Can Juventus win the Champions League this season?
They’d certainly like to, although they’d have to overcome Lyon in the second-leg of their last 16 tie – which they currently trail 1-0 from their first game.
And of course, the ability to play European football’s biggest and best competition will need to align with various travel and lockdown rules in this strange, pandemic-stricken reality.
Barring all of that, they’d need to actually reach the final – and win.
Juve last won the Champions League in 1996 when a stylish side managed by Marcello Lippi was able to get the better of Louis Van Gaal’s Ajax. Since then, they’ve reached the final five times (in 1997, 1998, 2003, 2015 and 2017) without reward.
Their three most recent defeats are still quite fresh in our memory – that never-ending penalty shootout against AC Milan, the terrifying force of Barcelona’s MSN, and the barrage of attacks from Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid.
But could an ultimate Juventus XI, made up from players of these three sets of beaten finalists, actually win the Champions League?
Let’s have some fun, and try to find out…
Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon (2003, 2015, 2017)
Of course, we had to start with Buffon – the only player to appear in all three of the finals we’ve mentioned and perhaps one of the best and most successful players in history to win so much… other than ol’ Big Ears.
The evergreen goalkeeper – who’s still bloody playing, despite turning 42 back in January – is widely regarded as one of the greatest in his position.
In fact, it’s hard to say which form of Buffon we’d like to have; should we pick the 2003 Buffon who was just about to reach his peak, or the 2015 Buffon who was months away from breaking the record for the longest streak without conceding a goal in Serie A history?
Right-back: Lilian Thuram (2003)
We’re going to play four at back, just like Juve did in 2003 with the 4-4-2, and in 2015 with the 4-1-2-1-2.
An ageing Dani Alves, who played as a right-sided wing-back (2017) and Stephan Lichtsteiner (2015) make compelling cases of their own, but Thuram’s our pick of the three.
Versatile, speedy, but not particularly flashy or technical – by today’s standards, anyway – Thuram was rock solid, gloriously experienced and one of the finest defenders of his generation; so in the end, opting for the Frenchman was an easy choice.
Centre-backs: Giorgio Chiellini (2017) and Leonardo Bonucci (2015 and 2017)
Juve have had their fair share of top quality centre-backs over the years; Ciro Ferrara and Paolo Montero stood out from the 2003 line-up, as did Andrea Barzagli, who featured in 2015 and 2017.
But in the end, who are we to turn down Chiellini and Bonucci?
Both are considered two of the best defenders in the Serie A and are widely celebrated for their blend of power, strength, intelligence, leadership and versatility, as well as being technically gifted on the ball.
Left-back: Gianluca Zambrotta (2003)
Our first controversial call of the day?
Out of all of the left-backs we could’ve picked; Montero, who played as a left-back in 2003, a-slightly-past-his-best Patrice Evra in 2015, and Alex Sandro from 2017, we’ve actually picked a player who didn’t play as a left-back in any of the three respective finals.
Instead, Zambrotta, famed for his versatility, played on the left-side of Juve’s midfield against AC Milan, in a position he was just as comfortable in alongside either flank of defence. In the 2002 World Cup, for example, he played on the right of midfield, but four years later he was used as a right-back to accommodate Fabio Grosso on the left.
But he often played as a left-back for Juventus, famously being deployed in the position by Lippi throughout the 2002/03 Serie A campaign when Mauro Camoranesi took his place on the right-wing.
In simpler terms, Gianluca was a stylish, Italian equivalent of James Milner, and at the age of 26 he was at his peak in 2003.
Defensive midfield (or ‘Regista’, if we’re being fancy): Andrea Pirlo (2015)
Technically, Pirlo also played in the 2003 final… but he was batting for the other team in that victorious Milan side (boo!).
But while he won the Champions League twice with Milan (along with plenty of other cups and medals), Pirlo is now perhaps best-celebrated for his time at Juventus. He grew his iconic beard while he was in Turin, and experienced a redemption story of sorts when he enjoyed further success at Juve after being cast out by Milan in 2011.
The 2015 final was his final game for the Old Lady and alongside Paul Pogba and Claudio Marchisio (with Arturo Vidal just ahead of him) he formed a stylish midfield trio that was oozing in cool and class.
In our midfield-three he’d be playing in much the same role; a centre-piece for the team’s attacking play, with his composure in possession, elegance on the ball, and vision for a pass.
Central-midfield: Edgar Davids (2003) and Paul Pogba (2015)
Having Davids alongside Pirlo is basically every avid Football Manager-players dream, wet or otherwise.
Perhaps even cooler than Pirlo (if that’s possible) with his long hair and protective goggles, Davids would certainly compliment his midfield counterpart with his energy, combative style and aggressive, hard-tackling.
We were tempted to pick Sami Khedira – Juve’s box-to-box destroyer in the 2017 final – for this team, but ultimately the 12-year-old inside of me begged for Davids.
While Pirlo pulls the strings in the midfield and Davids does the running, Pogba is there to do the really fancy stuff.
In 2015, the Frenchman was an incredible player – and yes, he still is – but there was something about him in that Juve line-up during the 2014/15 campaign. While he may have lost the Champions League final, he still picked up a Serie A winners’ medal and lifted the Coppa Italia, and individually he was picked as the only Juve player to make UEFA’s Team of the Year as well as the FIFPro World 11.
Using his explosive playing style and energy, we’d be playing him in an advanced and creative role that suits him to a tee.
Support-strikers: Paulo Dybala (2017) and Alessandro Del Piero (2003)
Can we really play TWO supporting-strikers? Isn’t that just a waste? Probably, yeah.
So often compared to Alessandro Del Piero (whom we’ll get to), Dybala was the star of Juve’s run to the 2017 final; famously netting twice in their first-leg Champions League quarter-final clash against Barcelona to help the Old Lady to a 3-0 win.
Creative, pacey, technically gifted and with an eye for goal, it was hard for us not to pick Dybala for this team.
We’ve decided to stick Juve’s greatest ever player alongside Dybala.
While Dybala was the hero of Juve’s 2016/17 run, Del Piero was undoubtedly the star of that 2003 side – aside from Pavel Nedved, who was suspended from the final after picking up yellow card in the semi-final for an unnecessary foul on Steve McManaman eight minutes from the end of the game.
Nedved and Del Piero were the famously the inspiration behind Juve’s 4-3 aggregate win over Real Madrid as he netted either side of Czech Republic international and David Trezeguet in Turin.
Centre-forward: David Trezeguet (2003)
2003 was not a particularly good year for Trezeguet. It was is third season in Turin and his appearances had been limited by injuries, although he still proved to be an important part of their Serie A title victory, and he also netted four goals in their Champions League campaign that season.
Sadly, losing in the 2003 final was the closest the Frenchman ever got to winning the Champions League, and he was one of the players to have his penalty saved by Milan keeper Dida as Juve lost 3-2 on penalty kicks.
Still, his big-game experience – like Thuram, he’d won the World Cup and European Championship, famously scoring the Golden Goal against Italy in the Euro 200 final – along with that pace, power, instinct, and eye for goal, Trezeguet makes the grade here ahead of the likes of Carlos Tevez and Mario Mandzukic, although it was a difficult decision.
Summary: You probably don’t like my team (“Where’s Dani Alves?” “Pogba, really?” “Dybala AND Del Piero? Are you mad?!”) but that’s alright; to me, it proves that Juventus have always more-or-less had a strong team, capable of reaching the highest reaches of the Champions League.
And personally, I think this team, with each player at the level they were during their respective finals, could take on any of the teams that defeated them.