How Juventus fares in the Europa League will depend on how seriously Antoino Conte takes the competition.
It's been a little less than a week since Juventus was controversially and humiliatingly eliminated from the UEFA Champions League.
Whether the game should have been started at all last Tuesday—and whether it should have been resumed on Wednesday on a blasted pitch that wasn't worthy of an amateur match—are discussions for another day. The present fact is this: Juve will be playing the rest of their European campaign on Thursdays in the Europa League.
As the Champions League got bigger and bigger in stature, Italian clubs began ignoring this competition more and more. That's a shame, since Italian clubs have won it more often—nine times, to be exact—than any other country.
But Juventus needs to give more than cursory attention to the Europa League this year. They are easily one of the best teams in the current draw on paper, and could win the whole thing if they try.
Let's look at five reasons why Antonio Conte needs to give the Europa League the attention it deserves.
Italy has only had a maximum of three teams in the Champions League draw the last two years, in part because of poor performances in the Europa League.
One of the biggest reasons that Italy dropped below Germany in the UEFA coefficient rankings three years ago—losing a Champions League spot in the process—was because of Italy's lackluster performance in the Europa League.
Despite being the second tier of European competition, Europa League games still count for the exact same in the coefficient rankings as Champions League games do. While that is laughable and needs to be changed, the fact of the matter is that it has killed the Serie A in these rankings.
As mentioned before, Italian clubs have tended to view Europa League competition as a distraction in recent years. That attitude of sending their second XI out on Thursdays has lost them valuable ranking points as teams from Germany, France and Portugal sent out their best and advanced at their expense.
How badly have Italian clubs neglected the Europa League? Lazio's trip to the quarterfinals last year was the first time in the Europa League era that a Serie A team had made the quarterfinals, as well as the first time that two Italian teams had made the Round of 16. Before that, the last time two Italian teams had reached the Round of 16 was the 2005-06 UEFA Cup, when Roma, Udinese and Palermo all went—none of them making the quarters. The last time a team advanced beyond the quarters was 2007-08, when Fiorentina was eliminated by Rangers in the semi-final on penalty kicks.
While blame for some of Serie A's poor performances can be traced to Calciopoli, which put the likes of Livorno in the 2006-07 tournament, indifference is the main cause.
With four strong Italian teams in the competition's knockout stage, there is a chance for serious points to be racked up. While Monday's draw ensured that Juve and Fiorentina would play each other should they advance, Serie A can still supply up to three quarter-finalists. Apart from the two points each win gives the Serie A's coefficient, each team would get a bonus point for reaching the quarterfinal, semifinal and final.
Juve is the best out of the Italian teams in the competition, and therefore the best equipped to go deep and reap the points. If Conte is to raise the profile of Italian soccer as a whole—and his team with it—it will be in his best interests to send out his best side and try to get through to the end.
David Luiz, Ramires and Oscar pose with the Europa League trophy after their victory in the 2013 final.
A trophy is a trophy, no matter what.
Juve has had plenty of silverware to admire since Conte took over. They've won the last two scudetti and their accompanying Supercoppa titles. But Juve's fans want something more.
The Bianconeri haven't won a European trophy since their 1995-96 Champions League triumph. They're long overdue for some silverware from the continent.
Consolation prize though it may be, a trophy is a trophy, and Conte should be ready to give his fans a taste of continental glory for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Because only two Italian teams made the group stage last year, Juventus made more in combined broadcast fees and prize money than any other team in last year's Champions League—€65.3 million—despite being eliminated in the quarter-finals.
That money allowed them to make some good summer signings in Carlos Tevez (pictured) and Angelo Ogbonna and still come close to breaking even financially.
Their failure to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League will, according to Goal.com, cost them at least €30 million.
While the TV and prize money in the Europa League is substantially lower, a deep run into the tournament will at least make that fall a bit softer. Provided the fans show, the Round of 32 will even give them an extra set of gate receipts—an important factor for the only team in Italy to own their own ground.
Getting through to the Europa League's latter stages will help balance the sheets—and make it less likely that their Champions League failure will force them to do something drastic in next summer's transfer window.
Roberto Baggio cradles the UEFA Cup after spurring Juventus to their 6-1 aggregate win over Borussia Dortmund in the 1993 final.
Juventus is tied with Inter as the most successful team in the history of the UEFA Cup/Europa League. They have won the competition three times (1976-77, 1989-90 and 1992-93) and were runners up in 1994-95.
Granted, back then the UEFA Cup was much more exclusive and meant much more than the Europa League crown does now, but such a proud history is nothing to turn one's back on.
The Bianconeri have a proud tradition in this competition. For Juve to give that up would be a travesty, especially in light of their strength relative to the rest of the remaining field.
The Juventus Stadium will be the site of this season's final.
The final of this year's competition will be played at the Juventus Stadium in Turin. It's quite an honor for the three-year-old ground, and Juve now has the chance to lift a European trophy in front of their own fans.
After their humiliation in the Champions League, going to the Europa League final at home would repair some wounded pride and, like Chelsea's victory in the competition last year, show that the European campaign was not a total loss.
If the fans can't see their boys lifting the Champions League trophy, the least they will expect is for their team to win the consolation prize at home.
This, more than anything, could be the spur in Conte's side to field his best lineups on Thursday nights. To watch his team play at home in the final would be a delight, and put a bright cap on the season—especially if combined with domestic success at home.