Juventus’ Desperate Search for Beauty Is Key to Champions League Shortcomings

Juventus stars Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala, Blaise Matuidi and Sami Khedira
Juventus stars Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala, Blaise Matuidi and Sami Khedira | TIZIANA FABI/Getty Images

As Juventus took to the turf at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium in 2017, there was not only an air of hope swirling around the ground, but one of expectation, too. This is our time.

Unfortunately, the next two hours provided some harrowing viewing for I Bianconeri, as just about everything that could do wrong in a major final, did. Massimiliano Allegri’s men showed huge character in fighting back from a goal down in the first half, but after the hour mark, it all went downhill.

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That dollop of fortune which is needed in any major final fell for Real Madrid, and when a speculative long-range Casemiro effort deflected wickedly and found the corner of the net, the writing was on the wall for the Old Lady.

For Juve supporters, that was possibly their best opportunity to end their European trophy drought. I BIanconeri had swashbuckled their way through the group stages, drawing only twice and remaining undefeated, before sweeping aside every opponent in the knockout rounds.

So to bow out in the final with a 4-1 defeat, crumbling once again under the pressure of the occasion and against such experienced serial winners as Madrid, was a very bitter pill to swallow. And looking back, that loss stings even more, given that the Old Lady has not graced a final since that heartbreaking evening in Cardiff.

But why exactly is that?

Two years prior to the 4-1 thrashing by Madrid, I Bianconeri had found themselves in another Champions League final, only this time they were facing Spain’s other super club, Barcelona. Juve gave as good as they’d got, but against the unstoppable MSN forward line (Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar), the Italian giants were simply outgunned.

That Juve team possessed its own charm however, boasting one of the most feared midfields in Europe, with an imperious quartet of Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, and of course, the young and precocious Paul Pogba.

The Old Lady wasn’t always beautiful on the pitch, but my word, was she effective. With that Juventus lineup, you knew exactly what you were going to get: Allegri’s midfield would stifle and suffocate their opponents, and eventually, they’d break your spirit and find a way through. It wasn’t quite the tiki-taka of Pep Guardiola, but it was a winning formula, that worked for this club.

But the hierarchy decided it was time for a change, and their revered midfield was ripped apart, along with the rest of the team. In fact, eight of the players who started in the 2015 final were no longer part of the starting lineup in Cardiff only two years later.

And as that team of 2015 disbanded, the identity of the club began to fade, even if it still enjoyed some incredible highs in 2017.

Paulo Dybala and Sami Khedira both joined in the summer of 2015Paulo Dybala and Sami Khedira both joined in the summer of 2015
Paulo Dybala and Sami Khedira both joined in the summer of 2015 | Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

Despite all of their domestic success, Juve haven’t been able to replicate the glory and aura of previous seasons. And those failures stem largely from that lacklustre midfield transformation. The Old Lady have relied religiously on Miralem Pjanic to dictate the pace of play for the past five years, while Sami Khedira has done the dirty work and performed a more box-to-box role.

Khedira’s form has declined in recent years however, and his ability to impact on games has deteriorated significantly. So in 2017, the athletic but somewhat technically-limited Blaise Matuidi arrived in Turin, in an attempt to make up for the lack of mobility and power in the centre of the pitch.

Although it proved effective in Serie A, this trio was not Champions League final standard. And so it came to pass.

Balise Matuidi signed in 2017Balise Matuidi signed in 2017
Balise Matuidi signed in 2017 | Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

These central frailties shone through in 2018, as the two finalists from the year before went head to head in the Champions League quarter-final. The first leg was played in Turin, and from start to finish, it was nothing short of a disaster.

Juve fell to a 3-0 defeat to Madrid, who were able to overrun and open up the hosts at will. Of course, that game is remembered for Cristiano Ronaldo’s brilliant overhead kick, but with Allegri’s constant tinkering and attempts to plug gaps, one thing became clear.

The once pragmatic, ruthless and efficient Juventus had lost its way.

The Old Lady was now a mismatch of attacking mavericks like Douglas Costa and Paulo Dybala, whilst possessing zero pace or penetration in the centre of the pitch. All in all, it didn’t work outside of Italy.

Juventus were upstaged by Ajax last season in EuropeJuventus were upstaged by Ajax last season in Europe
Juventus were upstaged by Ajax last season in Europe | Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images

The Italian giants did recover to almost pull off the most memorable of comebacks, and whether they feel harshly done by with the injury-time penalty decision or not, they cannot deny that the irreparable damage was done in the first leg.

