Juventus’ quest to be crowned champions of Europe for this first time in 24 years suffered a major blow following the 1-0 second round first leg defeat at Lyon.
It was a result which has raised questions about the direction of the team–and whether they have what its takes to win the Champions League again. The Bianconeri played poorly in eastern France as Lyon took control of the first half, going ahead through Lucas Tousart in the 31st minute. In second half, Sarri’s men applied more pressure, but only managed a single effort on target over the whole game.
Captain Leonardo Bonucci criticised his team’s lack of aggression, complaining that they were second to every ball. The veteran defender also voiced his own doubts of just how strong the team’s mentality really is in light of the defeat.
It was a frustrating night for their fans. Some supporters were left even calling for Sarri’s head.
More positively a single goal behind with the return leg at home is hardly an impossible task. The Turin giants remain favourites to go through to the last eight.
JUVE NOT ONE OF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FAVORITES
Juve started the campaign well at the group stage. It was not the easiest draw up against Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen and Lokomotiv Moscow, yet they went unbeaten. They only dropped points in a 2-2 draw in Madrid in their first game in the pool.
However, Juve are only sixth favorites to win the UCL, priced at +1300.
The challenge from England is strong, with both holders Liverpool and Manchester City two of the strongest teams in the competition.
Also, Bayern Munich have excelled in Europe this season, and are one of the more fancied teams. The Bavarians achieved the only 100% record in the competition at the group stage. They also have a foot in the quarter finals after their 3-0 win away at Chelsea in the first leg.
SLUGGISH MIDFIELD AND DEFENCE A PROBLEM FOR JUVE
Sarri accused his players of lacking determination in the game against Lyon. The Italian also bemoaned just how slowly that his players moved the ball around at the Groupama Stadium. This has been a regular problem in particular from the midfield areas, where there has often been a lack of zip in circulating the ball.
Juventus’ current midfield lacks the class and experience of the quartet of Pirlo, Marchisio, Vidal and Pogba, which guided them to the Champions League final in 2015.
It’s a situation that has not been helped by a lack of emphasis on using width to break down defences.
Douglas Costa missing large chunks of the season through muscle and hamstring injuries, has not helped matters. Players such as Sami Khedira and Blaise Matuidi are now approaching the end of their careers. And the new free transfer signings of Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot have so far failed to have any significant impact on the team.
Despite a goal this weekend, Ramsey in particular has been a disappointment. The Welshman was brought in to provide an attacking and goal scoring threat from midfield. So far a succession of niggling injuries such as an abductor problem last October, and ineffective performances have cast a shadow on Ramsey’s maiden season in Italy. The former Arsenal man has made just 14 Serie A appearances, scoring just three goals, and has provided no assists. There have been reports that Juventus are already happy to let the 29-year-old go at the end of the season.
Unsurprisingly, Cristiano Ronaldo is comfortably the highest scorer this season with 25 goals in 31 appearances in all competitions. Paulo Dybala is the next highest scorer way down on 12 goals.
Overall, Ronaldo has found the net 53 times in 74 matches for Juve. The £100 million purchase of Ronaldo in the summer of 2018 was designed to provide Juventus with the final piece of the jig saw to win the Champions League. So far this has not gone to plan. Following the surprise defeat to a youthful Ajax at the quarterfinal stage last season.
The recent domestic form has also not inspired much confidence that it can be Juventus’ year in Europe. As they look to secure their ninth consecutive Serie A title (although they are a point ahead of Lazio at the time of writing). Yet three away defeats since December to Verona, Napoli and Lazio, and a 2-2 home draw against mid table Sassuolo, has loosened the Juve grip on the Scudetto.
Defensively Sarri’s team have also looked a little suspect.
The return of experienced stalwart Giorgio Chiellini, after rupturing a cruciate ligament last August, is more than welcome. This is especially helpful since Matthijs De Ligt has underwhelmed since his move from Ajax. At the age of 20, there is more than enough time for the centre-back to turn his career around in Italy. Even thought to his own admission, he no longer feels “invincible” since his move to Turin. De Ligt returned to the team that played against Lyon, after being axed and replaced with Daniele Rugani after the 2-1 defeat to Verona.
SARRI OUT GUARDIOLA IN?
Sarri has failed to convince many that he is the right man to end Juventus’ Champions League drought. He was brought in to achieve European success, off the back of his Europa League victory with Chelsea last year.
Yet the 61-year-old has never won the Champions League.
It does not say much for Sarri’s authority at the club, when he openly admitted that he could not get it through to the players, over the importance of moving the ball at pace in Lyon. Juventus president Andrea Agnelli has said that it would be “heresy” not to consider Pep Guardiola as the team’s manager.
Even though he stressed he is happy with Sarri, Manchester City’s possible two year Champions League ban could alter the course of Guardiola’s career.
The Spaniard has staunchly said that he will be staying in Manchester.
No matter what the outcome of the appeal against the ban for breaching UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations.
Yet hitherto, Guardiola has not spent longer than four years managing at a club. He will have spent four years at City this summer.
And the two time Champions League winner with Barcelona, has yet to manage in Italy.
EUROPEAN CUP AND CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINALS A HOODOO FOR JUVENTUS
Juventus do not have the greatest of records when it come to European Cup and Champions League finals.
To put their record into context, they have reached nine finals, the same as six times winners Liverpool, and have won it just twice.
Their first final and defeat came against Ajax in Belgrade, where Juve lost 1-0 during the Amsterdam club’s “Total Football” era.
The first triumph in the competition came in 1985, under the guidance of Giovanni Trapattoni, with a great side that included Michel Platini, Paolo Rossi and Marco Tardelli.
Yet the 1-0 victory over Liverpool was overshadowed by a day of shame at the Heysel Stadium, where rioting supporters led to the death of 39 of their own supporters.
Marcello Lippi’s teams of the mid-nineties, spearheaded by the likes of Montero, Zidane and Del Piero, were powerful and silky. They reached three consecutive Champions League finals.
However, only one of those finals translated into a victory, with a 4-2 penalties win over Ajax after a 1-1 draw in Rome’s Olympic Stadium.
Recent history has not changed Juventus’ luck.
After the 2015 defeat in Berlin, two years later an experienced Juve side capitulated almost inexplicably in the second half to Real Madrid in Cardiff losing 4-1.
Whether this year will see a change in fortunes remains to be seen. At this moment in time, its difficult to see that happening.