been able to play more of his attacking talent, improving the service to Gonzalo Higuain, whose 22 goals in 30 league and European appearances have been an encouraging return on the club’s massive investment in the striker.
Perhaps more interesting, however, has been Allegri’s decision to drop Higuain’s erstwhile partner Paulo Dybala deep into a number 10 role.
It’s not a position that’s particularly familiar to the 23-year-old, but two goals and an assist on Friday night against his old club showed that he’s learning quickly.
Wednesday night’s clash with Porto should prove an interesting test of this new system, should Allegri choose to deploy it.
Doubtless, the experienced Portuguese side will look to swamp Juve’s midfield two (most likely Claudio Marchisio and Sami Khedira) – testing the front four’s willingness to work back and cover ground.
Based on talent alone, Juventus should prevail over the two legs regardless of the system Allegri chooses.
But as Benfica showed last week in beating Thomas Tuchel’s favoured Borussia Dortmund, the Portuguese clubs still have the ability to upset the unwary and the profligate.
Recent hard-nosed performances from the Italian champions, however, suggest there will be no complacency in the Black and White this Wednesday night.