Cristiano Ronaldo was brought to Juventus with one aim - to win the Champions League. And all eyes are on the Portuguese great to ensure last season’s heartbreak does not repeat itself.
Despite winning a ninth straight Serie A title for Juventus last season, coach Maurizio Sarri was sacked due to another failure in Europe.
Italy’s most decorated domestic team - Juve have won 36 Scudettos compared to AC Milan and Inter Milan’s 18 each - have underperformed on the continent. Milan have seven European Cups, Inter three, while Juventus have been top dogs in Europe only twice.
The club are desperate to win a first Champions League title in a quarter of a century, especially given they have the unwanted stat of being the team with the most European Cup final defeats – their 2017 loss to Real Madrid their most recent of seven lost deciders.
The writing was on the wall for Sarri last season after Juventus were surprisingly knocked out by Olympique Lyonnais at the last-16 stage. Current coach Andrea Pirlo is in a similar predicament this time around.
Last season, Juventus lost the first leg 1-0 away from home, before eventually going out on away goals after a 2-1 win in Turin. This year, Juventus again lost by one goal in the first leg away against Porto last month, and with Pirlo’s team third in the Serie A standings, the pressure is on the young coach.
Pirlo will likely get more time than Sarri, given his elevated status at the club garnered as a player, but another early Champions League exit will not sit well. Pirlo knows exactly who to rely on to ensure that does not happen.
Despite his advancing years, 36-year-old Ronaldo is still Juve’s talisman, and is Serie A’s top-scorer on 20 goals so far this season.
He has also scored 10 goals in 10 home games for Juve in the Champions League. Since he joined the club ahead of the 2018-19 season, only Lionel Messi (14) has netted more in home games in the competition.
His worth was clear as Pirlo gave Ronaldo a rest at the weekend - something he does not normally welcome - with the Juve boss revealing he had to pre-arrange the decision ahead of the match against Lazio.
“He came from eight or nine consecutive games, we made an agreement during the week, it was already planned,” Pirlo told Sky Sport Italia after Saturday’s 3-1 win.
“Cristiano is an added value, the boys have done what they had to do tonight without him.”
Ronaldo has dug his various teams out of holes on many occasions in the past and will look to do so again tonight to aid his quest of winning the Champions League with a third club.
Another manager who could do with some good news is Borussia Dortmund’s Edin Terzić, who after losing to heated rivals Bayern Munich over the weekend – leaving his side lumbered in sixth in the Bundesliga – has three away goals and a fit Erling Haaland to his advantage as the German side go into their home leg with Sevilla with a 3-2 aggregate lead.
But Sevilla – also in need of a bounce back after suffering back-to-back defeats by Barcelona in La Liga and the Copa del Rey before suffering a humbling 2-1 loss at struggling Elche on Saturday. – hope to pull off a comeback in tonight’s last-16 tie with Dortmund.
"Every team goes through good and bad moments but the team is absolutely alive and excited about playing this game," coach Julen Lopetegui told a news conference.
"We don't pay attention to praise nor criticism, we only focus on our objectives. We play every three days, and we have enough hope to put in a top performance. If we do that we'll have a chance."