Having seen an arguably superior Juventus side lose 3-1 to Barcelona in the 2015 Champions League Final, Massimiliano Allegri had to choose his words carefully after Friday’s last-eight draw in Nyon. So when the Coach was pressed on the tie at a Press Conference for Sunday’s Serie A game against Sampdoria, he did just that.
“I want to point out, and this is the last thing, that Juventus playing Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-final is not an extraordinary event,” he remarked. “It has to be normal. We have been in this position fairly regularly of late, we were just unlucky last year to get Bayern Munich in the draw straight away.”
Little may have been made of it, but Allegri had pulled off a masterstroke. Not only did he distance the Bianconeri from the unwelcome distraction of revenge by merely not mentioning it, he also emphasised his team’s stature as a continental heavyweight. Indeed, Juve have now reached the quarter-finals of Europe’s elite club competition in three of the previous five campaigns.
“We have Sampdoria, two games with Napoli and then Chievo,” added the former Milan boss. “It’ll be a fascinating match, but tomorrow is the most difficult of them all, because you don’t need to find motivation against Barcelona. Samp have beaten Roma, Milan and won the derby with Genoa.”
Juve ultimately beat Sampdoria 1-0 thanks to an early Juan Cuadrado goal, but Allegri’s assertion that the Blucerchiati were a tougher proposition than Barca was perfectly justified by the argument that motivation wouldn’t be needed for the Blaugrana. Granted, if the Old Lady can’t fire themselves up for such an encounter then it’s fair to say that they couldn’t for Samp.
And why shouldn’t Juve regard the tie as anything but normal? By adopting that very mindset, the Old Lady have got to where they are. Allegri admitted before the Berlin showpiece in 2015 that the Turin giants’ run to the Final was surprising, but two years on and their presence among Europe’s top eight sides should not be seen as extraordinary. With progress comes great expectation.
Yet the most telling soundbite was his reference to last season, when Juve were unfortunate to draw Bayern Munich in the last 16. Is Allegri implying that Barça will be any easier? Regardless of whether he is, the 49-year-old certainly made it clear that he was quietly confident about his table-toppers’ chances against the Catalans, who are still recovering from their euphoric comeback against Paris Saint-Germain.
While we all have seared in our minds the sight of that amazing Blaugrana 6-1 victory against all odds, we mustn’t forget how they got into that situation in the first place. You don’t get to make a great comeback without first falling well behind and Juve are definitely more organised than PSG.
This season’s order of play in the quarter-finals promises to rank among the best-ever, with Real Madrid and Bayern – managed by La Decima mastermind Carlo Ancelotti – also reigniting their rivalry, surprise packages Leicester City aiming for another Spanish scalp against runners-up Atletico Madrid and giant-slaying pair Borussia Dortmund and Monaco battling it out for a place in the final four.
However, Juve-Barça is as box office as it comes, even if Allegri doesn’t want to admit it. We can only hope that the Bianconeri will be able to play as good a game as their Coach can talk one, but the ex-Cagliari man is making all the right noises at this early stage.