Plenty of lessons to take away, then.

Domestically, that 2017/18 season is fondly remembered in Italy for a pulsating title race, and one which had a huge impact on the history of Italian football. Napoli, coached by Maurizio Sarri, produced some of the most entertaining and scintillating football that Serie A viewers have ever seen, and despite being pipped to the trophy by Juve, the Partenopei coach drew all the plaudits.

Sarri's Napoli won admirers for their styleSarri's Napoli won admirers for their style
Sarri’s Napoli won admirers for their style | Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

From that moment on, it was no longer enough for Juventus to be champions – they had to do it in style. Over the course of the 2018/19 season, Allegri began to receive a surprising level of criticism over his side’s tactics and overly-pragmatic style, and he did not react well to these observations in post-match press conferences.

The pressure was clearly beginning to tell on the Italian coach, and he and Juve were lucky that they faced little in the way of a title challenge that year. The club had gone all out in the transfer window, signing Ronaldo for a record fee, but even the talented Portuguese star could not prevent another Champions League collapse in 2019.

After two defeats in the group stage, Juve had got off to a shaky start, and they seemed destined to miss out in the Round of 16, falling to a 2-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid. But Ronaldo did what Ronaldo does, and he turned the two-goal deficit on its head to earn the Old Lady a dramatic passage to the quarter-finals.

It was at this hurdle that Juve fell once more, and it signalled the end of the road for Allegri. The Italian champions were absolutely played off the park by a young and daring Ajax side, who took the game by the scruff of its neck and never let go.

Their relentless assault of the Juve goal could have seen the hosts concede three or four, but ultimately, a 2-1 defeat in the second leg brought another premature end to their European dreams. A humbling 90 minutes.

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Allegri was replaced at the end of the season by Sarri, who is now coming up against the same issues that faced his predecessor.

Juve’s attempts to venture into a more expansive style of play have only made their midfield deficiencies even more apparent, but rather than spending top money on the perfect central options, they chose to take the financially preferable decision to sign Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot on free transfers.

Both good players, but not really what the club needed at that time.

This Bianconeri team has flattered to deceive this year, but it has capability to overturn their one-goal deficit in this year’s Champions League Round of 16 with Lyon. Whether they have the cohesion and ability to reach the final is another question entirely.

It’s clear that this Juve side has now reached an impasse, and little progress will be made until they address their midfield issues and invest in the right men to take control of Europe once again.

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Assessing Which Serie A Club Mario Gotze Should Join This Summer

Mario Goetze
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim v Borussia Dortmund – Bundesliga | TF-Images/Getty Images

On 13 July 2014, Mario Gotze wrote himself into German football history by scoring the winning goal in a World Cup final, helping his nation to achieve their fourth international success in the process.

Fast-forward four years, and the hero in Brazil didn’t even make the cut for the 2018 edition. Fast-forward another two years, and the scorer of a winning goal in a World Cup final is soon to be without a club.

Mario GoetzeMario Goetze
Germany v Argentina: 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final | Chris Brunskill Ltd/Getty Images

Illness and injury have halted the Borussia Dortmund star’s progress in those six years, so much so that now at the age of only 28, he is facing the prospect of being a free agent in the summer.

Gotze’s time with Der BVB has come to an end, and determined to start his career afresh in pastures new, the midfielder is looking for the right home to recapture the heights he reached in 2014. A pacy, tricky, and skilled dribbler, with some clinical shooting to boot, the German star would be a welcome addition to most squads in Europe.

And it seems that he is destined to make a move to Serie A, with a host of Italian sides all fluttering their eyelashes at the talented German. But which club should he choose? 90min takes a look at Gotze’s options for the coming season.

Maurizio SarriMaurizio Sarri
Hellas Verona v Juventus – Serie A | Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Let’s get this one out of the way, shall we? If you’re looking for regular game time, Juventus just isn’t the place for you. I Bianconeri have become a ruthless machine over the years, destroying everything and everyone in their wake.

And they do not have time for stragglers. Gotze needs a home where he can flourish at his own pace, and get back up to speed in the right conditions with a suitable style of play to aid him. With the current options at Maurizio Sarri’s disposal, the Dortmund man simply won’t get a look-in, and he’d be lost within months of arriving at J-Medical.

Not the one.

