Paulo Dybala exited the Juventus Stadium in April with his head held high. He had truly introduced himself on the European stage, scoring twice to give Juventus a 3-0 win over giants Barcelona.
Juve gave the complete performance, neutralising the Blaugrana’s MSN attack and tearing them to shreds at the back. The second leg at Camp Nou ended goalless and that meant the Bianconeri were never in danger of losing their command of the tie.
Fast forward four months, the sly grin of Il Gladiatore – Francesco Totti – directed toward Gigi Buffon as he drew Barcelona in Juve’s Champions League group. A lot has changed since they last crossed paths.
It’s true the ageless Buffon is still between the sticks, with Giorgio Chiellini and Alex Sandro in defence. Leonardo Bonucci has moved on to Milan and Dani Alves jumped ship to Paris Saint-Germain, where his new teammate is ex-Barcelona hero Neymar.
Undoubtedly, the Blaugrana have lost more over the summer, failing to adequately replace Neymar after pursuing Philippe Coutinho, Lorenzo Insigne and other targets for months.
Aside from those two exits, the Juventus starting XI remains similar to fans of Serie A. If anything, you could even argue their defence is now stronger. Stephan Lichtsteiner has been left off the Champions League roster, so it’s down to Mattia De Sciglio or Benedikt Howedes to fill the gap. Daniele Rugani also now has the opportunity to have more game time with Bonucci out of the picture. It’s a chance for the young man to truly shine.
The middle of the park has been bolstered by the arrival of Blaise Matuidi from Paris Saint-Germain, versatile Federico Bernardeschi and exciting winger Douglas Costa. Matuidi copped a lot of criticism from some fans, but the experienced France international was a shrewd buy who is in his prime. With Sami Khedira and Claudio Marchisio injured, he’ll be given the keys to that midfield.
Bayern Munich’s Douglas Costa decided Juventus were the right club to take his career to another level. An almost perfect fit for the Brazilian is Max Allegri’s 4-2-3-1 or even 4-3-3 formation, allowing him to cut inside as well as deliver the assists to the usual men up front.
The forwards, Dybala, Mandzukic and Gonzalo Higuain, are all still leading the line and considered by some to be the best trio in Serie A. Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon might argue with that, but the increasing value of Dybala alone is enough to make defenders’ boots quake. La Joya has embraced the responsibility of the Number 10 jersey and been a shining light so far this season.
This campaign for Juventus is not about replicating the past. Scudetto aside, is mirroring their exploits in the Champions League a success? Of course not. Juventus are no weaker than they were when they faced Real Madrid in Cardiff, and apart from a couple of players, are no different at a first glance from their victory over Barcelona.
Their signings have been well received – nothing spectacular – just what they needed. The Old Lady may have a somewhat different feel from 2016-17, but that is the idea. Allegri is constantly evolving his side and has been since the moment he inherited Antonio Conte’s squad.