[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n Tuesday, February 24th, Juventus will take to the pitch with several objectives in mind. First, to maintain their impressive unbeaten record at home, which stretches back to January 2013 (in Serie A) and April 2013 (in European competition). Second, to make amends for their disappointing European campaign last season which saw them dumped out of the Champions League and unable to make the Europa League final played in their own stadium. And finally, as Italy’s sole side remaining in the continent’s premier competition, to at the very least put on a good show and restore some of that pride in calcio that has been waning over the past seasons.
Domestically, Juventus are simply unstoppable and untouchable at the moment. Despite Roma and Napoli’s valiant attempts, the Bianconeri are still far ahead of the other sides in Italian football’s top flight. Last season saw them rack up a record-setting 102 points, with the Giallorossi finishing in a distant second with 85 points. The third-placed Partenopei were thirteen points behind Rudi Garcia’s men, and a gaping 24 points behind Juventus with 78.
Whilst dominance is all well and good, a lack of real competition has not benefited the reigning Scudetto champions. The Turin giant’s fans are well aware of their side’s frustrating inability to replicate this same form on the bigger stage, leading one notable Italian publication to slate them as “lions in Italy, but lambs in Europe” last season. To be fair, due to being consigned to Serie B, followed by a disappointing few seasons, Juventus are only starting to make their way back into the Champions League.
Their first appearance after this turbulent time was during the 2012-2013 campaign, where they had an overall impressive campaign, thrashing reigning champions Chelsea 3-0 in Turin and making it to the quarter-finals before being dispatched by eventual winners Bayern Munich.
However, their second appearance was nothing short of embarrassing. Simply put, in order to be taken seriously as the European force they aspire to be, Juventus need to be able to demonstrate they can battle it out at the highest level, which means progressing in the continent’s premier competition.
In this season’s group stages, they were solid, but by no means spectacular. A win over Malmö was followed by two losses. Whilst the defeat to Atlético Madrid was not entirely surprising, their subsequent negative result against Greek outfit Olympiacos had fans fearing that they would face another early exit. Their 10 points, just one ahead of the Greeks, helped them uncomfortably squeak through as runners-up behind los Rojiblancos. Yet, their upcoming opponent is one that that old and tired statement “appearances can be deceiving” will certainly apply.
If Juventus are comfortably cruising along towards a fourth straight Scudetto, Borussia Dortmund have had nothing short of a nightmare in the Bundesliga. With Die Roten basically owning German football, Jürgen Klopp’s plucky side, who won the domestic title in 2011 and 2012, were Champions League finalists in 2013 and finished second in the league in 2014 have experienced a shocking decline that not even the most avid Bundesliga fan could have predicted. Granted, it is no easy task to remain competitive if one of your rivals keeps acquiring your top players, but no one would have anticipated how badly they would struggle this season.
At one point, Die Schwarzgelben were actually sitting dead last in the league, with relegation becoming a frightening possibility. Thanks to a crucial series of wins, they have now moved up into tenth place. Dortmund fans, though, must be truly perplexed by their team this season. Whilst they have floundered in the league, they have been a whole other squad in Europe, finishing as group leaders ahead of Arsenal. Some may even wonder if, given that the league title was already a foregone conclusion once the season started they have instead opted to throw all their resources into going as far in the Champions League as feasible.
Younger fans certainly will not recall, but older Juventus and Dortmund followers will definitely remember May 28, 1997. For one side, that was their first – and only to date – Champions League win. For the other, it must have felt like bitter payback from the 1993 UEFA Cup final, in which they humiliated their opponents 6-1 on aggregate. No players from either those sides will take to the pitch this Tuesday, and la Vecchia Signora has not had another meeting with Die Borussen until now.
Nearly 18 years later, it will be a whole new affair all together, but the 22 men who will take to the pitch will certainly have been apprised of the history between the two sides. Will Dortmund be the first team since – ironically, perhaps – Bayern Munich to depart the hallowed Juventus Stadium with a win? Or will Juventus, now under the tutelage of Massimiliano Allegri, strike first blood in their quest to make amends and plant one foot firmly in the quarter-finals?
Hopefully, we will be granted an answer after 90-plus minutes of action on Tuesday.
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