Wednesday night’s Champions League win over Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley kept Juventus’ dreams of winning European football’s premier club competition for a third time alive. With Max Allegri’s team having failed to take an aggregate lead into the second leg in London, it is fair to say they began the evening in the unfamiliar position of slight underdogs to progress to the last eight.
And despite not playing particularly well on the night, the Old Lady showed admirable resilience and togetherness against a high-quality Spurs outfit – before striking twice when it really mattered and defending stoutly for the remainder of the contest. As Giorgio Chiellini pointed out post-match, experience ultimately won through.
Following their narrow escape from what was easily the most closely-fought completed tie of the Round of 16 so far, the Serie A champions now have some breathing space in their quest for club football’s biggest trophy. They can put their feet up, take in the four remaining second legs over the course of the next week, before looking forward to next Friday’s quarter-final draw.
Juve have been here before. For the third time in four seasons under Allegri, the Bianconeri have reached the middle of March with their aspirations on all three fronts still intact. With 12 games of the Serie A season remaining, they are favourites to secure an historic seventh straight Scudetto ahead of Napoli, while a Coppa Italia final date with Milan is also pencilled in for early May.
Remarkably, Allegri still boasts a 100 per cent haul of major domestic trophies since arriving as Old Lady boss in the summer of 2014 – having won every Scudetto and Coppa Italia available during his tenure so far. It is an incredible record for the Tuscan tactician, who has made a complete mockery of initial scepticism of his appointment in the subsequent three-and-a-half years. Although anything can happen in a one-off final, the smart money would be on Juve wrapping up a fourth consecutive domestic double.
However, as has been the case ever since Antonio Conte restored Juve as calcio’s dominant force, what Bianconeri followers crave more than anything else is to be crowned European champions for a third time. And on paper at least, it appears a far tougher ask than at any point in Allegri’s reign for the Turin club to finally go one step further and complete a Treble after two near misses.
Holders Real Madrid appear to have a vice-like grip on the trophy they have won 12 times in total and three times in the last four years – including last season’s final against the Old Lady. Barcelona, if they can progress against Chelsea, and Bayern Munich will also present formidable obstacles to Juve’s hopes, but it is the renewed strength of the English clubs which means the playing field is far more fraught with dangerous opponents than in recent years gone by. Spurs, the side who pushed Juve so close on Wednesday, are only fourth in the Premier League, with Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool all remaining in the competition.
Another significant difference between Juve’s treble hunt this season and those of 2014-15 and 2016-17 could come in the form of a genuine Serie A title race. In years gone by, the Bianconeri have had the Scudetto all but sewn up heading into the closing weeks of the campaign, leaving them free to focus all their efforts on Champions League glory.
This time around, such has been the relentless extent of Napoli’s form that Allegri’s team have had to win their last 10 League matches just to hold the slenderest of advantages as the run-in approaches. Despite last week’s loss to Roma, if Maurizio Sarri’s side continue as they have been, they will force Juve to juggle domestic and European priorities in a way they have never had to before.
And yet, it would be foolish to write them off. In winning at Wembley, Juventus once more demonstrated their supreme mentality and invaluable ability to emerge victorious even when not at their best. That hunger to win that, by their own admission, was missing in the early part of the season is back and here to stay as the stakes continue to rise.
Though it is against the odds, two Champions League final appearances in the past three years would suggest Allegri is on the right track to finally bring an end to 22 years of hurt in the competition. If anyone can do it, the former Milan Coach can.