Tuesday night’s Champions League Quarter-Final in Turin sees two of European football’s grandest clubs go head-to-head, Barcelona travelling to Juventus Stadium in a repeat of the competition’s 2015 Final. Luis Enrique’s side beat the Bianconeri 3-1 that day in Berlin and have enjoyed incredible continuity ever since, with a distinct possibility that ten of their starting XI from that previous clash will be in action this time around.
After picking up his third booking of the campaign in Barca’s incredible comeback win over Paris Saint-Germain, Sergio Busquets is the only man certain to be missing here, but the odd man out is unquestionably going to be Dani Alves.
After his contract expired in the summer, the Brazilian wing-back opted to leave Camp Nou and sign for the Bianconeri, much to the surprise of his former team-mates. "I don’t exactly know why Dani Alves decided to leave,” Marc Andre Ter Stegen told Tuttosport last week. “But now he plays for a team of equal quality and I think for him it has been a good experience on a personal as well as a professional level. I suppose that his decision was not only motivated by sport but also on personal reflection.”
Having joined Barcelona back in 2008, Alves had played almost 400 games for the club and collected 23 different winner’s medals, a trophy haul that included a trio of Champions League triumphs. He is one of Barca’s most decorated players, but now he is at Juventus, hoping to help the Old Lady end a 21-year wait to lift European football’s most prestigious honour.
Alves revealed that he felt disrespected after Barca only offered him a new contract when they were given a transfer ban in 2015 and, as he explained in an interview with ABC last month, his reasons for moving to Serie A were simple:
“I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and compete at a high level with a historic and winning club, because I’m a winner. So are Juventus,” the 33-year-old said. “This is an institution which always has something to teach you, which always competes. I’m happy here, and I’ve found beautiful new challenges in a great team.”
He was welcomed in Turin with open arms, with even the club Captain admitting he could learn from the new arrival. "I asked Dani Alves to help us, above all us older members of the team, to achieve the dream we are still chasing and help us push the bar a little higher," Gigi Buffon told Sky Italia. “He's rather accustomed to certain targets and victories, so I think in that sense his experience can really help us!”
Experience is something this current Juventus team has plenty of, Buffon recently playing his 1000th game as a professional and now trailing only Paolo Maldini in terms of Serie A appearances. The defensive trio of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini have rarely played together this season, but they have been together since 2010/11, while Claudio Marchisio joined the club when he was just seven years old.
In addition to Alves’ arrival on a free transfer, Juve’s other summer signings hinted strongly that the club – who had already clinched five consecutive league titles – was looking to add European glory as soon as possible. They spent €90 million to trigger Gonzalo Higuain’s release from Napoli and a further €32 million to do the same for Miralem Pjanić at AS Roma, while Medhi arrived on loan from Bayern Munich.
That trio are 29, 27 and 29 respectively. They were not signed for the future, Juventus were not worried about how their transfer fees would reflect on their balance sheet. Yes the Bianconeri have continued to add young talent like Atalanta’s Mattia Caldara (22) and Rodrigo Bentancur (19) from Boca Juniors, but this is a team built to win now and win big.
After the weekend’s results they sit six points clear at the top of Serie A with just seven games remaining. No team has ever won the Scudetto in six consecutive seasons, while they are also in the Coppa Italia final, looking for a record third-straight victory in that competition too.
But Italian doubles are not the standard by which this team will be judged, Coach Max Allegri and his men clearly want to go one step further and have happily admitted that is the case. “The treble is possible,” Tomás Rincón – another 29-year-old who joined in January – noted last week, while Stephan Lichtsteiner told JTV that “we've won a lot of domestic trophies in recent years and now, like the fans, we want the Champions League!”
They are not hiding their ambition, and the club’s management team have backed Allegri heavily in the transfer market to help make that dream a reality. As Buffon said, Dani Alves’ experience will help, as with the guile of Pjanić, the goals of Higuain and the quality of that outstanding veteran backline, unquestionably the best defence left in the competition.
These two games against Barcelona are not a way to measure their progress over the last years, they are fixtures they must win in order to advance. For Juventus, this Juventus, the future is of no concern. The time is now. Show and prove.