How Juventus Are Building to Finally Win the UEFA Champions League
By Max Cooper
By the end of the 2017/18 campaign, the Old Lady had just secured their seventh consecutive Serie A title, and won the Coppa Italia for a fourth time on the bounce. But it wasn't enough.
Juventus were knocked out of the Champions League by eventual winners Real Madrid, and their dream of the treble was over for another season. Their utter dominance at domestic level led I Bianconeri to believe their European shortcomings were entirely based on a lack of X-factor in the final third. A team famous for their defence, decided to go on the attack.
In search of the elusive European trophy, the Agnelli family signed Ronaldo for €100m, and the world stood back in awe of this transfer coup. The Serie A title race was as good as over the moment he put pen to bianconeri paper, but the hunt for the Champions League was more alive than ever.
He was seen as the missing piece in Juventus' puzzle.
A team which was built on an impenetrable defence, a hard working midfield and clinical attack that was merely missing an all-star, an out-and-out match-winner to get them over the line. Or so they thought.
What the Juventus hierarchy did not anticipate however, was the flaws that Ronaldo's presence would create financially and highlight in an ageing and unbalanced squad, which ultimately was humbled by a young Ajax side at the Allianz Stadium.
The number seven's arrival came with immediate drawbacks. Key players and figureheads of the dressing room, Gianluigi Buffon and Claudio Marchisio were moved on, and the previous season's top scorer Gonzalo Higuain was sent on loan to AC Milan, in an attempt to balance the books. Mehdi Benatia was also sold in January, and cracks began to appear in the Juventus backline.
Aside from the experienced Giorgio Chiellini, Juve's options at the heart of their defence had been reduced to mediocre at best. Leonardo Bonucci failed to recapture the form he had shown prior to his ill-fated move to Milan, and Daniele Rugani is yet to demonstrate a run of performances which justify the hype surrounding him.
Ageing duo Martin Caceres and now retired Andrea Barzagli made up the remainder of their defensive options. What the Old Lady once considered an evergreen backline, had never looked older than in the Champions League quarter final defeat to the youthful Ajax.
Ex-Juve manager Massimo Allegri is known for his pragmatic, results-based style of play, and in fairness to the Italian, he is known for winning. His list of accolades is never-ending, as he led the Old Lady through one the most successful periods in their history.
He is not known however, for his attacking, free-flowing football.
His attempts to adapt his side over the course of the season failed, and despite comfortably clinching an eighth successive Scudetti, his change of mentality from defence to attack simply left his side unbalanced and overrun in midfield. Their inability to control the momentum of the match against Ajax was of huge concern to the Agnelli family, and Allegri's failure to progress with his side was his inevitable undoing.
As soon as the 2018/19 season was behind them, Juventus sprung into action. President Andrea Agnelli showed Allegri the door, and hired Maurizio Sarri, a manager with an attacking style of play that would make Juventus more appealing to a wider audience.
They acted quickly in the transfer market, too. Aaron Ramsey was confirmed as a Bianconeri player before the season had ended, and they have since added PSG midfielder Adrien Rabiot to their list of impressive free signings.
These two signings will bring an extra dimension of running, guile and goals to Sarri's side, as Juve will look to take the load off Ronaldo's shoulders over the 38 Serie A matches. As Sarri favours a three-man midfield, alongside playmaker Miralem Pjanić, Juventus may have found a trio whose attributes compliment each other perfectly.
The key position with room for improvement though, is of course their elderly backline. Young Italian Under-21 international Luca Pellegrini was signed from Roma at left-back, but Juventus have been most ruthless in their hunt for a stable of new centre-backs. Promising Turkish defender Merih Demiral has already arrived from Sassuolo, and Genoa's Argentine brick wall Cristian Romero attended the JMedical centre a couple of days ago.
It wouldn't be a summer transfer window without a marquee signing in the pipeline for the Old Lady. Matthijs de Ligt has agreed personal terms with the Turin side, whilst the two clubs continue to haggle over the transfer fee for the young Dutchman. His purchase would put an end to any fears over Juve's defensive capabilities and would once more be a signal of intent, that this side is ready to go the distance in Europe's most prestigious competition.
The stakes remain as high as ever for Juventus, and as the pressure grows each year, Ronaldo's patience may wane. Fortunately, for him, Juventus is a club which learns from its failures, and they are under no false pretences that mistakes were made when signing the ex-Madrid striker.
A squad brimming with young exciting prospects and wily old foxes looks to be built on solid and exciting foundations. The Old Lady has recovered from the errors of last summer, and Cristiano's supporting cast are finally ready to go the distance with him.