Shadow of Zidane hanging over Allegri with Juventus needing Champions League miracle

Fans and players alike have grown tired of the Italian's dour tactics, paving the way for Real Madrid's former boss to come in as a last 16 exit looms

When Cristiano Ronaldo swapped Real Madrid for Juventus in the summer, it seemed like the missing piece of the jigsaw for a team puzzled by European glory.

The Italian giants were eliminated by the five-time Ballon d’Or winner in last season’s Champions League quarter-finals, having finished as runners-up in two of the previous three campaigns. 

So why - despite the addition of Ronaldo, plus other quality signings such as Emre Can, Leonardo Bonucci and Joao Cancelo – are they this week staring in the face of a last 16 exit?

In the eyes of many, it’s simple: Massimiliano Allegri. And with Juventus legend – and serial Champions League winner – Zinedine Zidane looking for his next post, it seems like only a matter of time before the two swap positions.

Allegri’s first four seasons at Juventus could not have gone much better. Two Champions League finals and four consecutive league and cup doubles have propelled him into third on the club’s list of most successful managers, with 10 trophies to date.

But this season has been different, not because of the increased expectation that comes with having a player like Ronaldo, but because Allegri has taken the team as far as he can.

The Champions League is Juventus' obsession. Their last success came in 1996 when they defeated Ajax in Rome. Since then they have reached five more finals - and lost all of them. The time has come now where Allegri - despite Juve being just a few wins away from an eighth straight Scudetto - will only be judged on the club's performance in the Champions League. A last 16 exit would be a massive embarrassment.

After defeat to Atletico, Allegri used the peculiar excuse that Diego Simeone’s team have more experience than his.

"They are more used to playing games of this type than us,” he told the media . However, Allegri’s starting XI alone had a combined 53 major finals between them. 

The reality was that his team had played poorly as a result of his poor tactical instructions - with the decision to not start Cancelo particularly bizarre. Grinding out wins has worked domestically, with Carlo Ancelotti crediting Juve for their “great temperament, organisation and individual duels” when they beat Napoli last week , but it doesn’t win games in Europe.

Sacchi Allegri quote PS

The legendary Arrigo Sacchi, who won back-to-back European Cups as Milan boss in 1989 and 1990, has been one of Allegri’s biggest critics.

“Juventus play an Italian style of football,” he told Radio 24 in the summer . “Allegri can’t be challenged, his way of playing isn’t the way to win in Europe.”

At the beginning of the season, Sacchi wrote in his La Gazzetta dello Sport column that “more generous, fun and brave” football was what was “missing” from Allegri’s side and, when they lost the first leg of their last 16 tie to Atletico, he again stated : “In Europe, you win with offensive football.”

Dino Zoff is among those who have defended the Juve coach, saying : "I think it's impossible to criticize him. Over the last few years he did amazing things, he won so many trophies.

“Allegri has a big quality: he doesn't get influenced by others.”

But that unwillingness to be ‘influenced’ is proving costly. In the 2-1 win over Napoli, Ronaldo was visibily  frustrated with a lack of high pressing from the team , whose performance was incredibly underwhelming.

And while the coach insists he will “accept [criticism] when it’s constructive” , deleting his social media amidst it all suggests otherwise and has only fuelled rumours surrounding his future.

Allegri maintains that he has a good relationship with the president, Andrea Agnelli, and that his future will be decided at the end of the season .

However, Sky Italia report that his future will be decided after this week’s second leg against Atletico, with La Repubblica believing he could take a sabbatical year.

Zidane quote PS

Having annoyed Ronaldo with his tactics and rowed with one of the Portuguese star’s closest teammates, Dybala , the writing appears to be on the wall for Allegri – paving the way for Zidane.

The Frenchman has a great relationship with Juventus’ star man, who wrote on Instagram when he departed Madrid: “I’m just proud of being your player.”

But he also has a great relationship with the fans in Turin, for whom he helped deliver six trophies as a player before departing for the Bernabeu.

"Zidane knows Turin, the environment and club very well. He’s definitely a great ,” Alessio Tacchinardi, one of Zizou’s former teammates in Italy, told Il Corriere Torino . “If Allegri does not stay, he would be the best coach for Juventus.”

Other candidates have emerged, such as France’s Didier Deschamps and Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola, but are not expected to leave their current jobs - with the latter having even dismissed the rumours .

Meanwhile, neither Mauricio Pochettino or Simone Inzaghi have the experience of managing big egos that someone like Zidane does – or another candidate, Antonio Conte.

Reports have emerged that the former Chelsea boss could return to Turin, where he has had successful spells in the past as both a player and a manager. Just this week, Tuttosport revealed that Juve are considering his appointment, with Andrea Pirlo as his assistant.

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But the club’s long-standing interest in Madrid duo Isco and Marcelo, as well as his experience in winning the Champions League, makes Zidane the prime candidate for the position.

"Allegri's future is not tied to the Champions League or to any single game won or lost,” Juve director Fabio Paratici told Sky Sport Italia after defeat to Atletico.

Indeed, with the possibility of Zidane taking over, even a second leg miracle may not save him.