Turin (Italy) (AFP) – Massimiliano Allegri is the man who has taken Juventus closest to their dream of Champions League glory in recent seasons, but he begins this season’s European campaign in the midst of a dreadful start to the season which has put their domestic credentials under the spotlight.
The 52-year-old was pelted with eggs by fans when he arrived for his first spell at Juve in 2014, due to the rows in which he was involved with Juve while managing AC Milan and the fact he was replacing club legend Antonio Conte, but he won over supporters by leading Juve to five straight league titles and two Champions League finals.
The Old Lady of Italian football tried to go one step further with the shock 2018 signing of Cristiano Ronaldo, who had ended their hopes of a first Champions league title since 1996 the previous two seasons.
However it was a 100-million euro gamble which didn’t pay off, with Juventus allowing Ronaldo to leave at a fraction of the price three summers later, their status on the continent less than it had been when the five-time Ballon d’Or winner arrived.
Ronaldo is the Champions League’s all-time highest scorer but even with him in their ranks they failed to get any further than the quarter-finals and in the past two seasons were dumped out in the last 16 by Lyon and Porto.
Juve have also somewhat lost their way domestically, last season finishing 13 points behind league winners Inter Milan under novice coach Andrea Pirlo and only qualifying for the Champions League on the final day of the campaign because Napoli failed to beat Verona at home.
Now Allegri returns to the Juve dugout this season not as an enemy but an old friend, charged both with re-establishing their pre-eminence in Italy and rebuilding their European reputation with a weaker line-up than the teams he took to within one match of glory in 2015 and 2017.
– ‘Life goes on’ –
Ronaldo had already been rumoured to want out this summer and charismatic Allegri practically shrugged his shoulders while announcing last season’s top scorer in Italy had no intention of ever playing for Juve again.
Never a coach short of confidence, Allegri said “life goes on” as he played down the exit of one of the game’s greatest ever players, but his second spell is off to a wobbly start.
Losers at Napoli on Saturday, Juve have just one point from their first three games and look a shadow of the team which dominated Italian football for nearly a decade while just falling just short on Europe’s biggest stage on two occasions.
They kick off their continental campaign at Malmo, a relatively soft start to Group H which before the Napoli defeat Allegri called the “most important” game of a group which also contains European champions Chelsea.
“Let’s hope that we can begin the Champions League better than we have the league season,” Allegri then said after his depleted side fell to defeat in Naples.
He should have most of his first choice XI back for the trip to Sweden, with Juve’s South American internationals — including key players Paulo Dybala and Juan Cuadrado — absent at Napoli due to their World Cup qualifying exertions now ready to play.
The only doubt remains Federico Chiesa, who also missed Saturday’s defeat through an unspecified muscular problem and trained separately on Monday morning.
Allegri will be hoping that a side resembling full strength can bounce back quickly from their early setbacks as between now and the next international break early next month they will have to face AC Milan and Chelsea, with a Turin derby thrown in for good measure.
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