Who: Juventus, three-time defending Italian league champions, Serie A leaders, two-time European champions and seven-time European Cup/Champions League finalist.
When: Tuesday, 2:45 p.m. Eastern against AS Monaco in Turin, Italy.
Why: Because an easy quarterfinal draw has people talking themselves into Juve.
There was a time when Juventus was the best team on the planet. Surprisingly, this time wasn’t that long ago. In a world without widely accessible internet or soaring television rights deals, Juventus had Zinedine Zidane, Alessandro Del Piero and pretty much every other player kids dreamed of being when they grew up. But then they started to fall off and were caught fixing matches. Oops?
Quick guide to Tuesday’s Champions League: Monaco
Now they’re kinda back, but is Juventus the romantic team risen from the dead to carry the mantle of last Italian team left in the competition, trying to preserve the honor of the country? Or is it an evil and terrible match-fixer from a league falling into the abyss? It’s one of the two. Even within Italy, you either love them or hate them.
In theory, sure, you can fall in between those extremes, but with each new year of Italian club soccer’s wane, the last team in the Champions League becomes even more of a proxy. It gets the rallying cries. It gets the romance. It gets the outstretched expectations.
This year, with Juventus drawn against underdog AS Monaco, those calls will likely last into the final four. With that extra exposure, it’s going to be difficult to avoid having an opinion on one of Italy’s most polarizing clubs.
Why Juventus matters: Serie A used to be the best league in the world, and that was less than 20 years ago. Now it’s a shell of its former self and can’t compete with the rest of Europe. That is, with the exception of Juventus.
Juve isn’tt just historically the best team in Italy, but it is the country’s only team that can dream of even an upset of teams like Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Barcelona. The Old Lady is loathed, derided and envied within its own league, but it’s also carrying the flag for all of Italy, trying to keep a once-proud league from sinking into competitive irrelevance.
The cool in Juve: There is none. Unless you have a deep-seeded desire to see Italy remain undeservingly relevant, you have no reason to root for Juventus. Or respect it. Or wish it anything but tears.
No non-Yankees fans adopt the Yanks; nobody switches allegiances to the Lakers. Juventus combines the same type of historical success and navel-gazing arrogance. It’s disgusting.
Maybe, at some point, this dynamic will invert onto itself. After all, some people are wearing their shorts after too high, far too tight than shame should allow. For now, though, Juventus is still very much part of your father’s wardrobe.
Watch this player: This would normally be “watch Paul Pogba; don’t take your eyes off Paul Pogba; say you knew Paul Pogba when.” The man’s going to be very rich, very soon, in a very no longer in Juventus kind of way. Unfortunately, he is also injured, his season likely over as he recovers from a leg problem.
Midfielder Andrea Pirlo is the other obvious answer, but contrary to what cigar-sniffing and mahogany-rubbing soccer fans admit, not everybody loves seeing switched ball after switched ball placed at the feet of a fullback in no position to threaten. Sure, it helps, and the skill is admirable as all hell, but when featured in a game that also includes Carlos Tévez, you can see why other fans would be distracted.
Tévez is the one game-breaker in Juventus’s team. Short, fast, powerful and often intimidatingly determined, “El Apache” is capable of turning a close match on his own. He isn’t at the same level of threat as Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, but at his tunnel-visioned best, he can be every bit as effective as a Luis Suárez or Robeto Lewandowski.
And if those names mean nothing to you, know that this guy is today’s Russell Westbrook, or Yasiel Puig. Maybe he’s not the best player in the league, but often, he’s the best player in the game. And he’s a damn entertaining one, too. Every defender will be told he’s the man to stop, with few in the world capable of actually doing so.
What Juventus has to do: Juventus was handed a gift when the draw put them against Monaco. The Old Lady actually have a chance to advance now! Wow … Juventus has fallen far.
Realistically, the team only has to play well. There isn’t anything fancy about this one. Juventus is the better team, it’s a perfectly fine match-up, and if Juve Juve make the semifinals, it’ll have no one to blame but itself.