Scott Fleming studies Juventus’ chances of Champions League progression after their rout of Nordsjaelland.
There couldn't have been a bigger question mark hanging over the Juventus Stadium last night if the Riddler had made it his new lair. In the aftermath of their first defeat in 49 games last Saturday, it felt as if Juve were guests on the Jerry Springer show, their issues being painfully raked over in public.
Angelo Alessio was blamed for not being Antonio Conte. Nicklas Bendtner was blamed for not being the fabled top player. And director general Beppe Marotta was accused of being a sarcastic so-and-so by Inter boss Andrea Stramaccioni.
One loss wouldn't constitute a crisis anywhere else in the world, but this is Turin, where they'd forgotten what defeat looked like. The Juventus Stadium had never witnessed one. It was easy to look at Saturday's result and suddenly see the entire season through a prism of negativity, to perceive the narrow victories over Bologna, Catania and Siena as lucky, not gritty.
Against that backdrop of abrupt insecurity, the Bianconeri could have done with a run of the mill League match to get back into the groove, but instead they were plunged right into one of the campaign's biggest games, and confronted with another remarkable record. Only this was one they had no interest in continuing.
Not since August 2010 had Juventus won a European fixture. You had to go back even further, to November 2009, to find their last Champions League victory.
Granted, the opposition were hardly daunting. But in the reverse fixture in Copenhagen, Nordsjaelland had proved they were not the duds the six goals they conceded to Shakhtar Donetsk and Chelsea without reply had suggested.
The nerves were washed away within 23 minutes however, by a chariot charge from midfield lieutenants Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal. Marchisio flashed a low Mauricio Isla cross into the net and Vidal – so often the embodiment of Juve's spirit – somehow managed to score with a sliding tackle.
By the time Sebastian Giovinco whipped in a lovely third La Vecchia Signora were enjoying handing out their second hiding of the season, Zdenek Zeman's Roma being the other victims. Substitute Fabio Quagliarella nodded in a fourth late on and with Chelsea and Shakhtar drawing 2-2 in London, it looked like being a perfect night for Conte and co.
Until Victor Moses struck in the 94th minute at Stamford Bridge that is. Little wonder Conte apparently exploded into rage when he heard someone celebrating the goal in the Press room. His side are now left needing to take four points from their last two games, at home to tournament holders Chelsea, and away to a formidable Shakhtar side that ran them ragged at times in Turin, to qualify for the last 16.
The claims that Juve could actually be in contention to win the Champions League this season always seemed excessive, but what did seem certain was that this was a side that could be relied upon to uphold the reputation of Italian football. And with only two Serie A representatives in Europe's top club competition this year, boy did we need them to.
The prospect of their elimination at the group stage is therefore a frightening one. But what Conte's side proved last night, for the umpteenth time during this tenure, is that they can deliver under pressure. Maybe it’s Chelsea and Shakhtar who should be frightened...
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