UEFA Champions League: Why Juventus Should Feel Confident Going into Round of 16

Gianni Verschueren@ReverschPassFeatured ColumnistDecember 18, 2012

TURIN, ITALY - DECEMBER 16:  Claudio Marchisio (C) of Juventus FC celebrates with his team-mates after scoring during the Serie A match between Juventus FC and Atalanta BC at Juventus Arena on December 16, 2012 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

Juventus will be attending the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 draw on Thursday feeling good about their chances, regardless of the opponent destiny chooses for the Italian champions.

And quite frankly, they should.

The Bianconeri are enjoying a fine season, building on the successes that were achieved during the last campaign. Coach Antonio Conte has his team playing the kind of free flowing, dynamic football that he envisioned when he took the job back in 2011.

The roster he gets to work with consists of a perfect blend between veteran stars like Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon and young, hungry talents like Arturo Vidal and Kwadwo Asamoah. Gone are the locker room distractions that voiced their displeasure at every turn; Juve are a cohesive unit that will put the team ahead of themselves.

Since losing to perennial rivals AC Milan in November, Juventus haven't skipped a beat. In fact, the team haven't even conceded, dominating the opposition in each and every one of their wins.

The Bianconeri have taken a seven-point lead over their closest rivals, Inter Milan, in the Serie A and have shown very little signs of weakness in the process.

The same goes for the Champions League. After a shaky start that saw them draw their first three matches, Juventus picked up the pace and dominated FC Nordsjaelland, Chelsea and Shakhtar Donetsk on their way to the top spot in Group E.

All of this was achieved without arguably their most important component: Antonio Conte.

The master motivator made his return to the sidelines against Palermo, and his presence was immediately felt. Before, Juventus were a great team that would get lost on occasion, or didn't know how to deal with stingy opponents. But with Conte on the sidelines, the team has become the same brute force that went undefeated last season.

Conte knows how to prepare his troops for any situation and how to spark the flame in each of his players. His half-time adjustments and in-game coaching were sorely missed over the first four months of the season, and his return dramatically improves the Bianconeri. He's the rock this team is built upon.

Well, one of the rocks at least. I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't mention Buffon, officially the greatest goalkeeper of our generation. Or the back line, that consists of world class players like Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci, who has made the leap to the highest level in 2012.

Chiellini will miss the first game of the Round of 16, but Martin Caceres and Luca Marrone provide excellent backup at the position.

Perhaps we should mention Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio, possibly the best midfield triangle in the world. While the back line has already shown they can match up with the best of the best (taking out Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar for instance) the MVP midfield has completely outplayed almost everyone in the past 18 months.

Defensively dominant, the triangle is more than capable of scoring a few goals, and Pirlo is one of the best conductors of an offense in all of world football.

The team's biggest assets might be the guys manning the wing. Kwadwo Asamoah, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Mauricio Isla all have tremendous motors and the athletic ability to drive any opponent insane. This group is a matchup nightmare for anyone they face.

And for those of you who talk about Juve's lack of prolific play up front: take a look at the Serie A table. While the main competitors for the title might boast names like Stephan El Shaarawy, Edinson Cavani and Diego Milito, Juventus only chase AS Roma and their Futsal-style offense in the goalscoring department.

The Bianconeri's biggest fear is a matchup against an underrated team that could assume the role of underdog. Of the available opponents, FC Porto stand out as the team Juventus will wish to avoid.

But the Italian giants shouldn't be scared of anyone. Not Galatasaray, whose home ground will be one of the most difficult places any team could visit. Not Arsenal, who could have climbed out of their slump by the time competition resumes. Not even Real Madrid, whose big stars lack the kind of discipline and comradery that make Juventus such a well-oiled machine.

After the draw has taken place, writers will flood the Internet with articles, analysing every possible matchup. We'll talk about chemistry, key battles on the pitch and how the January transfer window will influence every team.

But right now, none of that is relevant. The only thing you should know is this: It doesn't matter which team the Bianconeri will face when competition resumes. Juventus will be ready.


Be sure to check Bleacher Report for instant analysis of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 draw!