Ahead of the Champions League last 16, Chris Millas (@ChrisMMillas) provides us with a piece on why now is the time to back Juventus to go all the way.
Why Now Is The Time To Back Juventus For Champions League Glory
We're approaching the business end of the season now and a particular competition that has attracted my attention is the Champions League.
For the sake of this article, I will be focusing on the top six sides that head the outright market.
It still amazes me to see Man City as outright favourites, with some bookmakers having them as low as 11/4.
Granted, they are playing some of the best football on the planet right now and scoring goals for fun (just the 108 goals in 38 games in all competitions so far).
They do however look vulnerable defensively and have shown they are beatable this season, both domestically and in the Champions League.
The Citizens are also in a real battle to maintain their status as Premier League champions thanks to Liverpool, who they currently trail by 4 points. I expect the title race to go down to the wire and if so, that will take a lot out of the players both physically and mentally.
Many will say Pep Guardiola’s time at Man City will be judged on whether he can win the Champions League. While I expect the Spaniard’s side to go far in the competition, I do think they will fall short and there is certainly no value in backing them at the available odds.
Barcelona are currently second favourites in the market and can be backed at 9/2 with most bookmakers (best price 19/4 with SportingBet). I think that is a fair price but they have had their troubles this season.
Scoring goals hasn’t been a problem. It is at the other end they have been struggling. Until December, the Ernesto Valverde's side were without a clean sheet in 11 games in the league and had conceded a total of 20 goals after 18 games domestically.
The Blaugrana are unbeaten in the Champions League going into the knockout stages where they have been drawn against Lyon. That itself will be a difficult tie and no doubt the French side will be relishing the opportunity of causing an upset, having already beaten favourites Man City away as well as a hard fought draw at home during the group stages.
Aside from that, Barcelona have looked far from convincing in a number of games this season and while Lionel Messi has been in majestic form, scoring 22 goals in 21 appearances in all competitions, even he I don’t believe can drag them to a 6th title.
Under new manager Thomas Tuchel, PSG recently broke the record for most points by Christmas in Ligue 1, with 47 after 17 games. Most won’t even bat an eyelid at that however, with the league almost a formality for them these days.
There’s no doubt The Parisiens are building a squad to win the Champions League.
PSG topped what was a difficult group that contained Liverpool and Napoli to set up a place in the last 16 against Man Utd, who will fancy their chances under new manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær.
Interestingly, PSG have been knocked out in the knockout stages in the last 2 seasons and have failed to go beyond the quarter-finals in any of the last 6 campaigns.
This is just the second season Thomas Tuchel has been involved as a manager in the Champions League which could become a factor in the latter stages. The German has managed a total of 16 games in the competition and has a record of W8-D4-L4.
Star man Neymar is enjoying a good season, with 20 goals in 22 games in all competitions, including 5 in 6 in Europe. However, the Brazilian has constantly been rumoured to be unhappy in Paris which has lead him to being linked with a move back to the likes of ex-club Barcelona and Real Madrid.
There has also been unrest amongst a number of other players which is never ideal no matter what tournament you are competing in.
PSG will certainly attract many punters at a best price of 15/2 to win the Champions League, and while I do think they have the quality on paper to win it, I question whether all the other ingredients are there for them to deliver on the pitch.
Liverpool are available at best odds 11/1 for this year's Champions League.
They did of course reach the final last season, but we can’t hide from the fact that they had a generous route, meeting the likes of Porto, Man City and Roma on the way.
While they have improved on last season, bringing in the likes of Brazilians Alisson Becker and Fabinho and Swiss international Xherdan Shaqiri, they have other things on their mind.
The Reds currently sit top of the Premier League and their priority will be to stay there for the remainder of the season (I personally hope they do having backed them as part of a dual forecast at the start of the season).
Jurgen Klopp’s side will meet Bayern Munich in the knockout stages which is sure to a difficult tie, despite The Bavarians having their fair share of difficulties this season.
If Liverpool are to go deep into the Champions League, it’s hard to argue that it won’t affect their league form and so it might well just be a blessing in disguise if they do go out early.
Current holders Real Madrid can be backed at 14/1 to defend their crown and claim a 5th Champions League title in 6 seasons. In fact, it would be an unprecedented 4th in a row.
Quite frankly though, they are in a mess this season.
Following Zinedine Zidane’s departure in the summer, Julen Lopetegui was the man chosen to take the reigns. After 6 defeats in 14 games in all competitions, he was soon sacked and replaced by Santiago Solari in late October.
The Argentine and ex-Los Blancos player has failed to really improve things, with 4 defeats already in 16 games in all competitions.
Real Madrid are conceding goals at an alarming rate (24 in 20 games in La Liga) and by their standards, are struggling to score them too.
The failure to replace Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer looks to have had a huge impact. He was instrumental in the Champions League for them over the last 5 seasons – not that you needed me to tell you that.
There’s no hiding the fact that Real Madrid love this competitions. Even when things aren’t going well domestically, they seem to find a way to perform in Europe.
However, things do really look like they have hit rock bottom and so I just can’t be backing them for a 13th title, even at 14/1.
Finalists in 2 of the last 4 seasons, Juventus have already come close to claiming the prestigious trophy, but ultimately lost in both finals, 3-1 to Barcelona in 2015 and 4-1 to Real Madrid in 2017.
Nonetheless, they will have gained a wealth of experience from those defeats. Indeed, 10 of the 14 players involved in that most recent defeat to Real Madrid still ply their trade for the Italians.
In terms of quality and depth, Juventus have it in abundance, with capable replacements in almost every position.
Defensively they are solid with the likes of Leonardo Bonucci, who returned to the club in the summer, and Giorgio Chiellini at the heart of the back-line.
In midfield, they have the no-nonsense workhorse and now World Cup winner Blaise Matuidi alongside the influential and dictator Miralem Pjanić.
Finally in attack, they have the pace and skill of Paulo Dybala and the strength and power of Mario Mandzuzkic.
There is one more player that changes everything. That is of course summer signing Cristiano Ronaldo.
The 5-time Ballon d’Or and Champions League prize-man is a born winner. Not only does he bring experience and devastating quality to this Juventus side, but he is a leader on the pitch. He could be the missing piece of the jigsaw for the Bianconeri and when you are backing a side to win the Champions League, ideally you want CR7 in your ranks.
Domestically, Juventus currently sit top of Serie A with a staggering 56 points after 20 games. With Napoli 9 points behind in 2nd, the title looks likely to be tied up well before the season-end which will mean Juventus can fully focus on the Champions League towards the latter stages.
In terms of the manager, Massimiliano Allegri, who boasts an incredible 72.24 win% at Juventus in all competitions, is someone I rate very highly. The Italian has plenty of experience in the Champions League, and after seeing his side finish as runners up twice in the last 4 years, he will be desperate to go one step further and get his hands on the trophy.
For me, Juventus have everything and are the standout side in the market.
Admittedly, they have lost twice already (1-2 at home to Man Utd and 2-1 away to Young Boys) in the Champions League this season. However, when getting involved in the outright market of knockout style competitions, I like to back sides I believe will improve with each phase and I expect that to be the case here.
Taking all of the above into consideration, Juventus look primed for this year’s competition and that is why I believe now is the time to back them to go all the way and lift the trophy and at odds of 7/1, I am absolutely happy to do that.