Juventus should be runaway Group H winners if they can maintain focus
Juventus have been drawn against Lyon, Sevilla and Dinamo Zagreb in Champions League Group H. Here's a look at their European campaign.
For the first time in a long time, Juventus are in a group that they should win comfortably. While none of their opponents should be underestimated, especially Sevilla who have won the last three editions of the Europa League, the Italians have managed to avoid the tricky ties.
This is unlike any other season for Juventus. The Italian champions want to be taken seriously and are desperate to recover their reputation as a force in Europe. It is for this reason they splashed the cash on Gonzalo Higauin and are still working on bringing in more stars despite losing Paul Pogba. With Dani Alves' experience, Miralem Pjanic's creativity and Higuain's efficiency, expectations are high and the Italians will no longer be looked upon as the dark horses but as one of the favourites to win the competition.
While Juventus have certainly upgraded their team, have they upgraded their character? Their defeat to Bayern Munich last season proved that the Bianconeri can still be intimidated by the bigger sides but if they change their attitude and begin to believe in their ability to defeat any opponent that stands in their way then perhaps they can achieve glory. The draw was certainly kind to them and it is in these early matches that Juve must prove their determination and desire to win to ensure first place in the group.
Juventus came to rue their match against Sevilla last season when a Fernando Llorente goal in the Sanchez Pizjuan condemned the Italians to second place in their group. That forced them to play a difficult match against Bayern Munich in the next round leading to an early exit. For this reason, Juve must play with confidence and determination in every single match in the group stage to assure themselves a first-place finish.
Sevilla should prove to be the toughest opponent. For a club that continuously lose their greatest players every summer never seem to lose their ability to compete. Unai Emery's departure will be felt but Jorge Sampaoli is a respected manager who has clear ideas. Playing an energetic style of football that revolves around relentless running and pressing, the Spaniards will attempt to force Juve into mistakes. This will be the match in which the Old Lady must demonstrate her composure and ability to keep possession and dictate the tempo.
The Spaniards will tire as based on recent games it seems such a dynamic style of football seemingly robs the forwards from the concentration and accuracy required to score goals. Nonetheless it's imperative Juventus do not underestimate their opponents for they struggle to win the matches in which they're deemed the favourites.
Last season, Manchester City were looked upon as the side that could beat the Bianconeri. Blessed with experience and star names, Juventus knew they would have to compete and they did, winning both matches. Instead, it was the games against Borussia Monchengladbach that gave Juventus the most problems. Predict an easy win and the Italians suffer, forced to play the game of their lives and Juve rarely disappoint.
Dinamo Zagreb may be the weakest team in the group but they have the capability to cause shockwaves. Blessed with players who are young, dynamic and tenacious, the Croatians produced Marko Pjaca and have other starlets within the side who are keen to get noticed.
Juventus must prove they have matured and play with determination in every single match, even against those they deem inferior. Any small slip up and the Italians risk a nervy ending to the group stage matches.
Juventus will play their toughest match of the group stage on Nov. 22, when they visit Sevilla. Should they manage a win away from home and in their opponent's fiery stadium then they ought to top their group and secure progress to the next stage of the competition.
A draw against Sampaoli's team could be enough if the Old Lady has secured wins away from home against both Lyon and Zagreb.
With all the investments made, Juventus have spent the cash they deem necessary to allow them to compete with the boy boys. Anything other than a semifinal place in the competition will be deemed a failure by the Italians.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.