After being given a week to come to grips with the Juventus’s inevitable Champions League demise, today’s outcome was no surprise. Duplicating their result from last Tuesday, Bayern Munich defeated Juve 2-0 in Turin, easily advancing to the competition’s semifinals with a 4-0 aggregate win in what was supposed to be the tie of the round.
Ultimately, it was the competition’s most lopsided quarterfinal. Bayern and Juventus’s was the only tie decided by more than two goals, the final margin in each FCB romp. And while it’s cliché to say a final score does or does not do a match justice, 180 minutes of Juve futility leaves us with the feeling München could have put a much more embarrassing number on the Italian champs.
Kicking off with a two-goal lead, Bayern brought little of the intensity that defined the onset of last week’s match. Instead, Mario Mandzukic played off the defense, Bayern often appearing to form a line of four just on top of Juventus’s midfield. When Bayern forced their eventual turnovers, they’d sprint into counters that would eventually fade when Juve collected themselves behind the ball. The chances were rare, but the possession constantly deflated any progress Juventus tried to make.
By the half-hour mark the Old Lady was finally making some headway, but that meant going from no chances to half-chances, still a long way from truly threatening Bayern. Any momentum the Italians were trying to build was stymied in the 64th minute, when a restart led to Bayern’s tie-killing goal. After Mandzukic cleaned up a Javi Martínez chance, Juventus needed four goals in 26 minutes to reach the semifinals.
A late Claudio Pizarro goal barely drew celebration or disappointment. By that time, the teams had accepted their divergent fates, destinies last week’s lopsided game had made perfectly clear. For whatever reason – Juventus’s history, shift of venue, nebulous Bayern fragility – we convinced ourselves there’d be something into today’s match. Oh, were we ever wrong.
The only take away from Wednesday’s result is not a verdict on which team’s better (we knew that eight days ago). Bayern’s title credentials were neither hurt nor helped, while we knew Juve’s tactical peculiarities and talent deficiencies (compared to Bayern) would be debilitating if their more mystical qualities didn’t shine through.
But there was no mysticism to be had. As much as we wanted to believe an Italian champion could carry a romantic past into today’s Champions League, chairman Angrea Angelli was right when, last December, he said the club is still be chasing European titans who have more to put into their squads. They may be untouchable in Italy, but if Juventus want to transcend this new version of flat track bullying, they’ll need two-to-three more summers of smart buying to improve a limited squad.
It’s not just the strikers, though that’s the most glaring deficiency. Their midfield is fine, but it’s too dependent on one aging star. A backline that’s solid but unspectacular would have trouble dropping any of its starters into other top European defenses. And the team needs more depth to provide an alternative to the 3-5-2 that exasperated their problems against Bayern. In terms of talent, this team is nowhere close to the squads that are still alive in this competition.
For those of us who grew up in a world where Italy’s teams were among the world’s best (so, all of us), today was another reminder of our increasing age, the passing years, and our stagnant memories. The days when a top Italian team can be counted on to be one of Europe’s best are long gones, even if a Serie A side lifted the trophy only three years ago. Juventus is leaps and bounds better than Napoli or Milan, yet they’re years behind a Bayern, and while you don’t want to read too much into one team’s singular results, Italy’s collective results aren’t much better (see: UEFA coefficient). FCB may prove to be by far the best team in Europe this year, but the distance they put between them and Juventus shows how far Italy’s fallen.
For many of you less stubborn sorts, that’s an obvious statement, and I’m not exactly enlightened by the conclusion, either. I guess I’m still not used to a soccer landscape where Italy’s champion is cast in the same light as an FC Porto, or Shakhtar Donetsk, or Zenit St. Petersburg or Anderlecht. Yes, these teams dominate their leagues, and they look good doing do, but what does that really tell us?
It told us nothing about Juventus. They were so far behind the pace against Bayern, they could have been Anderlecht or Zenit. The win did tell us anything about FCB, and as much as it pains me to admit it, I was completely wrong in saying this matchup came two rounds too soon.
It’s not painful because I’m wrong. That happens all the time. It’s painful because a bedrock of my soccer past is not returning any time soon. We just can’t take anything for granted with Italian soccer, anymore.