Saturday 20 January 2018

Gary Neville: Juventus are more than capable of shutting out Messi and Co

Leo Messi and Luis Suarez celebrate the 3-0 Champions League victory over Bayern Munich
Leo Messi and Luis Suarez celebrate the 3-0 Champions League victory over Bayern Munich
Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero was a part of the great Juventus team of the mid-1990s

Gary Neville

People should be wary of underestimating Juventus in the Champions League final against Barcelona in Berlin.

While I believe the odds are 75-25 in Barcelona’s favour, it is a strong 25pc for Juventus and they have the ability, experience and quality to show that there is still a place in football for teams with a fantastic defensive mentality, toughness and the willingness to take you on in any form of the game.

When I think of Juventus, it immediately brings back fond, but sobering, memories of my time at Manchester United during the mid-1990s when we were growing as a team and learning all about how to succeed in the Champions League.

Juventus were the benchmark, with Marcelo Lippi’s team reaching three consecutive finals during that period, and we came up against them eight times in the space of seven years. We measured ourselves against them and I still look back on the team of Alessandro del Piero, Zinedine Zidane, Alen Boksic and Didier Deschamps as the best I ever faced.


They had everything that I would love to have in my team. Up front, they had the silk of Del Piero, the power of Christian Vieri and a tremendously quick and clinical striker in Boksic.

In midfield, they had Zidane, one of the greatest players of all time, alongside Deschamps and Antonio Conte, who were much more than the water-carriers that Eric Cantona suggested them to be.

Deschamps and Conte were intelligent midfielders who laid the blueprint which went on to be followed by the likes of Claude Makelele and Sergio Busquets. And at the back, they had two of the most horrible, nasty and aggressive – and I mean that as a compliment – centre-halves you could ever imagine in Paolo Montero and Ciro Ferrara.

They were classic defenders, neither were big, but they both played as though they would die in front of goal in order to keep the ball out of the net if they had to. From back to front, that Juventus team had every component you could want from a great team – power, pace and skill, mental toughness, aggression and the ability to intimidate opponents with that combination of qualities.

And whenever you took them on, Juventus carried the aura of serial winners. They smelt of top quality, belief and the sense of being a winning machine. They could take you on with skill, but were also prepared to outrun, outplay and outfight you if they had to.

For me, they are alongside Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan team from the early-1990s and the United double winners of 1993-’94 as the teams that have had the biggest influence on how I believe the game should be played.

I would not suggest that this current Juventus are at the same level of Lippi’s group from almost 20 years ago, but Massimiliano Allegri’s team do possess many of the qualities which made Juventus so powerful in the 1990s.

With Andrea Pirlo in midfield, Juve possess class and awareness on the ball, while Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio have the running power, tenacity and determination to harass Barcelona for 90 minutes and beyond.

Vidal, in particular, is one of those nuisance players who will chase everything and be on top of an opponent from start to finish.

Paul Pogba is the glitterball for Juventus in midfield, the free spirit with the legs and youthful energy to roam and create.

Further forward, Carlos Tevez is another player who can make life a misery for defenders and you know that, if you need a big effort in the final 10 minutes, he will run through a brick wall for the team and also has the ability to come up with a big goal or contribution.

It is at the back where Juventus are so strong and it really is a huge blow for them to have lost Giorgio Chiellini with a calf strain this week.

When people talk about the world’s best defender, they often cite Thiago Silva, but I roll my eyes and wonder how many of those have actually seen Chiellini play.

He is a proper Italian defender – tough, hard as nails and uncompromising and, if there was a ball rolling around in the street, he would turn it into a 50-50 battle to win it.

Lionel Messi is obviously unstoppable at his best, but even Messi will see it as a bonus that he will not have to get past Chiellini in Berlin.

In my role with England, I have come up against Italy on numerous occasions in recent years, so I have seen Chiellini and his Juventus defensive team-mates Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci at close quarters and they are all very, very good defenders.

Even without Chiellini, Barzagli and Bonucci will make Juventus a tough nut to crack and Patrice Evra will also have a big role to play in this game if Messi continues to operate on the right flank for Barcelona.

Back in 2008, when United defeated Barcelona over two legs in the Champions League semi-final, Patrice was deployed to mark Messi in both games by Alex Ferguson.

At the time, Messi was performing on the right for Barcelona, but Patrice kept him quiet for 180 minutes. He was obviously seven years younger then and was lightning quick, but he will have positive memories of that semi-final and attempting to shackle Messi again tonight will be a challenge he will relish.

In 2008, Tevez also played a key role for United by dropping on to the Barcelona holding midfielder Yaya Toure and he may have a similar role for Juve if Allegri decides to ask him to keep close to Busquets.


So despite their underdog status, this is a true Juventus team that will face Barcelona, one which possesses all of the great qualities of their successful predecessors.

I have seen Barcelona three times this season, however, and they have blown me away. With Luis Suarez and Ivan Rakitic added to the team last summer, I believe they are better than they were two-three years ago and a more rounded football team as a result.

It will not be easy for Juventus, but if they are to win, they have to believe in their type of game – that rugged, powerful approach which reminds me of the Bayern Munich team coached by Jupp Heynckes prior to Pep Guardiola’s arrival.

That Bayern team found a way to beat Barcelona on their way to the final in 2013, while Inter Milan in 2010 also overcame Barca with organisation, toughness and power. Atletico Madrid are another who stuck to their defensive mindset and won against Barcelona in last season’s quarter-finals, so there are three or four examples, if you include United’s success in 2008, of teams combining discipline and toughness to beat Barca.

A lot will also depend on the experience within the Juventus team. Experience can go one of two ways – it can provide the nous to meet a true challenge or it can simply deliver proof that you are just too old and that it is a game too far.

This Juventus team are probably 12-18 months from their natural end and, in Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon, they have players who are in the mid-thirties, but still capable of performing at the highest level.

By signing the likes of Sami Khedira and Paulo Dybala, Juventus have already started the rebuilding process, but they will believe they still have it in them to deliver a winning display against Barcelona.

To do that, their experienced players must prove themselves to be exactly that – experienced – rather than too old for the biggest occasion 

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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