MILAN: Juventus are staring at early elimination from the Champions League as they prepare to travel to Benfica knowing their fate is no longer in their hands. A disastrous opening three months of the season have left Juve well off the pace in Serie A and almost certain of an embarrassing exit from Europe’s top club competition. Sat on three points after four games in Group H, Massimiliano Allegri’s side are five behind both Tuesday’s opponents and Group H leaders Paris Saint-Germain and must win both of their final two fixtures to have any chance of making the last 16.
But even if they did manage to first win in Lisbon and then beat PSG in Turin next week they would still be unlikely to go through as they would be dumped out if the pair both win their other match with Maccabi Haifa. Assuming they did win both – some task given their performances up to now and the humiliating defeat at Maccabi last time out – Juve would need the Israelis to either win or draw against one of PSG or Benfica.
A draw for Maccabi in one of their remaining matches would leave Juventus tied for nine points with one of the current leading duo and take qualification to head-to-head record. However should Maccabi draw both their matches and Juve win their two, three teams would finish on nine points and the stumbling Turin giants would actually take top spot on head-to-head record.
Such hypotheticals will be far from Allegri’s mind before his team take the field at the Estadio da Luz on Tuesday. The Italian has been under fire for weeks and a simple 4-0 win over Empoli on Friday has done nothing to quieten critics tired of what they see as stodgy football which is no longer getting the results Juve fans demand. Allegri said “we finally look like a team” after putting the Tuscans to the sword, and in truth he is not the only target of fan anger, as chairman Andrea Agnelli is ultimately seen as the architect of the mire in which their team finds itself.
Last month Juve posted record losses of 254.3 million euros – the fifth straight year their accounts have been in the red – and hardcore fans put up a banner outside the club’s Allianz Stadium demanding Agnelli leave. Making Juve’s predicament even harder to take is the fact that a club which not that long ago looked on the brink of becoming a European powerhouse travels to Portugal with their hosts clear favourites to knock them out. Benfica are unbeaten in all competitions this season and won their first 13 matches in the Portuguese Primeira Liga and Europe.
And although they have drawn three of their last five two of those stalemates were against PSG and came following creditable performances. Roger Schmidt’s side are six points clear at home after beating Porto on Friday and realistically only need a point on Tuesday to ensure passage to the Champions League knockouts as PSG should surely see off Maccabi at the Parc de Princes. The Europa League looks the likeliest destination and the question for Juventus now is what they can salvage from a season which has already turned sideways. – AFP