Rafael LeaoRafael Leao
AC Milan v Hellas Verona – Serie A | Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

A club in decline, Milan will be looking to rebuild their failing squad once again this summer, after another miserable mid-table campaign. And one thing I Rossoneri are sorely missing is goals. The Serie A giants have managed to notch only 28 strikes in 26 matches this campaign, and that lacklustre tally stems from a complete lack of creativity in the midfield.

Gotze may be a missing link in that midfield, and his service and intelligent play could unlock the goalscoring potential of starlet Rafael Leao and the other misfiring Milan strikers. But make no mistake, I Rossoneri remain a club in chaos, and if you’re looking for a stable and loving home with a nurturing environment, you may wish to look elsewhere.

In another lifetime, this could have been a perfect match. Sadly, it’s a case of right place, wrong time for Gotze and Milan.

FBL-ITA-CUP-INTER-FIORENTINAFBL-ITA-CUP-INTER-FIORENTINA
FBL-ITA-CUP-INTER-FIORENTINA | MIGUEL MEDINA/Getty Images

So what about their immediate rivals? Inter will have to offload plenty of stars before reinforcing their midfield, with the likes of Radja Nainggolan, Ivan Perisic, Matias Vecino and Borja Valero all expected to leave this summer.

But even if they do trim their bloated squad, will that leave space for Gotze? Well, probably not, is the answer. I Nerazzurri are blessed with some real riches in the centre of the park, as Stefano Sensi, Nicolo Barella and Christian Eriksen complete one of the fiercest midfield trios in Serie A.

And while Antonio Conte is at the helm, wingers are far from a priority – and Gotze wouldn’t make much of a wing-back. So, either he plays second fiddle and misses out on the first-team action he desires, or potentially plays off Romelu Lukaku in a little and large combo up top.

That’s not too bad an idea, actually…

Alejandro Gomez, Josip Ilicic, Marten De RoonAlejandro Gomez, Josip Ilicic, Marten De Roon
Atalanta BC v Parma Calcio – Serie A | Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Could there be a more exciting team to join in Europe right now? Gian Piero Gasperini has built the most outrageously entertaining and explosive team in Serie A, and the entire football world is waking up to the fact that Atalanta are a force to be reckoned with.

And their peculiar system centres around their attacking trident of Josip Ilicic, Alejandro Gomez and Duvan Zapata. All three players perform particular roles in the forward line, but Gomez and Gotze do share similar traits when going forward.

The Argentine enjoys the freedom of the left flank, but he can cut in and cause mayhem centrally whenever he wishes. This liberal outlook, coupled with hard-working players who are instructed to feed the forwards whenever possible, would suit Gotze down to the ground.

Gomez shows very few signs of slowing down, but at 32 years old, his time at the top table may be coming to an end. The heir to the throne, perhaps?

UEFA Europa League"KAA Gent v AS Roma"UEFA Europa League"KAA Gent v AS Roma"
UEFA Europa League”KAA Gent v AS Roma” | ANP Sport/Getty Images

Now this just feels right. Roma underwent a complete revolution in the summer, hiring attack-minded coach Paulo Fonseca, and building a fast-paced style of play around possession and champagne football.

It hasn’t quite been the overriding success that I Giallorossi hoped for, but there are signs that, with the right players in place, Fonseca can build a team worthy of challenging near the top once again. And Gotze could become a crucial cog in this machine.

Arsenal star Henrikh Mkhitaryan has shone (when fit) at Roma this season, playing in the attacking midfield role behind focal point Edin Dzeko. With the Armenian unlikely to extend his loan spell beyond this campaign, Gotze could slot nicely into that role and thrive in an offensive and daring side.

Fonseca also loves having flexible players within his squad, and the German star could easily fill in on either flank when required too. And to top it off, Roma is famed in Italy for picking up more injuries than any other team, so should fitness issues befall Gotze once more, he’ll have plenty of company in the medical centre.

A match made in heaven.

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On This Day in Footballing History – 3 June: That Roberto Carlos Free Kick, Real Champions League Glory & More

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FBL-EUR-C1-REALMADRID-CELEBRATION | CURTO DE LA TORRE/Getty Images

From disastrous debuts to emotional swansongs and everything in between, this edition of ‘On This Day in Footballing History’ has it all.

So, sit back and relax as 90min treats you to a much-needed dose of summer nostalgia.

Way back in 1956 Gunnar Nordahl played his last ever game for Milan. Arriving at San Siro in 1949 after a ludicrously high-scoring career in Sweden, his goal getting antics continued for the Rossoneri.

The striker went on to net 221 goals in 288 games, making him the highest scorer in Milan history and the leading non-Italian scorer in Serie A.

