Juventus: Are the Old Lady Good Enough to Win the Champions League?
Michel Platini is no stranger to dropping disparaging comments about English football, but the UEFA president has provoked the ire of Scottish football this week by claiming Celtic have no chance of beating his former employer Juventus in the Champions League Round of 16.
Speaking at the Globe Soccer Awards in Dubai, the Frenchman said (via The Daily Record):
If we look at the Champions League draw, it's clear that Juventus are already through to the quarter finals.
Given Celtic's impressive record in the competition this season—including a famous defeat of Barcelona—and the fact that the head of Europe's football governing body should at least give the facade of being neutral, the comments have caused outrage in Scotland.
Even if Mr Platini's memory does not stretch back as far the evening of Halloween 2001—where Martin O'Neill's Bhoys enjoyed an epic 4-3 victory over their Turin rivals—he also added that Juve are not strong enough to win their first European Cup since 2003.
A certain outspoken Portuguese manager, however, is among those who believe Juventus can triumph in Europe this season.
After his Real Madrid side were drawn against Manchester Utd, Jose Mourinho told Italian newspaper Tuttosport (via tribalfootball.com) that he "fears" Juventus.
The fact that they lack a star striker at the top of Europe's scoring charts, he reasons, is an indication that goals can come from anywhere. He added that Antonio Conte's side remind him of his Porto side that won the competition in 2004. High praise indeed.
Mou is right to fear Juve's strength across the park. Up front, Mirko Vučinić, Seb Giovinco and Fabio Quagliarella have scored 6 Champions League goals in this campaign. Arturo Vidal, Caludio Marchisio and Leonardo Bonucci have provided a further five. Only Paris Saint-Germain finished the group stage with a better goal difference.
Juve are one of few European sides that use a 3-5-2 formation with wing backs, so the likes of Stephan Lichtsteiner, Mauricio Isla and Kwadwo Asamoah are able to control the flanks and provide extra threat to opposing defences.
As B/R's Adrian Agius notes, Juve's central midfield of Arturo Vidal, Claudio Marchisio and the majestic Andrea Pirlo is one of the best in the world.
Equally, Juventus' defense is nothing to be sniffed at. They let in just four goals in this season's group stage—only PSG conceded fewer—and with nine clean sheets and eleven conceded goals in Serie A in this campaign, the Italians have the second best domestic defense in Europe.
They may be without defensive rock Giorgio Chiellini for the Celtic matches, but they have already proven they can cope in his absence.
Juve's enviable home form will also be of concern for visiting European sides. Since it opened in 2011, The Old Lady have lost only once at Juventus Stadium: their shock 3-1 defeat at the hands of Internazionale in November.
In three Champions League games at home this season, they have scored 7 times and conceded just once, in their draw with Shakhtar Donetsk. The Ukrainians, incidentally, are probably the only other side in Europe who can boast such impressive home form.
Juve's exceptional form since moving into their new home virtually coincides with the reign of manager Antonio Conte, who has now returned from his sideline ban. Conte won the Champions League with Juventus as a player in 1996, and was part of a team that finished as runners-up in 1997, 1998 and 2003.
Three silver medals will surely give Conte all the experience—and yearning—he needs to win this competition as a manager.
But while there is a strong case for Juventus' imminent triumph in Europe—and president Andrea Agnelli seems to be treating the Champions League as his top priority—Michel Platini's assessment may ultimately be correct.
The Italians have the nous and skill to defeat Celtic, but it is hard to see either Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund being outclassed by a side from Serie A (which is arguably a weaker league since Juventus last appeared in the upper echelons of the Champions League).
Understandably, Barcelona and Real Madrid also have shorter odds to lift the European Cup. Mourinho may fear Juventus, but he is throwing all his eggs in the European basket this season and it is difficult to see him faltering to the Italians (if they meet).
Conte's side have the momentum, tactics and personnel to make a big impact in the Champions League knockout stages in this season, but victory at Wembley this May would be quite surprising.
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