Will Juventus' Recent Slump crush their Champions League dream again?
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Fantasy football is over for Juventus. Their uncontested grip on Italian football was forcibly broken by Atalanta, who knocked them out of the Coppa Italia for the first time since 2016. The 3-0 defeat serves as a wake-up call for Massimiliano Allegri's squad.
Injuries had something to do with it. Giorgio Chiellini limped off before the fireworks began. The Bianconeri already missed Leonardo Bonucci’s services. Winless in two for the first time this season, they conceded six goals over the 180 minutes, Without the two veterans, the Bianconeri can’t trust their defence. The 3-3 draw with Parma in Turin confirmed as much.
Chiellini’s injury is a short one. The Juve captain is expected back in time for the Champions League clash with Atletico Madrid. Bonucci is the greater concern. He is a doubt for the Round of 16. Either Daniele Rugani or Martin Caceres will partner Chiellini in the middle.
If Rugani’s poor performances against Atalanta and Parma prove anything, he has much to learn. Rugani was bullied by Duvan Zapata in the Coppa Italia and later by Roberto Ingelese in Serie A. Caceres is too rash to be trusted. Already, Allegri must regret offloading the experienced Medhi Benatia last month.
The midfield offers little support to the rearguard. Germans Sami Khedira and Emre Can incur the wrath of supporters frustrated with their behaviour on the pitch. Khedira doesn’t have the same energy or drive he did in his peak. On the other hand, Can is too eager for his own good.
From the right flank, Miralem Pjanic adds stability to Juve’s midfield in attack but he isn't a physical presence. Blaise Matuidi's World Cup earned him more freedom to roam but Juve lacks creativity in the middle. The squad creates its chances on the wings.
The manager may be having his own crisis of confidence. Sent off for voicing his dismay to the referee in the Coppa Italia, he looks a man under pressure. When you have the world’s best striker backed by world-class talent, you're expected to compete on all fronts. With the Champions League final months away, Allegri failed much sooner than expected. He needs to regain composure before a domino effect ends the Old Lady's Champions League campaign.
Juventus are still favourites to prevail in their clash against Atletico. It's a defensive match-up but the Serie A champions clearly possess the better attack. That being said, Diego Simeone’s men know how to nullify the most potent sides. They’ve conceded a meagre 14 goals in 22 La Liga matches while keeping 11 clean-sheets. Los Indios also kept three clean sheets in the Champions League group stages. They can grind out results.
That said, the Bianconeri hold the trump card in Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese likes playing Atleti, scoring 22 goals in 31 appearances. That includes the Champions League semi-final hattrick in 2017 at the Santiago Bernabeu. With Mario Mandzukic, Douglas Costa and the tricky Paulo Dybala backing his play, Juventus shouldn’t have problems scoring. The question is whether they can stop their opponents?