A seventh place finish in 2009-10 season’s Serie A saw Juventus, former European champions, make an entry into Europa League. When the teams were drawn for the group stages, quite a few Juventus fans must have felt apprehensive about the presence of Manchester City in the same group. Curiously, despite the presence of City’s expensively assembled stars, it was something else that bothered them; the simple fact that Manchester City is an English club!
Over the last decade, the Old Lady of Turin has been routinely routed by clubs from the other side of English Channel. At times, the defeats have been embarrassing. So, was it always like this? Or is it a recent trend?
Digging into the archives, Juve’s records against English teams throws up a contrasting picture
European Cup/Champions League
1972-73(SF) Juventus 3-1 Derby County (H 3-1, A 0-0)
1982-83(QF) Juventus 5-2 Aston Villa (H 3-1 A 1-2)
1984-85(F) Juventus 1-0 Liverpool
1996-97 (Group) Juventus 2-0 Manchester United (H 1-0 A 0-1)
1997-98 (Group) Juventus 3-3 Manchester United (H 1-0 A 2-3)
1998-99 (SF) Juventus 3-4 Manchester United (H 2-3 A 1-1)
2001-02 (Round 2) Juventus 2-3 Arsenal (H 1-0 A 3-1)
2002-03 (Group) Juventus 2-1 Newcastle United (H 2-0 A 0-1)
2002-03 (Round 2) Juventus 1-5 Manchester United (H 0-3 A 2-1)
2004-05 (QF) Juventus 1-2 Liverpool (H 1-1 A 1-0)
2005-06 (QF) Juventus 0-2 Arsenal (H 0-0 A 2-0)
2008-09 (Round 2) Juventus 2-3 Chelsea (H 2-2 A 1-0)
Cup Winners Cup
1965-66 (Round 1) Juventus 1-2 Liverpool (H 1-0 A 2-0)
1979-80 (SF) Juventus 1-2 Arsenal (H 1-1 A 1-0)
1983-84(SF) Juventus 3-2 Manchester United (H 1-1 A 1-2)
UEFA Cup/Europa League
1971-72 (QF) Juventus 2-3 Wolverhampton Wanderers (H 1-2 A 1-1)
1976-77 (Round 1) Juventus 2-1 Manchester City (H 2-0 A 1-0)
1976-77 (Round 2) Juventus 3-1 Manchester United (H 3-0 A 1-0)
2009-10 (Round of 16) Juventus 4-5 Fulham (H 3-1 A 1-4)
1984 Juventus 2-0 Liverpool
It is quite clear this cycle of losses has come mostly in the 2000s. Before that, Juventus enjoyed an overwhelmingly good record against English teams. In fact, Arsenal’s official site points to Arsenal’s win in 1980 as one of their greatest ever moments while acknowledging the improbability of the away win. What might be the possible reasons for Juventus’ latest trend?
Has Juventus been mentally weak against English teams? Possibly yes. The meltdown against Arsenal in 2006 and Fulham last season can suggest this. Juventus ended both games with nine men on the pitch. The origin of this can be traced back to a UCL semi-final in 1998-1999. In the first leg, Juventus led 0-1 at Old Trafford for most of the game, before Manchester United scored a late equalizer. The match was deemed to be wrapped up when they raced to a 2-0 lead in Turin in first 12 minutes, but Roy Keane had other ideas. In one of the most spectacular instances of leading from the front, Keane, along with Andy Cole, inspired the Red Devils to a memorable 3-2 win. That was Juve’s first home loss to an English team.
Juventus put up a fighting performance against Chelsea
Ever since that loss, the Bianconeri seem to be suffering from a mental block against EPL teams. It’s as if the players are never in control of a game and lack the confidence to kill a tie. This was most evident against Fulham last season, where Juve let in four goals to get knocked out of Europa League. Despite scoring an early goal at Craven Cottage, Juve always looked uncertain and wobbly.
