Very often, European football teams treat the Europa League as an inconvenient afterthought. It’s a competition frequently used to give squad players and youngsters a run out, while a team’s stars put their feet up and relax ahead of more pressing domestic matters.
It’s no surprise. The Europa League is a gruelling competition, which throws up plenty of far-flung fixtures in Eastern Europe, features one extra knockout round than the Champions League and leaves precious little space between Thursday night and weekend league games.
Yet the Europa League should now be the priority for one of Europe’s biggest clubs. Juventus should concentrate their efforts on winning the competition that no team truly aspires to be involved in.
This was meant to be the season that Juventus made an impact on the Champions League. The impact they made – becoming the shock omission from the last-16 – was not what they had in mind.
They say though that with every failure comes an opportunity and that’s certainly the case when it comes to Juventus and the Europa League. When they parachuted down into the last-32 of the competition, Juve were presented with an opportunity that comes rarely.
For the Europa League final will be contested at their own Juventus Stadium in Turin, giving the Italian champions the chance to win a major trophy in front of their own fans.
Since the UEFA Cup and it’s two-legged final were scrapped, such moments in European football are rare and must be grabbed with both hands. Juventus have the chance to give their fans a truly special night and it’s this motivation that makes them the incredibly short favourites to win the competition at just 2.26 with Betfair.
Despite their 2-0 defeat to Napoli last weekend, Juventus are all but assured to become Serie A champions for a third successive season. With seven games to go they hold an eight point lead over Roma and could well have the title mathematically sewn up, before the two sides meet in the penultimate game of the campaign.
That means that Juventus can afford to pay the Europa League far more attention than is often the case with quarter-finalists with one eye on what’s going on at home. There’s also far more at stake than a potentially memorable night in Turin. Having re-established Juventus as the dominant force in Italian football, the pressure is on Antonio Conte to make his mark in European competition.
Last season Juve achieved a credible result in Champions League, eventually being outclassed in the quarter-final by the eventual winners Bayern Munich. With the signings of Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente, Juventus were expected to have the firepower to make more of a mark this term.
Instead they stumbled against the likes of Galatasaray and FC Copenhagen, en-route to elimination. The Europa League provides the chance for an immediate shot at redemption.
The Champions League can easily become a mental stumbling block for sides that dominate in their domestic leagues but struggle to take that form to the highest stage. Inter Milan suffered years of frustration until Jose Mourinho masterminded their eventual 2010 triumph.
Winning the Europa League would give Juventus belief that they need going into next season’s Champions League. Winning becomes a habit. Juve have nailed that winning habit domestically and winning the Europa League would be a step towards repeating that trick in Europe.