Juventus vs. Benfica: Lessons to Be Learned for Antonio Conte's Men

Adam DigbyFeatured ColumnistMay 2, 2014

Juventus forward Fernando Llorente, right, touches his head during the Europa League semifinal second leg soccer match between Juventus and Benfica at the Juventus stadium, in Turin, Italy, Thursday, May 1, 2014. (AP Photo/ Massimo Pinca)
Massimo Pinca/Associated Press

The idea of playing in a European final in their own stadium had further motivated Juventus, determined to lift the trophy in familiar surroundings and deliver some long-overdue continental silverware. Not since their Champions League triumph in 1996 had they managed such a feat, despite finishing as runners-up three times in the intervening years.

While they will lament their elimination at the hands of Benfica, the thought that 2013-14 has been anything other than a success for the Bianconeri is almost laughable. Roma need to take all three points against Catania on Sunday to prevent the Turin giants from winning the league title, and even if they do they will only be prolonging Juventus' inevitable league triumph.

Victory over Atalanta on Monday will secure the Serie A crown, Juve lifting it for a third consecutive time, a feat they have only managed once in their history. That was way back in the 1930s, meaning Antonio Conte will have already achieved something neither Giovanni Trapattoni nor Marcello Lippi managed during their trophy-laden years with the club.

With three matches remaining, Juventus are also just five points short of setting a new record on the peninsula, aiming to top the 97 won by Roberto Mancini’s Inter in 2006-07. The team has continued to evolve under the current coach, the players available to him now vastly improved from his first season in charge.

Supporters and observers demand and expect La Madama to contest the latter stages of European football’s elite competition, but it must be remembered that this is only his third year in the job. Even more important is that it is only the second campaign of his career where he has needed to balance domestic and continental obligations.

That Conte has followed last season’s Champions League quarter final exit with a European semi-final this time around shows he too is improving. Questions remain over his choice of formation, with the 3-5-2 decried as unsuited to facing the differing styles across Europe, yet it is hard to blame the shape of the team for Thursday night’s 0-0 draw.

Marco Vasini/Associated Press

His post-match press conference was littered with complaints, but Conte did make one extremely salient point after the final whistle. “They have international experience and showed it tonight,” he told reporters (h/t Football Italia), a nod to the fact Benfica finished runners-up in this competition last season.

Juventus will enter next season with similar insight into what is required of them at the highest level, and they will rightly be expected to contend much longer in the Champions League. This year’s group-stage exit was—no matter the circumstances—hugely disappointing, with this all-conquering side expected to exert similar dominance outside of Italy.

To do so they may yet need one more big-name signing, with the idea of a pacey attacking player such as Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez perhaps at the forefront of that thinking. That would allow the coach to vary his tactics, finding gaps even against a team as resolute as Benfica were here in Turin.

Paris Saint-Germain’s Jeremy Menez has also been linked with the club, according to Football Italia, while their co-ownership in Sassuolo starlet Domenico Berardi hints at the club management seeing the need for that same type of player. Delivering one (or even two) of those should be Beppe Marotta’s main priority this summer, with the squad clearly strong in almost every other area.

They will also benefit from having their star forward enjoying a summer off, with Argentina continuing to ignore the claims of Carlos Tevez for a place in Brazil this summer. The No. 10 has been a revelation in his first season with the club, weighing in with 21 goals and eight assists in all competitions.

Strike partner Fernando Llorente struggled in the early part of the season, taking until November to earn a regular place in the Juventus side. But he has flourished since, adding 15 goals of his own and forming and excellent tandem with Tevez, which bodes well for next season.

Their Europa League exit may have been disappointing, but the experience, combined with having Tevez and Llorente together and another attacking option to come, should make 2014-15 year to remember for Juventus.