Three years away from the top. Three years without hearing the famous Champions League anthem. Three years since Bayern Munich humiliated Juventus and dumped them out of the competition. In the meantime there have been significant transformations at Vinovo, from Presidential to coaching changes, further on-field disappointment to recent success.
Juve will start with a bang – a trip to Stamford Bridge to face defending champions Chelsea. Long before Sunday’s enthralling victory at Genoa, the continental return was on their mind. Captain Gianluigi Buffon spoke of the squad’s anticipation earlier in the campaign. “We speak about the Champions League in the dressing room because, after three years, we finally have the opportunity to figure on the European scene.”
On Friday he added: “For so many Tuesday and Wednesday nights I was forced to watch this tournament from my couch. I have a nice television, but being on the field is another matter... I missed it and so did my teammates, but these two seasons out were good for us, because now we’ll fight for every last drop of sweat in each game.” Antonio Conte would claim “this is the right place for a club that, for tradition and results, has made and continues to make history in Italian football and beyond.”
“We respect everyone but fear no one. We want to give our all in the Champions League and we can’t wait to get going,” said future captain Claudio Marchisio. After two seasons away, just how far can Juve go? Drawn against Chelsea, Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk and the unknown quantity of Danish champions Nordsjaelland, their first aim, Andrea Barzagli says, is knock-out phase qualification. “We are back and want to show we’re up to the standard of the competition by making it out of our group.”
Should Juve achieve that initial goal anything is possible from that point forward. Just ask Roberto Di Matteo. Former players Alessio Tacchinardi, Sergio Porrini, Gianluca Vialli and Angelo Di Livio have all praised Juventus and believe they can go far. As Buffon noted, playing for Juve means “you have the ambition and aspirations to try to win everything” and while they are in it to win it, showing they can once again compete with the best will also be an objective.
Key figures such as Buffon and Andrea Pirlo are veterans of this competition, however as a unit Juventus lack European experience. Both Coaches – Conte and matchday leader Massimo Carrera – were triumphant as players with the Bianconeri in 1995-96, but this too represents a new challenge. And while Buffon does not believe the midweek additions to the calendar will an issue, ensuring the players are fit and ready for the European showdowns will be critical. It will require rotation as at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris last weekend.
Juve have been handed a baptism of fire. “Playing in England always has a certain appeal and we’ll step into an electric atmosphere at Stamford Bridge,” noted Conte after the group stage draw. In 2008-09 the Bianconeri met Chelsea and were beaten 1-0 in London before a 2-2 home draw ensured elimination in the Round of 16. That Didier Drogba influenced defeat means their terrible record on English soil stands at two wins – against Aston Villa in 1982-83 and Manchester United in 1996-97 – in 11 European Cup/Champions League encounters. Ciro Immobile worried Juve’s sluggish central defence on Sunday with his pace and movement, something they have struggled with before in England and will need to be aware of tonight.
Three points is their aim, but to start a campaign away to the defending champions is never easy. The Old Lady then battles Shakhtar at the Juventus Stadium before dual meetings with Nordsjaelland. Therefore, taking at least a point from their opening clash will create a platform for a club eager to leave its mark on the Champions League this season.
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