Tonight, Juventus will host La Liga side Villarreal in the return leg of the 2021/22 UEFA Champions League Round of 16.
It can be a season’s defining moment for Massimiliano Allegri and his men, who have an incredible chance to write their name on the shortlist of Europe’s top-8 soccer teams and be the only Italian club featuring in this elite group.
After Cristiano Ronaldo left Juventus at the beginning of the 2021/22 Serie A campaign, the Bianconeri entered a tough stretch of games, struggling to keep up with the pace of AC Milan, Inter Milan and Napoli. For months, Juventus lingered in the middle part of the Serie A table, leaving many to wonder whether they would even reach a top-4 finish this season.
Then, the team reversed the negative trend, and large credit has to be given to their manager’s winning mentality, which revolves around the importance of efficiency.
Allegri is renowned for having once drawn an interesting comparison between horse racing and soccer matches: During a press conference, he pointed out that to win a race, a horse doesn’t have to be ahead of its opponents by several lengths, as it will just need to put its “short-head” in front when crossing the finish line. With this analogy, the Italian manager alluded to the fact that he doesn’t ask his team to win by a large goal margin – a victory is all that he wants.
After dealing with strong criticism due to their poor start to the season, Juventus weathered the difficult situation and managed to pull off an incredible run in Serie A, many times winning games by a single-goal margin. They slowly climbed the Serie A table (their last defeat dates back to Nov. 27, 2021) and are now just seven points shy of league leaders AC Milan.
Tonight, the Bianconeri will try to leverage their positive momentum in the highly-anticipated match-up against Villarreal at Turin’s Allianz Stadium.
Qualifying to the UEFA Champions League quarter finals would earn Juventus $12.4 million in prize money, with the reward increasing in size as teams advance to the tournament’s next stages. Progressing in UEFA’s lucrative competition would help ease the burden brought about on soccer clubs by two years of financial challenges.
Last September, mainly as a consequence of the pandemic, Juventus posted a record-high loss, which pushed the board of directors to approve a capital increase. Players’ spending has also been a factor, as the club made a significant financial effort to sign 22-year-old prolific striker Dusan Vlahovic from Fiorentina in the January transfer window.
What is more, Juventus are currently dealing with the expiring contracts of some of their key players, such as Juan Cuadrado and Federico Bernardeschi, but especially Argentine star Paulo Dybala, who is expecting to see a raise to his $8m/year paycheck before he accepts to extend his stay in Turin.
Tonight, Juventus and Villarreal are starting from a 1-1 aggregate score. With Dybala just returning from a soft-tissue injury, Vlahovic and Alvaro Morata are expected to start on top of Allegri’s 4-4-2 formation.
Beginning this year, the away-goal rule is no longer in effect in the UEFA Champions League, meaning that the team that scores the most goals over two legs will advance to the next round. If the aggregate score at the end of the two fixtures is equal, the game will extend into overtime and, if necessary, a penalty shoot-out will eventually break the tie.
Juventus are under pressure to qualify and claim a spot in the UEFA Champions League quarter finals, a stage that was last reached by an Italian soccer club during the tournament’s 2019/20 edition.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism