After Thursday’s UEFA Champions League draw for the Group Stages, Juventus know their opponents in their latest European campaign. They were drawn in Group A along with Bayern Munchen, FC Girondins de Bordeaux, and Maccabi Haifa FC. Adamo Digby analyses the Bianconeri’s chances and takes a look at the group in detail.
Let's deal with Haifa first. A 5-1 aggregate win over FC Salzburg saw the Israeli team through to the group stages for the second time, having previously qualified in 2002. That season saw them defeat Manchester United 3-0, although United rested most regulars as they had already won the group. Even so, Ciro Ferrara must ensure his team take maximum points in the two games, particularly as they are played back-to-back. At the same time, Bordeaux and Munchen will play out two tough ties, and Juventus must take full advantage.
Being in the second set of seeds meant Juventus would definitely draw one of European Football’s giants, and in avoiding the four English clubs, as well as Barcelona, they can be considered fortunate. Bayern are seemingly in a bad moment, with results in the early part of their season not going particularly well.
The two teams have met only four times, all in the group stages of the Champions League, in 2004 and 2005, the Bianconeri holding a 3-1 advantage. Looking at how they match up is intriguing. Bayern’s strength is in the wide areas of midfield, where Arjen Robben joins Schweinsteiger and Ribery to form a potent threat. Juve’s major weakness this term, despite the headline signings, is at fullback. Zebina, Grygera, Molinaro and De Ceglie will not be relishing the prospective match-ups.
Conversely, Juve’s main focus of attack is central, through Diego and the four forwards at Ciro Ferrara’s disposal. The Bayern central defence is ironically where they have most concern, with Lucio’s departure to Inter leaving a hole they are struggling to fill. The two games may be decided, not by the big name players, but by which role player steps up to the challenge. A good performance by Juve’s full backs or Bayern’s central defence might just swing the ties in their teams favour.
During the Bayern games, Ciro Ferrara will be reminded of his last European campaign as a player, having played in the games mentioned earlier. When they face French Champions Bordeaux, much older memories will return. Their coach, Laurent Blanc, was a Napoli teammate of Ferrara and Fabio Cannavaro, back in 1992.
Bordeaux performed well last season, breaking Lyon’s seven-year hold on Ligue Un. Their attacking trident of Fernando Cavenaghi, Marouane Chamakh, and Yoann Gourcuff remain, somewhat surprisingly, intact. Despite much touted interest in all three this summer, if all three are still Bordeaux players when the transfer window shuts, then they have the ability to upset Juve and Bayern.
The two games will come down to Bordeaux's ability to cope with the attacking threat posed by Juventus. With a well drilled defence, and the added protection of Melo and Sissoko, Juventus should be able to nullify the Bordeaux attack. As Lyon have proved when French teams are faced with Europe's elite, tactically they seem to come up short. This is down to their domestic league being weaker, and when you add Bordeaux's lack of experience at this level, I strongly believe Juventus will have too much firepower.
Overall, the group is well balanced with three tough away days for Juventus. Gaining maximum points in Turin will make those games easier, so home form is, as always, vital. Appraising Juve’s chances, I would have to say that the draw has been kind.
With all due respect to Bordeaux, Munchen, and Haifa, if Juventus are to mount a serious assault on the Champions League this season, then far sterner challenges await. It is now up to coach Ciro Ferrara and his players to set a marker down and prove that the Old Lady still has plenty to offer.