Boulevard of Broken Dreams to be composed again at the Old Lady of Turin
Written by: Uttiyo Sarkar
Despite a bitter end, The Bianconeri had an amazing season and proved to be among Europe’s elite. . .
Juventus might be a name many people might now recognise as the 'runners-up in the Champions League', but they had a far better season than what many think them to have had after that disappointment in Cardiff. With Massimiliano Allegri looking at his best in years, he developed the Old Lady to become an extremely difficult nut to crack while also utilising his incredibly talented squad to produce another dominating year in Italian football.
The Bianconeri were a superb side in the Champions League as well because of their stunning defensive unit and with impressive performances in the knockout rounds Juventus proved themselves to be among Europe’s elite clubs yet again this season. They showcased some exciting football and rolled through anyone who came in their path in Serie A and Copa Italia, only missing out on the treble in the end. So Let’s have a look at what transpired in this excellent season for the Old Lady.
|Season 2016-17 Stats|
Serie A: Winners
Juventus made quite the statement by making a few big signings before the start of the season re-signing, signing Miralem Pjanic from Roma and Dani Alves on a free. They further strengthened their defence by signing Mehdi Benatia on loan from Bayern. The Bianconeri then began their pre-season in Australia, losing on penalties to Melbourne Victory. But their form would pick up from there, as they later defeated Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United in more friendly games.
But the Old Lady made a big statement by signing Serie A top scorer Gonzalo Higuain during their preseason for a whopping €90M before losing midfield magician Paul Pogba, as they retained Juan Cuadrado later on as well. Allegri’s men ended their pre-season with a few games in Italy and looked well and ready to defend their Serie A title.
Juventus started their title defence pretty well in quite a solid way by winning their first three matches but were rocked by a defeat to bitter rivals Inter Milan. Despite a few shaky defeats throughout the course of the season, Juve would go on to show some insane consistency as the whole squad played their part in making sure they remain at the top of Serie A.
The Bianconeri’s chemistry and teamwork got better and better as each month passed on and Juve were on fire after the turn of the year. With attackers Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala having created a solid partnership and new signings Pjanic and Alves also flourishing in their new team, Juve rolled through their matches and had one hand on the trophy with weeks to go. They only ended up losing four games in the entire season on the way to winning their 6th Serie A title in a row.
Juventus started out their title defence of the Coppa Italia with a hard-fought home win against Atlanta but would feel the real pressure in the subsequent matches. They got to face their fiercest rivals in the important knockout matches of the Cup, defeating AC Milan in the quarter-finals and take revenge for their Supercoppa Italiana defeat earlier the season. The Bianconeri then faced title rivals Napoli in the semi-finals, absolutely dominating them in the FIRST leg with a 3-1 win thanks to goals from Dybala and Higuain.
Even though they lost the second leg, a superior away goal advantage meant that Juve cruised their way into the Final. They faced the formidable Lazio in the final but blew them away as Massimiliano Allegri's side showcased some of their best football on the day. Juve won the final 2-0 thanks to goals from Alves and Leonardo Bonucci to complete the domestic double and retain the Coppa Italia title.
|UEFA Champions League|
Juventus were paired up against last season's Europa League winner Sevilla and French side Lyon in their UEFA Champions League group, with the minnows in Dinamo Zagreb seemingLY the only "easy" side to beat. Juve started out shakily with a home draw to Sevilla but picked up their form afterwards as they won 4 out of their remaining 5 matches and topped the group undefeated. The Bianconeri would face FC Porto in the round of 16 and they breezed past them into the quarter-finals to face the mighty Barcelona.
But Juventus pulled of a masterclass in the first leg at home against Barcelona, defeating them 3-0 thanks to the majestic Dybala's brace. They held Barca to a goalless draw in the second leg, showing how good they are, defensively. The Bianconeri would face high-flying AS Monaco in the semi-finals but the Old Lady put the game to bed in the first leg with a crucial 0-2 away win at Monaco before defeating them 2-1 at home to book their place into yet another UEFA Champions League Final. Despite having the best defensive record in the competition and flying high in form, The Bianconeri faltered at the final hurdle through a devastating 4-1 loss to Real Madrid in the showpiece which destroyed their hopes of a treble and ended an amazing UCL campaign on a sorrow note.
|Top 3 Players|
|Paulo Dybala||Gonzalo Higuain||Leonardo Bonucci|
Paulo Dybala had quite the sensational season for the Bianconeri, as he finally seemed to be at home after being signed from Parma a few seasons ago. Dybala was the focal point of Juventus' attack throughout the season, dazzling everyone with his trickery and creativity as he wrecked havoc in Italy with his movement and clinical finishing.
Dybala scored 19 goals in all competitions and assisted a further 9 as well and showed glaring glimpses of a very young Lionel Messi with his movement and attacking skills. He also linked up with Gonzalo Higuain and Juve's midfield really well to terrorise defences all around and tore up Barcelona on his own in the quarter-finals win. Juventus needed Dybala to be at his best to showcase some exciting attacking football this season and he produced some magical moments throughout the campaign that awe-struck football fans.
