This is the second of Michelle Bonsu’s three part inspection of Serie A’s Champions League hopefuls. Yesterday, Michelle looked at Napoli, check back tomorrow when she will be concluding the series by looking at AC Milan.
For many Bianconeri fans, the Juventus vs. Copenhagen tie on 17 September must have felt like a serious case of some bad déjà vu. Last season, Juventus were held a to a 1-1 draw by Danish minnows Norsdjaelland in the group stages, and in fact, were the only side that the Danish outfit were able to actually get a point against. Copenhagen opened the scoring in the 14th minute through Nicolai Jørgensen, but the Bianconeri, though not through any lack of trying goalkeeper Johan Wiland had to come up big time and time again to keep the Scudetto winners at bay, struggled to gain a foothold.
Juventus were finally able to grab an equalizer in the 54th minute after Carlos Tevez set up Fabio Quagliarella, by dummying a pass from Frederico Peluso, but despite repeatedly hammering away at their opponents, la Vecchia Signora were unable to break down their tough opponents, who despite keeping an air-tight defense, weren’t content to sit back and park the bus either, attempting on several occasions to try to grab a winner. This was obviously indicative of a side that wasn’t lacking in confidence and felt that they had what it took to earn all three points against Antonio Conte’s side.
Last year, the Bianconeri drew first their away match to Chelsea before following it up with a one-all draw at home to Ukrainian outfit Shakhtar. Sure, they could be forgiven last year because it was their first return to European continental football since their disappointing runs in the Champions and Europa League two seasons prior for such a slow start in the group stages. And, besides, they made it to the quarter-finals before being knocked out 4-0 on aggregate by eventual winners Bayern Munich—certainly not such a bad thing considering another more seasoned side was walloped 7-0 by die Roten.
But after the Bayern fixture, Antonio Conte compared his side to a work in progress, notably a skyscraper and admitted that they had quite a way to go to catch up to Europe’s elite. Hence, given the often ineptitude and frustrating inefficiency of their attack up front, they attempted to remedy this by acquiring some new blood this summer.
In similar fashion to last year, Juventus again ended up drawing their first home match, this time with Turkish side Galatasaray, 2-2. The Bianconeri were a goal down for over a third of the game after a comedy of errors at the back involving Leonardo Bonucci and Gianluigi Buffon gifted Didier Drogba a much needed goal for the visitors (who were humiliated 6-1 at home by Real Madrid in their opening day fixture).
There’s an old Latin saying that loosely translates as “Fortune favours the brave” and indeed, Juventus who were suddenly jolted into action following going 1-0 down, attempted to rally past a resolute Galatasary defence, who were certainly hell-bent on escaping with all three points given their poor result in their opening fixture. As a result, Conte opted to finally switch things up with the introduction of Llorente; who nearly equalized shortly after his 68th minute introduction. And, finally, fortune finally showed her hand when Juventus were given a penalty following a stupid foul by midfielder Nordin Amrabat, which Arturo Vidal had no difficulty converting to pull his side back level with 12 minutes remaining.
The mythical Roman goddess appeared to have more in store for Juventus after Quagliarella, who had earned his side the penalty connected with Andrea Pirlo’s cross on a platter and nodded his side into a 2-1 lead with just a mere 180 seconds remaining, and it really appeared that the Bianconeri had overcome their previous hoodoo last season and were coasting to four points in their group.
Yet, it’s also said that that same Fortuna is fickle and about a minute later, Juventus stadium had fallen silent. Drogba, who had opened the scoring for his side, now had turned provider as he set up Umut Bulut, who was just left to hang out completely unmarked as if he were just going for a casual evening stroll, and of course, had plenty of time to tee up his shot to fire past Buffon and ensure that Roberto Mancini’s new team escaped with a point.
So now, two points, two games. It’s not surprising that Conte conceded that his side had quite a bit of work ahead of them, as they will now have to face off against a rampant Los Blancos, who so far have outscored their opponents, 10-1, with Cristiano Ronaldo providing 50% of his team’s goals so far. To be honest, they should be level on points with Real Madrid, or at the very least, only two behind on four. However, thanks to lack of precision against Copenhagen (a side that looks likely to be everyone’s punching bag) and poor defensive work against Galatasaray, they’ve now put themselves in a position that they have to get at least four points from their back-to-back clashes with Carlo Ancelotti’s troops; something that given their performance so far doesn’t seem a certainty in the least.
Conte had stated that after their loss to Bayern that “if Bayern were like a skyscraper, we’re about a third of the way there”. And while of the three Serie A sides in the Champions League this season, the Bianconeri’s performance by no means has been the worst, in all honesty, judging their showings over their past two fixtures they certainly have way more to go than just two-thirds of that way if they want to improve on their debut run from last season.