Newcastle United and Liverpool, teams with inferior squads, have managed to defeat the Old Lady. Ever since the Keane inspired comeback, Juve has been prone to witnessing English oppositions clawing their way back.
Style of play
The Italy National Team had a long history of struggles against its English counterpart. Despite winning two world cups, beating an English team remained the holy grail for Azzuri coaches for a long time. According to legendary Italian sports journalist Giani Brera, Italians were by nature physically weak, and thus they suffered against the robust tactics of English teams.
As times passed the rivalry subsided, and the gap between two sides widened. Gradually, it was the Italian teams who became dominant.
Is Juventus being dogged by the English style of play? To an extent, yes. The electric pace and physical approach of English has been a major factor in recent times. Not just Juventus, it has caused problems for most Italian teams. Only Milan, who played an innovative Diamond system, has done well. This was evident in Juve’s loss to Chelsea, where Essien and Ballack’s physical approach rendered the midfield useless for most of the game.
Italian football’s fundamental idea is based on slow build-ups and controlling the pace of a game. Over the last few years, EPL teams with faster, younger and fitter players have stifled the Italian style of play.
Tactical Errors ?
Fabio Capello, despite his incredible success at the club level, has to shoulder the blame for tactical mistakes. When Capello took over from Marcelo Lippi in 2004, Juventus was already the best team in Italy. Capello’s primary target was to beef up the European trophy cabinet; he failed, miserably. He built up a solid but unspectacular Juventus team – a team which was well equipped to win a long drawn league, but lacked the cutting edge in knock-out tournaments.
Capello’s Juventus suffered it’s first hiccup against Liverpool in the Champions League of 2004-05. That season, the Bianconeri specialized in 1-0 scorelines. They had a 100% record in Group league with six identical scorelines. In a match marred by memories of Heysel, Liverpool won 2-1 at Anfield. Juventus were expected to earn another 1-0 result and qualify for next round. Capello chose an extremely flat footed central midfield of Emerson, Manuelle Blasi (away leg) and Ruben Oliviera (home leg). On both occasions, the midfield was over-run by an excellent Igor Biscan partnering Xabi Alonso and Gerrard. Lilian Thuram’s promise of Juventus being “tornados of attack” fell flat faced, as an unimaginative team made a tame exit, drawing 0-0 in the home-leg.
A replay happened in the same stage the next season. This time it was Arsene Wenger’s band of merry men. Capello chose Patrick Vieira and Emerson. Vieira was past his prime, making the combination easy to outwit. A 19 year old rookie called Cesc Fabregas gave a mini-footballing lesson to the veterans in the middle of the park. Two calamitous ties ensued, as Arsenal won 2-0 in aggregate. Juventus were horrible and never looked like getting a result.
Don Fabio got his tactics wrong, by fielding an overtly defensive team while relying on Ibrahimovic for some magic. The Swede’s notoriously poor big match form came to the forefront in these games.
Good Ol’ Bad Luck
Some of the losses has been rather unfortunate. Case in point – the twin losses to Manchester United in 2002-03. Before the away leg in Manchester, most members of the first team caught a virus. Lippi had to field a second string team, and Juve went on to lose 2-1. A week later, most of the players were still not back to full fitness, and the home team slumped to an embarrassing 3-0 loss in Turin.
The Massacre of Craven Cottage
A similar scenario happened in last season’s shambolic loss in Craven Cottage. An injury crisis saw Juve starting with their third choice goalkeeper, 40 year old Antonio Chimenti. The defense contained three full-backs, with Zebina playing as a centre-back. A harsh red card to Cannavaro in the 27th minute meant that Juve were effectively playing without a central defender. None of the full-backs were competent defenders, as Juve slumped to a predictable thrashing.
It is very difficult to pin-point a single cause for Juve’s struggle against English teams. A combination of several factors have led to their miserable run in recent years. The string of poor performances have in turn created a mental hurdle for Italy’s most successful club. Juventus fans will be hoping for a change of fortunes against Manchester City in this year’s Europa League encounter. An emphatic win is sure to put all these spectres to rest.