Barcelona. Bayern Munich. Real Madrid. Juventus.
Combined, the four clubs have won the Champions League 21 times and played in 37 finals. Every single one of them have won the competition at least once in the last 20 years, and they currently occupy the top spots in the Bundesliga and Serie A, as well as the top two places in La Liga.
Now, those four teams are in the Champions League semifinals. It is a mega-heavyweight deal.
But one of those teams is not like the others. It doesn’t have a player someone would put forth as the best in the world, nor one of the world’s best managers. It doesn’t have a stadium that seats upwards of 70,000 fans. It hasn’t won one of the last four Champions Leagues.
One of these clubs is the team that the other three will e desperate to draw. That club is Juventus.
The Old Lady, for all of her past glory and recent resurgence, is not on the same level of the other teams left in the competition. It is a club that was crushed by match-fixing punishments not even a decade ago and, for its substantial wealth in absolute terms, can only dream of the money that Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid are capable of throwing around.
Juve’s admirably rebuilt its club, becoming the class of Italy again, but that only goes so far since Serie A fell from the ranks of the world’s top leagues. That’s not Juventus’ fault by any means — in fact, the club has done more than its share to keep the league afloat — but the team fighting a mighty uphill battle.
Now Juventus will be asked to matchup with the best teams in the world. Its best player, the brilliant 22-year-old Paul Pogba, would not look out-of-place in any of those squads, but his hamstring injury makes his status for the semifinals a doubt. Even when fit, he isn’t on the level of true elites like Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben. At least, not quite yet.
Juventus’s manager is Max Allegri, a fine leader whose achievements with Juve are starting to earn respect. But he’s no Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti or Luis Enrique.
The team’s most famous player is a 35-year-old Andrea Pirlo, who it is probably better without, at this point. The team’s biggest transfer move in the last 12 months was snagging Real Madrid’s back-up striker, Alvaro Morata, on loan. This is a team that just doesn’t stack up with the giants of European soccer right now.
Juventus finished second in its Champions League group to Atlético Madrid. That’s the same Atlético Madrid that Real Madrid just dispatched. Meanwhile, Real Madrid won every group stage match, Barcelona topped a group that included Paris-Saint Germain, and Bayern Munich has outscored its Champions League opponents 19-1 at home this tournament.
The knockout stage draws were still kind to Juventus, matching them up against a wayward Borussia Dortmund and then stalwart but underwhelming Monaco. That’s hardly Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, who Barcelona beat to get to the semifinals. And it’s not Schalke and Atlético, who Real Madrid conquered. Even Bayern Munich, who got an easy route with Shakhtar Donetsk and Porto, made sure their dominance was clear, scoring seven goals in each round. All the while, Juve struggled against Monaco.
Juventus is a good team. You don’t get to the semifinals of the Champions League if you’re not, even if everything breaks your way. But Juventus is not one of the four best teams in the world. It’s a team that has benefitted from circumstance. Now the team has not just reached the final four, it’s set to be drawn with one of the three best teams in the world.
It’s a level Juve used to compete on, but that’s not the case anymore. The team may compete on this level again soon, but not right now. And when Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid gather around to see which ping-pong ball will get pulled out of the bowl, they’re going to be hoping it’s Juventus who’ll be playing them in the semifinals.