Are Juventus favourites for the UEFA Champions League having signed Gonzalo Higuain?
Gonzalo Higuain is an oft-abused man these days. If it’s not irate Lionel Messi supporters who hold him responsible for the Barcelona man’s international trophy drought for Argentina, he’s become persona-non-grata in Naples by crossing the North-South divide of Italian culture and moving to Turin-based Juventus.
Yet, one can hardly blame the lanky Argentine if viewed from the neutral’s perspective. For a youngster who grew up with dreams of the pinnacle of football in Real Madrid and River Plate, the environs of the Stadio San Paolo, no matter how intense and ardent, are not those of one of the world’s best clubs.
Juventus, La Vecchia Signora of Torino, might just be that.
The dark days of the Calciopoli scandal are just 9 years gone, but it’s a far cry from where Juve find themselves now. With Higuain’s signing, Juventus have killed two birds with one arrow – they have significantly strengthened upfront, while weakening a direct rival. In addition to signing Miralem Pjanic from Roma, Juventus have effectively wrapped up the 2016/17 Serie A title without a ball being kicked.
Yet, look closer, and one can see that the officials of the Old Lady are aiming higher. Have Juventus become favourites for the UEFA Champions League with a single, record-breaking singing?
It almost reads like blasphemy, at first glance – how can a Serie A club even be considered favourites for the Champions League title with the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid existing while Manchester City are reinvigorated under Pep Guardiola’s guidance? There is merit to the thought though, and we can start right at the back.
Juventus’ defence brings back memories of Catenaccio
It’s not a strictly accurate comparison, since Juventus are far more positive and clean that Herrera’s Inter Milan. Yet, look around world football and I doubt if there is a defence that even compares. The quartet of Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini and Gianluigi Buffon have almost a telepathic understanding, with even the best of strikers unable to breach their record-breaking defence last season.
Allegri has added Mehdi Benatia and Dani Alves to an already tight defence, additions that effectively negate any weaknesses in depth regarding Juve’s defensive unit, with Daniele Rugani also waiting in the wings. Casting a wary eye around European football, and one would be hard-pressed to find a better defence. Real Madrid may come close, but still have personnel weaknesses, while Barcelona remain perenially suspect at the back, with perhaps Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels’ partnership for Bayern rivalling Juventus.
Yet, in sheer terms of individual quality coupled with an incomparable team ethic, Juventus remain the best.
Higuain takes Juventus’ attack to another level
The Bianconeri won the Serie A title on the back of Paolo Dybala’s 19 goals last season, with Alvaro Morata not exactly setting the world alight as well. Juventus have managed to win the title and go deep in the Champions League over the last couple of seasons without having prolific strikers, which makes their purchase of Higuain seem all the more prescient.
The Argentine striker is considered overpriced in some quarters, but that is the mark of a top club as well. Gareth Bale never seemed worth the 100 million, but served another purpose – to announce Real Madrid as competitors to Barcelona – and with 2 Champions League trophies won since, Florentino Perez was vindicated, in a sense.
Higuain’s price ought to serve a similar purpose for Juve – the watching footballing universe ought to take the Italians seriously. Indeed, regular watchers of Serie A are savouring the idea of a Higuain-Dybala combination, since the pair’s qualities seem tailormade for each other. Dybala’s brand of lethal creativity ought to dovetail nicely with Higuain’s hold-up play as well as his finishing. Juventus have gone from a middling attack to probably the second-most fearsome attack with a single purchase.
If Juventus are to be favourites, retaining Pogba is a must
Paul Pogba’s incessant links with Manchester United and Real Madrid have hogged the newspaper headlines, with most pundits considering it a foregone conclusion that the Frenchman will leave Juventus. However, Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola has always maintained that remaining with Juventus is a possibility.
In fact, if Juventus are shrewd about it, retaining Pogba even for a season might pay off – A midfield of Sami Khedira, Paul Pogba and Miralem Pjanic seems mouth-watering, not to mention that Allegri’s backup options of Claudio Marchisio, Hernanes and Stefano Sturaro could hold its own as well.
Indeed the strength in depth that Juventus hold is perfect for a gruelling league season, but the UEFA Champions League requires magic – at either ends of the pitch. With their defence being the best in club football, Higuain was the missing piece of the puzzle.
After a 20 year wait, Juventus might just be placing their hands on the most coveted trophy in club football next May, thanks to a lanky Argentinian.