At the beginning of last season, I wrote an article titled "Juventus will win the Serie A this year and the Champions League next year". I for one will admit that at the time it seemed a ridiculously audacious article to write. I mean, all you had to do was look at Juventus at the time to see they were in tatters. The Bianconeri had just come out of a season where they finished seventh in the league, had sacked several coaches and had players moving around left, right and centre.
However, just a handful of matches into the 2011-12 Italian Serie A it had all became clear. Antonio Conte's Juventus was not like the Juventus who were still recovering from the consequences of Calciopoli.
They were something more.
And Juventus tifosi everywhere will tell you that Conte's first match in charge of Juventus against Parma in the new Juventus Stadium was something special. All of a sudden, there was this belief that Juventus were back—a belief that, in reality, was never truly realised since relegation to Serie B.
To this day I cannot tell you whether it was the new coach, the new roster, the new stadium or new management. Whatever it was, Juventus stormed home to take home the Scudetto—undefeated...Europe was now on the agenda.
There is no denying that not many people expected Juventus to qualify out of their Champions League group, let alone come out undefeated with the best defensive record in the competition...after all, how could Chelsea possibly get knocked out. And now, after a 3-0 demolition of Celtic at Parkhead, it seems Juventus are shaping up as potential finalists in everyone's books.
Going back on my words of roughly one-and-a-half years ago, I would think it naive to say Juventus have this year's UCL wrapped up, simply because, Juventus aren't the best team in this year's competition—Barcelona are. And I believe at this current point, the Bianconeri could deal with any side left in Europe except Tito Vilanova's squad—more on those potential match-ups as the competition progresses.
The statistics of this year's competition (via Whoscored) probably serve as an indication that The Old Lady isn't quite at the level of Barca just yet (adjusted to group stage matches only):
Average possession per game (%)
Average pass succession rate (%)
Average shots per match
Average dribbles per game
Average interceptions per game
Statistically and tactically, Juventus have a better defensive capability than Barcelona. Despite playing with three at the back, Juventus actually have one of the strongest backlines in all of Europe, testament to how well organised the Bianconeri are in general.
However, what Barcelona may lack in brute strength, they make up for in attack...and the thing with Barca is, they can attack from anywhere on the pitch. It is why Vilanova's side doesn't need a brickwall-like defence. Their mobility at the back serves them well, whilst they may concede a few more, they create much more.
Possession wise, the La Liga leaders are unbeatable at 75.5 percent. Surprisingly, Juve's possession statistics in this year's competition are quite low at 48.4 percent, especially considering just how good Conte's side have played up until this point. It isn't testament to the quality of their midfield either, with Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal pulling the strings to great effect.
It's hard to really compare anything to the functionality of Sergio Busquets, Andre Iniesta and Xavi. They are simply phenomenal when played together. When we take a closer look however, what we notice is that both the Italian's and Spanish's middle three are based on a similar principle.
That is, you have your playmaker—in Xavi and Pirlo—your creative spark—in Iniesta and Marchisio—and you have your engine room—in Busquets and Vidal. It's an interesting, but extremely effective method of approach and is why Juve's midfield is indeed Barcelona's closest rival.
But whilst Conte's midfield scores a majority of Juventus' goals, Barcelona's midfield creates them. It is here where the team from Catalonia really takes the cake though...upfront.
Juventus lack a world class forward, that's no secret, and in the big matches, this glaring shortage will come to the surface. Lionel Messi is—of course—in a league of his own and it is the ability Barca have to rely on him to deliver when they need them most which sets them apart from Juventus and indeed the rest of the world.
Sure, the Bianconeri find the back of the net sufficiently, but an over-reliance of goals from midfield isn't necessarily the best thing for a side shaping up as one of the favourites to bring the Champions League trophy back to Turin.
With Juventus all but guaranteed a passage through to the quarter finals of the UCL, a Juve-Barca tie is still on the cards. Speaking from the perspective of a Bianconeri fan, that particular tie can wait until the final, because ultimately, Barcelona are the best side in all of Europe...but Juventus aren't that far behind.
Where do you think Juventus stand in a European context at this point in time?