Nicknamed the Fireman – the job he performed alongside his footballing career in the early days – Nordahl fired his side to two league titles and a pair of Latin Cups. Presumably the latter weren’t dancing competitions, right? Right?!

In 1971, Don Revie’s Leeds United defeated Juventus in the two-legged final of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup – celebrating by drinking champagne out of a tea cup.

Having earned a 2-2 draw in Turin, Leeds welcomed the Old Lady to a packed Elland Road confident of getting the job done.

Allan Clarke gave Revie’s side the ideal start, firing in a low drive inside 15 minutes before Pietro Anastasi levelled things up soon after. Fortunately for Leeds, this was how things stayed and they secured the trophy on away goals. The Fairs Cup would be scrapped the following season.

Happy 35th birthday to Papiss Cissé.

Let’s use this most joyous of occasions to check out a stunning recreation of the former Newcastle man’s finest ever goal, netted against Chelsea back in May 2012.

From one physics defying strike to another, today marks 23 years since Roberto Carlos’ banana free kick.

The best set piece ever taken – other than Trent Alexander Arnold’s corner in last season’s Champions League perhaps – was scored in the 1997 Le Tournoi de France.

Brazil were facing Les Bleus in the opening game and despite the competition being billed as a series of friendlies, Roberto Carlos did not hold back on the magic, making the ball move in ways previously thought to be impossible.

Richard Wright's first England cap.Richard Wright's first England cap.
Richard Wright’s first England cap. | Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Your international debut is supposed to be the most memorable moment of every young player’s career. Richard’s Wright maiden Three Lions cap was certainly memorable – though not necessarily for the right reasons.

First, the Ipswich Town stopper gave away an early penalty after misjudging a long ball and hauling down David Carabott in the box. Carabott converted from 12 yards but was ordered to retake his spot kick due to encroaching by his teammates. This was when Wright’s day got even worse.

The England stopper guessed the right way for the second penalty…only for the ball to bounce back off of the post, onto his back and into the net. D’oh.

Ah well, things couldn’t get worse than that surely? Wrong. In the second half Wright conceded another penalty. At least he managed to save this one to secure England a narrow 2-1 win.

Jose Mourinho takes Chelsea job for a second time. Jose Mourinho takes Chelsea job for a second time.
Jose Mourinho takes Chelsea job for a second time. | Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Seven years ago, José Mourinho declared himself the ‘Happy One’ as he arrived at Stamford Bridge for his second stint as Chelsea manager.

This spell in charge was as controversial – if not quite as successful as his first – with the former Real Madrid boss moving quickly to sell the two time Player of the Season Juan Mata to Manchester United in January 2014.

This bold move appeared to pay off their following campaign with Chelsea reinvesting in the squad and securing a Premier League and League Cup double, before the wheels fell off in spectacular fashion a few months later.

In 2013, Barcelona announced YouTube sensation Neymar as their newest signing. Brought in from Santos for a fee of around €57m (£50m) his unveiling was a classic of the genre.

Awkward waving to the crowd? Check. Doing some keepy uppies in a full kit? Check. A cringe-inducing speech? Check.

What a way to start your Barça career.

Three years ago Real Madrid won their second of three straight Champions League finals, defeating Juventus 4-1 at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

The hero of the hour was Cristiano Ronaldo who grabbed a brace, while Casemiro and Marco Asenio also scored.

The best goal of the night came courtesy of Mario Mandzukic who produced an incredible improvised finish from outside the box to level things up in the first half.

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Who Gets the Better Deal in Proposed Federico Bernardeschi and Jorginho Swap – Chelsea or Juventus?

Jorginho and Bernardeschi in a training session with Italy
Jorginho and Bernardeschi in a training session with Italy | Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Chelsea are just weeks away from their two most senior wingers departing the club, with Willian and Pedro both set to run down the remainder of their contracts.

Meanwhile, Juventus have made no secret of their desire to bolster their central midfield arsenal with the talents of the likes of Miralem Pjanic, Sami Khedira and Adrien Rabiot waning.

So, the solution seems simple; swap Chelsea central midfielder Jorginho for Juventus winger Federico Bernardeschi; sounds like good business for Frank Lampard’s men?

Federico Bernardeschi playing for JuventusFederico Bernardeschi playing for Juventus
Federico Bernardeschi playing for Juventus | Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images

Wrong.

Three seasons ago, Bernardeschi became one of the most talked about wingers on the planet. He enjoyed a stellar campaign at Fiorentina under the stewardship of Paulo Sousa, earning himself a mega-money move to Serie A champions Juventus. Unfortunately, the Italy international hasn’t looked the same since – not at club level anyway.

After three seasons at the Old Lady, 26-year-old Bernardeschi has mustered just six league goals – almost half the amount he managed in his breakthrough season of 2016/17 alone.

This season has been a particularly low point in his Juve career. The winger has made 18 league appearances without recording a single goal or assist. Maurizio Sarri has tried the former Fiorentina man in a number of positions – including behind the front two – but Bernardeschi just looks lost.

JorginhoJorginho
Jorginho playing in the Champions League | James son – AMA/Getty Images

In stark contrast, Jorginho is enjoying the most fruitful spell of his Stamford Bridge career. After suffering a turbulent first year in London, the Italian appears to have finally settled in the capital and is beginning to look the player Chelsea shelled out £50m for. A productive season (so far) has seen him score seven goals and lay on two more from his deep-lying midfield role.

The 28-year-old metronome has become a key component in Lampard’s side, offering a senior head among a number of youngsters – experience that will now become even more invaluable given the departures of Willian and Pedro.

While Jorginho’s second season in England has seen him develop a level of consistency, unfortunately, the exact opposite can be said of Bernardeschi.

The winger has undoubted talent and can look back at scintillating displays such as his performance in the 2018/19 Champions League against Atlético Madrid, however, consistency is one thing which his game sorely misses.

As a 23-year-old who had recently broken into the starting XI this would be permissible, but as a 26-year-old who the champions of Italy forked out £36m for, it’s not good enough.

The Chelsea faithful suffered a painful first year of Jorginho. The former Napoli man looked completely out of his depth and incapable of playing at the speed required in the Premier League.

Against all the odds, the 28-year-old has proven himself to be good enough to mix it among the finest midfielders in the league.

Bernardeschi lining up for ItalyBernardeschi lining up for Italy
Bernardeschi lining up for Italy | MB Media/Getty Images

Should Chelsea choose to swap their accomplished £50m midfielder with a £36m winger who is out of favour and hasn’t shown form for three seasons, the Stamford Bridge faithful will be set for another season of teething problems, as they yet again cross their fingers in the hope that the gamble pays off.

Chelsea don’t need another project. A big part of their current squad is made up of projects, and Lampard is in danger of losing the balance.

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Man City & Juventus Emerge as Favourites for Departing Lyon Starlet Houssem Aouar

Houssem Aouar
Olympique Lyon v Juventus – UEFA Champions League | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Manchester City and Juventus have emerged as the frontrunners in the race for French midfielder Houssem Aouar, who appears destined to leave Lyon this summer.

The dynamic Aouar has established himself as one of Europe’s most sought-after midfielders following his breakthrough 2017/18 campaign with Les Gones.

Marcelo Guedes, Houssem AouarMarcelo Guedes, Houssem Aouar
Houssem Aouar notched 16 goal contributions in all competitions for Lyon this season | Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

In the past two-and-a-half years in Ligue 1, the France Under-21 international has notched 16 goals and 16 assists, as well as starring in the Champions League this term.

But it appears he’s played his final game in Lyon colours following the cancellation of French football back in April, with the latest update from Bilel Ghazi of L’Equipe all but confirming his imminent departure.

The French news outlet believe the ‘door is open’ for Aouar to depart this summer, with a lack of Champions League football next season convincing the Lyon hierarchy they won’t be able to retain the Frenchman’s services for next season.

It’s understood Les Gones will accept offers in the region of €50m for the 21-year-old, with City and Juventus said to be the current favourites.

It was reported back in April that Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool were other potential suitors, while Paris Saint-Germain are also believed to hold an interest in the player.

Nevertheless, with David Silva set to depart at the end of the campaign, Pep Guardiola, who’s said to be an admirer of the 21-year-old, could view the Frenchman as his replacement in a ‘free eight’ role at the Etihad.

Aouar is believed to be keen on a switch to Manchester, but the court decision regarding City’s European ban will ultimately be a deciding factor as to whether he makes the move.

Houssem AouarHoussem Aouar
Aouar set-up Lucas Tousart’s winner in Lyon’s 1-0 victory over Juventus back in February | Catherine Steenkeste/Getty Images

Juve, meanwhile, are working hard behind the scenes in a bid to convince the player who excelled in Lyon’s Champions League victory over the Old Lady back in February.

However, neither club are believed to have started negotiations with the French club.

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