With the pulse finally slowing and the draw for our next opponents to soon commence, it seems prudent for me to capture and share my calmer thoughts of our recent progress in the elite continental competition of the planet. Ideally, before we begin the count-down to the next major hurdle on our road to a possible majestic treble. An achievement to be respected and revered galactically, given not only our resources in comparison with the others who have made it to the last four, but also in regards to our steady journey back from the abyss when sinister misfortune befell the club. From those dark days we have truly recovered, yet some will only find agreement in this sentiment when we end the 21 year drought for the Champions League trophy.
Briefly, before I ponder the recent ties against Barcelona, I will offer a peek at the investments made for this current campaign by the four left standing :
Net Spend 16/17 season / Wage Bill (in EU)
Juve 18m/ 64m
Monaco 35m/ 24m
Atletico Madrid 43m/ 83m
Real Madrid -7m/ 143m
Which makes interesting reading, though it is fair to take into account that Real have invested hugely year upon year and last Summer they more than balanced the books in terms of transfer fees as they shifted a fair amount of quite valuable players to other pastures. As we can see, their wage budget is astronomical. No surprise on Monaco, who spent fairly deeply and yet brought players in keen on moving up a level; young hungry talents, who we now see Jardim has playing exceptionally well. No doubt they will lose a few in the Summer, Mbapp for one, perhaps others, but they will be able to reinvest and will assuredly find themselves once again in the Champions league.
Back to Juve…
I was pleased, and surprised by the result of the second leg of the Barca tie. We performed well in every area of the field with nobody failing to show. As was to be expected, the home side huffed and puffed and really should have scored at least a couple of goals, yet our house stood firm with their wayward finishing – poor mental strength – sealing the deal in our favour.
We created some great chances of our own, with Higuain and Cuadrado both finding themselves in superb positions only to fluff their lines. Thankfully it didn’t matter.
Whilst some have suggested the performance was one for the ages, I am inclined to disagree. Partly because yet again we conceded several gilt-edged chances and also because I have seen a stronger Juve at such stages of European competition in the past. We do have the makings of an elite team – as is our tradition – built not on solely or mainly technically gifted players, but of solidity, cohesion, courage and superb collective determination to the shared cause.
Of that starting XI, Tudor, Birindelli, Tachinardi and Montero were far from world stars. They were however, immensely hard working and could be relied upon to give their all for every second, fight for every ball, own every blade of grass. Which allowed the more technical players the space and opportunity and confidence to flourish.
I believe we have a similar mix in the making with the present squad. And I should and must add that by playing a formation with four very offensive players on the field, five if you count Pjanic, we are always going to run risks at the back. Which is another reason why the stalemate, away to one of the finest attacking sides ever to grace the field, deserves high praise. For Allegri stuck to the same system, but adapted it to a counter-attacking approach, with Juan Cuadrado especially, offering one of his finest outings in our colours. In fact, I would go as far as to suggest that for me, the Colombian is the most improved player of the season. His tackling has vastly improved as has his intelligence in the final third. Crosses are more accurate, there is less needless fancy footwork and he has come to use his pace and the ball more intelligently. This may be down to coaching, though as my Colombian housemate was telling me earlier, back in his country, the general consensus is that Juan has found a home, he feels more secure and content than for many moons, which has allowed him to focus more on his football, rather than feeling unwanted or likely to be sent back to an unhappy place in the future.
Many players are affected by their circumstances off the field, they cannot all be a machine like Gonzalo! Who despite the absence of a goal, gave a typically industrious showing. I have come to find his talents far more expansive than merely a world class goal scorer. His distribution, ability to hold, shield and run with the ball, make up the numbers deep are all of an impeccable calibre. He may well be amongst the most complete strikers in the game.
His strike partner, nominally speaking, and fellow countryman was unable to provide the fireworks of the first leg in Turin, though he gave his all, which is all we can ask. And considering he is but 23 years of age, I am confident he remains on track to become a very special player indeed, perhaps to the extent of marking his name in history alongside the most illustrious stars of the game. He has the talent, the mentality and the work rate.
Losing Sami is a bother, but we have a formidable replacement in Marchisio, which should allow Miralem to play a little more offensively, as Il Principino has become over the years more than adept at screening the defence and acting as the fulcrum of the side. It will be important for him to gain playing time in the two games prior to facing Monaco, who I have just seen us drawn against.
Jardim’s side have been one of the most entertaining of the tournament. Though I must add that I believe UEFA may have helped them along their way, for asking a team whose bus was bombed the night before, to play whilst one of their flock remained in hospital and they would all have been shell shocked to some degree seemed to me, too much a show of defiance to so called ‘terrorism’. The circumstances were remarkably odd, and Dortmund took their time to regain heart and positivity in that first fateful leg of the quarters.
Their champions league campaign to date reads:
Played 14, Won 9, Drawn 2, Lost 3
Goals For 28, Goals Against 20 +8
They are positioned top of Ligue Un, with a startling goal difference of +63.
We have played two games less in the champions league, with a record of:
Played 12, Won 11, Drawn 3.
Goals for 17, Goals conceded 2 +15
Genoa at home proceeded by a possibly tough trip to Atalanta lead up the opening tie of the round in France, then the Turin derby to contend with prior to the return fixture.
This is the time of the season when Allegri aims to have the whole squad champing at the bit and match sharp. We have a superb opportunity to progress once again to the final. Whilst Monaco offer youthful vigour, high octane, even cavalier attacking verve, our ranks will be brimming with confidence and zeal. On paper the side from the rich kids playground are weaker, but such has been the fine work of the management of the principality side that their output has clearly found top gear well and beyond the value of merely their combined parts. They are probably the most together and hungry side left in the tournament.
Still, we have shown we have the experience, technique and nous, as both a squad of players and management unit, to compete against any side of any quality.
As Max stated after the Barca game, we can still improve and must strive towards this. For every game is now monumental, whether domestically or in Europe as we begin to peek at our dreams of a historic treble taking shape on the horizon of reality. There is no other manager I would rather have at the helm.
We have won nothing yet, though down to the courage of Allegri and the phenomenal work of the players, we simply could not find ourselves in a better position. Room for further improvement with every title still to play for.
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