By Kris Voakes
Juventus have still not won a game in the Champions League since seeing off Celtic in the last 16 of last season’s competition back in March. And yet eight months and six games on from that 2-0 second leg victory, they are clear favourites to qualify from Group B in second place and again reach the knockout stage. It doesn’t always turn out this well.
Tuesday’s 2-2 draw against Real Madrid looked decent enough in and of itself, but it was a scoreline which would have left them staring at the prospect of having to win both of their remaining group fixtures in order to progress were it not for Copenhagen’s shock 1-0 victory over Galatasaray at the Parken Stadion.
Thanks to the Danes’ win, the Bianconeri know that a victory at home to Stale Solbakken’s side in three weeks’ time will more than likely leave them needing just a draw in Turkey in their closing game in order to qualify for the last 16. In a competition in which 10 points is often considered the minimum target, Juve could still get away with only notching seven.
|DOUBLE-FIGURE FAILURES |
Teams knocked out of CL with 10 points
That they are still even mathematically in with any chance is a stroke of pure fortune. Yes, they have played well for large periods of their two clashes with Madrid, but it is only thanks to the convincing fashion in which the Spanish giants have polished off Copenhagen and Galatasary before now that Juve are in such a positive position.
Their third point of the group campaign came thanks to a Fernando Llorente equaliser after they had somehow managed to throw away a 1-0 lead garnered through hard work and great vigilance. Arturo Vidal’s penalty – awarded for Raphael Varane’s rash challenge on Paul Pogba – was a worthy advantage, yet all it took was two individual errors for the Italians to find themselves behind.
First Martin Caceres tried a criminal pass across the face of his defence which allowed Karim Benzema to slip in Cristiano Ronaldo, then Kwadwo Asamoah’s inexperience as a left-back was exposed by a great piece of footwork from Gareth Bale, with the Welshman slotting home confidently to put Madrid ahead.
Varane was again caught out when he turned his back on a Caceres cross, with Llorente making him pay, but by that point it was Galatasaray’s failures which were promising to be the most important of the night.
After conceding a wonderful early goal to Daniel Braaten, Roberto Mancini’s men simply never got going. Half-chances were made and wasted, but they rarely looked likely to come up with an equaliser, let alone a winner.
In their 2-2 draw at Juventus Stadium and then the comfortable home win against FCK, Gala looked more than capable of making Juve’s life hard in the race for qualification. But after their horror show in Copenhagen they will need to beat Real Madrid in the Santiago Bernabeu if they are not to hand the advantage to the Bianconeri ahead of the crucial matchday six clash at the Turk Telecom Arena.
Juve should be counting themselves very, very lucky. Plenty of teams have failed to reach the last 16 of the Champions League despite collecting 10 group points. The Italian champions cannot now achieve double figures and yet are set fair for qualification. That’s just the way it happens sometimes.
Question marks remain over whether this Juventus side are good enough to truly challenge in Europe. Tuesday’s game gave us nothing in the way of answers, and there’s a fair chance that Antonio Conte’s side will head to the last 16 without even coming close to delivering a riposte of any sort.
After starting badly last year they had to really get their hands dirty and were rewarded with the top spot in the group. This time around, the path looks likely to be a hell of a lot easier.Follow Kris Voakes on