Champions League semifinals: Spotlight on Juventus

ABS-CBN Sports on May 01, 2017 01:55 PM
Champions League semifinals: Spotlight on Juventus
Juventus's Paulo Dybala celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during a Champions League, quarterfinal, first-leg soccer match between Juventus and Barcelona, at the Juventus Stadium in Turin, Italy, Tuesday, April 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

DANIELLA MATAR, Associated Press

 

MILAN (AP) — A closer look at Juventus ahead of its Champions League semifinal against Monaco on Wednesday.

SEASON SO FAR:

Juventus is looking to match the Inter Milan side of 2010 and complete a rare treble.

Massimiliano Allegri's team has again dominated domestically and is heading for an unprecedented sixth successive Serie A title as it leads second-place Roma by nine points with four matches remaining.

Juventus is also in the Italian Cup final, where it will face Lazio, as it bids for a third straight league and cup double.

Nobody has been able to match Juventus in the Italian league, where it has the best defense — having only conceded 22 goals in 34 matches — and the second best attack behind Napoli.

Juventus is also almost unbeatable at home where it is currently on a Serie A record 33-match winning run. It hasn't lost at the Juventus Stadium in the Champions League since a 2-0 defeat to Bayern Munich in the 2013 quarterfinals.

The Bianconeri finally appear to be transforming this domestic success to the international stage, where it is bidding to reach a second Champions League final in three years.

Last time it reached the final of Europe's premier club competition, Juventus was swept aside 3-1 by Barcelona. This year it beat the Spanish club 3-0 over two legs in the quarterfinal.

Beating a side which contained Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar — and barely allowing them a chance of a goal — has given Juventus the confidence and belief that it could claim a first European trophy since 1996.

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3 PLAYERS TO WATCH

PAULO DYBALA

Paulo Dybala has had a fantastic two seasons at Juventus since joining from Palermo for 32 million euros (then $36 million) in June 2015.

But it is this season that the Argentine has really made an impact on the international stage, earning comparisons with his more famous compatriot Lionel Messi and reportedly drawing interest from Barcelona and other top clubs.

Juventus fans heaved a sigh of relief when the 23-year-old Dybala signed a new contract at the beginning of the month, tying him to the Bianconeri until 2022.

That deal came just days after Dybala netted two goals in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal against Barcelona.

Dybala has scored 40 goals in all competition for Juventus, making him the club's leading scorer over the past 18 months.

GONZALO HIGUAIN

Gonzalo Higuain might be wearing a different shirt this season but he is still banging in the goals.

Higuain joined Juventus in the offseason for an Italian-record 90 million euros ($100 million) after scoring 36 goals for Napoli last campaign to break a 66-year-old Serie A record.

He is less of a focal point this season, in a team where the goals are more evenly shared out than during his time at Napoli. But Higuain has nevertheless netted 23 league goals — putting him fourth in a tight race for the top goalscorer award — and three in the Champions League.

However, the Argentina forward hasn't scored in a Champions League knockout match since 2013, and he will be eager to end that negative streak against Monaco.

LEONARDO BONUCCI

Leonardo Bonucci is an integral part of Juventus' famed 'BBC defense' along with Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini.

The trio helped put on a defensive masterclass to shut out Barcelona over the 180 minutes of their Champions League quarterfinal.

Bonucci has been an ever-present for Juventus over the past two seasons, making 87 appearances, more than any other player — including captain Gianluigi Buffon.

The Italy international is regarded as one of the best ball-playing defenders in world football, and Bonucci showed off his superb skills with a stunning goal against Genoa recently, going on a mazy run from inside his own half, before firing off an unstoppable shot from the edge of the area.

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COACH

MASSIMILIANO ALLEGRI

There was widespread anguish among Juventus fans in 2014 when Antonio Conte was replaced by Allegri, who had been fired by AC Milan just a few months previously.

But Allegri guided the team to its first Champions League final in 12 years as well as back-to-back league and cup doubles and Juventus is now dreaming of a possible treble.

Like Conte, Allegri is a strict disciplinarian and has instilled in his players an unwavering focus and a duty to never let their guard down.

Allegri is also not afraid to shake things up, as witnessed by his innovative tactics in implementing a daring 4-2-3-1 formation in January.

The system puts forward Miralem Pjanic in a deeper midfield role alongside Sami Khedira, with Juan Cuadrado, Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic sitting just behind Gonzalo Higuain — ultilizing all five star attackers.

Not only has Juventus been more creative and more dangerous going forward, threatening with every wave of attack, but it has also remained solid at the back.

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