If Juventus are to do what they’ve haven’t done since 1996 – lift the Champions League trophy – then last Wednesday night’s surprise defeat in Bern could play a key role in them achieving that dream.
The loss to Young Boys may not have had any material effect on the outcome of their group, but it could have. Going into the fixture, victory would have assured the Bianconeri top spot in Group H, making more negotiable last 16 opposition more likely.
For that reason, Juve rolled out the big guns and waited for the usual to happen. But it didn’t. The Italians surprisingly underestimated the desire of their opponents; and as Massimiliano Allegri suggested afterward, they got what they deserved from the game – nothing.
The Bern defeat was Juve’s second of this season’s group stages, the second time they could be accused of taking their eye off the ball. Yes, they may argue that they had done much of the heavy lifting before United’s unlikely smash and grab in Turin last month. Qualification was a formality at that stage.
But they’ve been reminded that similar complacency in the knockout stages is much more likely to be punished than it is, say, in a Serie game, where many opponents seem beaten before a ball is even kicked.
And if they aren’t beaten at that point, then they tend to be beaten one way or another as Inter Milan found last Friday week, when an impressive performance went unrewarded, and as neighbours Torino found out on Saturday evening in the Derby Della Mole, as Juve bounced back to winning ways.
The boys next door may have taken inspiration from Young Boys’ shock win midweek, and certainly set about making life as uncomfortable as possible for their visitors from the off.
On a heavy Grande Torino pitch, the home side were robust and energetic – pressing hard and looking to draw Juve into a physical battle. But anyone in Italy hoping that the Bern defeat might be more than a blip will have been sorely disappointed.
The Bianconeri were certainly not at their best, but they nevertheless displayed many of the key traits that have allowed them dominate Serie A for the last seven seasons.
This was a battle, but Juve rarely shy away from a fight and will not be bullied. They dug in as Torino put it up to them, absorbed the home side’s best efforts and came away yet again with all three points.
Unsurprisingly, Ronaldo and Mario Mandzukic, who’ve been at the heart of Juventus’ record start to the domestic season, were involved in the game’s only goal, even if it owed as much to the well-intentioned but ill-founded efforts of Torino forward Simone Zaza.
The former Juventus man deserved credit for tracking Leonardo Bonucci’s burst out of defence on 66 minutes. But having robbed the defender of the ball 30 yards from his own goal, Zaza’s decision to play it back to substitute keeper Salvador Ichazo failed to take account of Mandzukic’s work rate and powers of anticipation.
The Croatian workhorse nipped in ahead of the Torino shot stopper deep inside the home side’s penalty area and drew the crucial foul. Ronaldo held his nerve to convert the ensuing penalty for his 11thSerie A goal of the season.
It was only Juve’s second clear sight of goal all night, but they capitalised – dishing out yet another harsh lesson to those who fail to take their chances against them.
From that point onward, Chiellini and co dug in deeper, defended in the resolute fashion we have become accustomed to and managed the game to its inevitable conclusion.
So, after 16 Serie A games, 15 wins and a single draw, an incredible eighth Scudetto in a row looks a foregone conclusion.
But despite their obvious technical qualities, it’s the ceaseless hunger and their mastery of game management that continues to underpin Juve’s success, characteristics that Allegri has so brilliantly maintained in each of his title winning sides.
Young Boys and even Jose’s Lost Boys did show that even the most focused of outfits can slip a little when too often unchallenged. But the wake-up call will surely have been received in Turin, particularly when it comes to their European endeavours.
A timely reminder for the Bianconeri that the Champions League is a different animal to Serie A – but one that’s likely to make them even more fearsome opponents in the second half of the season.