With just under three months of the 2016/17 season still to play, Juventus look on course for a sixth successive Scudetto and are in healthy positions to progress from both their Coppa Italia Semi Final and Champions League last of sixteen round ties. Could this be their year to join the elite club of European teams to win “The Treble”?
Only eight sides have won their Domestic League and Cups as well as the European Cup in the same season. Celtic created history by becoming the first ever side to achieve the feat in 1967. Dutch giants Ajax and PSV Eindhoven repeated Celtic’s achievement in 1972 and 1988 respectively. Alex Ferguson’s Manchester Utd became the first team of the modern era to win “The Treble” (with the European Cup re-branded as the Champions League) in 1999. It was then another ten years until Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona became the first team in the new millennium to lift all three trophies. Within a year, Jose Mourinho’s ageing Inter Milan did the unthinkable by beating Bayern to the feat. Bayern Munich finally got there three years later with Barca becoming the first side to do it for a second time, two years ago in 2015…defeating the Old Lady themselves in the final in Berlin.
The fact that “The Treble” has only been accomplished eight times shows just how difficult it has been to achieve over the years. However, it can be argued that since 2009, the time frame between successful treble winning sides has shortened significantly with four trebles in the space of six years. This season there are a few teams who still feel they have a chance. But as we approach the second legs of the Champions League last sixteen ties, there are currently four hot favourites to etch their names firmly into the history books… Barcelona, Bayern Munich, PSG and Juventus. But are the Bianconeri sufficiently equipped to do it this year?
Two years ago, Juventus were close but not close enough. Despite giving Luis Enrique’s Barcelona a run for their money they eventually lost out to Lionel Messi and co by 3 goals to 1. That year Juve had beaten Roma to the Serie A title by a massive 17 points and had beaten Roma’s bitter rivals Lazio 2-1 after extra time in the final of the Coppa Italia. Fast forward two years and Juve still remain the team to beat in Italy. Top of Serie A, leading Roma by 8 points they take a 3-1 lead with them to the San Paolo when they face Napoli in the second leg of their Coppa Italia Semi Final in just under a month. Massimiliano Allegri’s side also take a healthy 2-0 away victory in Porto back to Turin next week and will feel confident of progressing past the Portuguese side to the Quarter Finals of the Champions League.
Little has changed in the clubs position over the last two years. One thing that certainly has is personnel. While the Italian core of the Old Lady (Buffon, Chiellini, Bonucci, Barzagli, Marchisio) remains intact, much of the squad has changed. Two years ago, the team that almost won the treble boasted the likes of Patrice Evra, Arturo Vidal, Paul Pogba, Andrea Pirlo, Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata, all of whom were prominent figures during Juve’s double and featured in that Champions League Final. The calibre, class and determination of that squad certainly were treble material that year, but they ultimately lost out despite pushing a wonderful Barcelona side all the way. Two years later, those players have all moved on, yet Juventus find themselves in with a big chance, possibly the best chance they’ve ever had of winning all three prizes come what May.
This is down to their player recruitment over the last two years. Losing such influential match winners in Vidal, Pirlo and Tevez in one Summer ultimately was too much for Juve last season when they just lost out to Bayern Munich in the last sixteen despite bringing in the likes of Sami Khedira, Juan Crudrado, Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic. In what will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the best, if not the best, game of last season’s Champions League, Bayern managed to come back from 2-0 down in front of their own fans to force extra time and ultimately score twice in extra time to knock the Bianconeri out of the competition. Juventus were fantastic that evening having gone into the game underdogs conceding twice in the draw at home from the first leg. Two early goals from Pogba and Cuadrado saw Juve take a firm grip on the tie and they should have scored a third, missing a couple of guilt edge opportunities with Morata unluckily having a goal wrongly chalked off for offside.
Of course that night, Lady Luck failed to shine on the Old Lady. Despite it, they still ended up with a Scudetto and Coppa Italia to their name, the same feat they achieved the year before. However, it was an opportunity missed and perhaps highlighted to Allegri the lack of depth and experience Juve had that year to get past one of the real favourites for the trophy that year. Although Juve are yet to come up against the likes of Carlo Ancelotti’s men in Europe or domestically this season, they are looking strong on all three fronts this year. We won’t know exactly how good this Juve are until they meet the likes of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, PSG and even a much improved Man City.
What we do know is Juve’s recruitment in the summer has not only consolidated their position in Serie A but has certainly increased the quality in their ranks. Dani Alves, a man who has won it all for so long has provided that winning mentality as well as competition which has upped Stephan Lichtsteiner’s game. Pjanic, who had taken a while to get going, not only was a huge loss to Roma but gave Allegri a quality option in the absence of the injured Claudio Marchisio as well as being a man able to score a goal out of nothing from a set piece much like a certain Andrea Pirlo did. However, the purchase of Gonzalo Higuain finally gives Juve a man who is arguably the World’s best finisher. With chances usually few and far between in knock out football, having a man who only needs one chance, one sniff at goal to score, could make the difference between success and failure this time around.
The experience added to the squad not only in recruitment makes Juve’s chances of going one better higher this year but in having another year behind their younger players we’ve also seen the likes of Rugani and Sturaro improve when they have been called upon, particularly Rugani who has jumped ahead of summer signing Benatia when it comes to standing in for any one of the BBC. Alex Sandro has become the first choice left back and has been in exceptional form this year, so much so that Allegri was comfortable enough to let Evra leave. Couple this with the return from injury and to form of Paulo Dybala, Allegri now has a squad at his disposal which allows him to be more flexible in terms of giving players a rest, but more importantly, in tactics on a game by game basis. This season he has switched between three and four at the back to recently even playing all three of Dybala, Mandzukic and Higuain at the same time in Serie A.
An eight point gap at the top of Seire A should be enough but of course, while extremely unlikely, anything can happen in football. Despite the healthy lead it hasn’t all been plain sailing for Juve this year as last weekends draw in Udine proved. Juve have come up short in early season defeats to the Milan clubs and more recently against Fiorentina. Napoli are by no means out of the Coppa Italia yet and on their day still have the potential to cause a similar upset as those clubs already have. However, if they have the right attitude and manage these games in the right way between now and the end of the season then they are rightly odds on favourites for these trophys.
The Champions League is the trophy that has eluded them for so long, ever since Vialli, Ravenelli, Ferrara, Peruzzi, Del Piero and co lifted Old Big Ears back in 1996. Perhaps the biggest reason they can go all the way in all three competitions this year is because they’ve been runners up four times since 96 and all season have made no secret of their desire to finally win their third European Cup in May. Although not the favourites this time round, they are certainly dark horses for the trophy and are certainly well equipped to add their name to the small list of treble winners.