As Juventus arrive in Amsterdam this week, their domestic situation could not be any more different to that of Champions League opponents Ajax. The Dutch giants are locked in a ferocious battle for the Eredivisie with PSV Eindhoven, the two teams tied for first place with 71 points after 29 rounds of action.
In Italy however, the Bianconeri are an astonishing 20 points clear of their closest rivals Napoli, needing just a solitary additional point from their last seven matches in order to clinch an eighth consecutive Serie A crown.
All that might be put aside at the Johan Cruijff Arena as two true European heavyweights go head-to-head in the quarterfinals of UEFA’s elite competition. Juve’s performance in the previous round showed what this team is capable of, Max Allegri’s men blowing Atlético Madrid apart in Turin to overturn a two-goal first leg deficit.
That display of relentless attacking intent was of course led by Cristiano Ronaldo (£2.65), but the no.7 has not featured for the club since that victory, suffering a hamstring injury on international duty with Portugal. Without him, the Old Lady understandably stuttered, losing to Genoa before rebounding with wins over Empoli, Cagliari and AC Milan that saw the side heavily rotated as Allegri prepared them for this upcoming clash with Ajax.
How one man dragged a team from Champions League elimination, to Champions League quarter-finalists…
📅 Feb 20th: Atletico 2-0 Juventus
📅 March 12th: Ronaldo 3-0 Atletico
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) April 5, 2019
Those victories also saw Moise Kean (£2.75) seize his opportunity, the homegrown striker stepping into the void created by Ronaldo’s absence and truly announcing his arrival in the first team. Having scored for Italy against Finland and Liechtenstein during the international break, the 19-year-old followed up with crucial strikes against Empoli, Cagliari and Milan even while enduring horrific racist abuse in the middle of those three games.
“Kean is a good lad, very humble, he works hard and has made enormous steps forward this season,” team-mate Miralem Pjanić (£0.78) told Sky Italia this week. “Even before he was playing regularly, we saw his improvements in training, they were clear for all to see. He’s very young, it’s not easy in Serie A, but he’s scoring in every game he plays in. He should set his sights high, because playing for Juventus means you need to aim for the top!”
The youngster has certainly been doing that, but is likely to only be given a place on the bench on Wednesday evening. Ronaldo is expected to return and start in the frontline of Allegri’s 4-3-3 formation alongside Mario Mandžukić (£0.42) and Paulo Dybala (£2.63). Behind them will be a midfield trio of Pjanić, Blaise Matuidi (£0.29) and Emre Can (£0.40), while the solid defence will be marshalled by club Captain Giorgio Chiellini (£0.33).
Supporters of the Bianconeri will hope that they see the team reach the standard they showed against Atléti, a thoroughly modern performance of the level needed to win the competition. Adding Ronaldo to a team that has reached two finals in the last four years ensures Juventus will be among the favourites to lift the trophy, but now they must prove they deserve that tag.