Gonzalo Higuain was signed by Juventus for a massive fee, as the Bianconeri paid Napoli €90million for his services this season. But Higuain didn't disappoint at all, as he barely took any time to blend into the side and started delivering from the first Serie A match for Juve when he scored on his league debut for the Bianconeri. Higuain became even more clinical as the season wore on, helping Juve get many points because of his goals.
He linked really well with Dybala and the two caused havoc to the opponents' defences, with Higuain also making an impact in the Champions League semi-final when he scored a brace to give the Bianconeri an important away win against Monaco. He ended the season with 32 goals and 5 assists in all competition as well as winning the double with Juve in his first season, showing just how much of a lethal striker he can be at the top Italian club once again.
Leonardo Bonucci proved himself to be one of the best(if not the best) defenders in world football right now with yet another triumphant season with Juventus, where he acted as their defensive leader impeccably. Bonucci was the only one who would provide darting balls into the attack as well as shape his impenetrable defence perfectly, while he himself was spectacular with his tackling, positional sense and general defensive work throughout the season.
Juventus looked rock solid whenever he played, with the Italian defender reaping up amazing 20 clean sheets in all competitions. He also scored a few memorable goals, helping them win their second straight Coppa Italiana when he scored in the Final against Lazio. Bonucci proved that he isn't regarded as the world's best defender for nothing and was the complete defender for the Bianconeri this season, whose influence could be felt on the whole team.
|Flop of the Season|
Stephan Lichtsteiner was regarded as a mainstay in Juventus' lineup for the past few years, but his position was under threat when The Bianconeri signed Dani Alves in the summer. This meant that Lichsteiner had much competition in the right wing back slot with Alves as well as Cuadrado having stunning attacking prowess and he seemingly crumbled when the competition got a little too heated for him.
Lichtsteiner only managed to play 30 games for Juve in this congested, long season for them playing only one game in the Champions League and was made to play second fiddle to either Alves or Cuadrado in the major games. He didn't help his cause either as he was a bit error-prone at times and failed to deliver on the attacking front which was an important part of his position.
Lichtsteiner's Performance in 2016-17
Yellow Cards: 9
|Top 5 Matches|
1. Juventus 3-0 Barcelona
2. Juventis 3-1 Napoli
3. Juventus 2-0 Lazio
4. Monaco 0-2 Juventus
5. Juventus 1-0 Roma
|Manager's Report Card|
Massimiliano Allegri has been silencing his doubters ever since arriving at Juventus a few years back, but this was the season where he proved himself to be among the best managers in football right now. Allegri was excellent with his signings as he signed two world class talents in Miralem Pjanic and Gonzalo Higuain and made sure Juventus did not lose focus throughout the season. Allegri was extremely vocal in every game and heralded his troops impeccably, making his presence felt in games.
The Italian did an exceptional job in the Champions League especially, where he made Juventus a tough nut to crack in the knockout stages and proved them to be the best defensive side in the world. He transformed Mario Mandzukic into a winger of sorts, and this worked spectacularly despite many questioning him at first. Allegri made sure the whole team gave their best efforts in defending as well as attacking and despite the Bianconeri missing out on a historic treble, Allegri elevated them into Europe's elite with another domestic double and proved himself to be an exceptionally astute manager.
|What They Need|
The Champions League Final defeat was a much-needed reality check for both Allegri and the whole Juventus squad, with Real Madrid exposing the flaws in the team in a brutal manner. The wing-back position is something the Bianceroni need to work on as Alex Sandro and Alves both suffered in the final defeat and Juve need to sign some wing-backs who are not only equally perfect in both attack and defence but can hold their own against the biggest opponents on the grand occasions.
Allegri also needs to work on getting a replacement for Gianluigi Buffon, who only has one more year left in him. A young, promising goalkeeper like AC Milan’s Gianluigi Donnarumma can be a perfect replacement for the Italian legend. The Bianconeri need to add more quality and experience to their squad to win the Champions League anytime soon and Allegri has a lot of work cut out for him after suffering a humiliating defeat in the crucial final game of the season.
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"All’s well that ends well", a play by Shakespeare is also an often used term. How about the opposite though? Does a disappointing ending negate all the success that preceded it? This is a question many Juventini are facing right now. Is a third consecutive domestic double and runners-up in the CL, considered a successful season? Or does the 4-1 loss in Cardiff, resulting in a 5th consecutive CL final defeat, result in the season being a failure? The answer probably lies somewhere in between. Many would happily trade a couple of league titles for a CL. But the fact is that these events are mutually exclusive. This season, Allegri did everything possible to prioritise Europe, including resting players in Serie A whenever possible. This resulted in many dropped points in Serie A, often post midweek CL matches, but they still had enough quality to win comfortably.
Next season, Juventus will again be favourites for the League, but will success still be determined by the CL? Probably! But for those who lived through the post-Calciopoli era, Serie A success can never be taken for granted. The 2016-17 season could have been a great one, but in the end, it was just good. Maybe when Buffon lifts the trophy in Kiev in 12 months time, we can remember the last 5 finals and say, "All’s well that ends well!"
Published: Fri Jun 16, 2017 01:46 PM IST