The night for Juventus following the 2–0 loss to Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano was nothing short of a disaster for the Bianconeri. After the 100m (£88.3m fee) summer acquisition of Cristiano Ronaldo, aka ‘Mister’ Champions League,’ Juve fans firmly held the belief that this is their year to lift the famous trophy. Following the away tie loss, no one received more criticism than Massimilano Allegri for their defeat. According to Calcio Mercato, Allegri received so much judgment from the media and Juve fans alike that he reportedly threatened to resign shortly after the first leg to Madrid, before their Serie A clash vs. Napoli. The Italian Manager also deleted all of his social media accounts, resulting in numerous rumors of his potential departure. Before rejoining Real Madrid, former Bianconeri legend Zinedine Zidane was a heavy favorite to replace Massimilano. It is worth reiterating that Juventus have won a staggering seven consecutive Scuedettos in a row, four of which have been under Allegri’s management since replacing his predecessor Antonio Conte. In particular, the Italian manager has won a remarkable 8/9 trophies that his side has competed for under his reign. Currently, Juventus are on pace to win their eighth league trophy in a row, sitting comfortably at eighteen points ahead of second place Napoli. Despite this feat, the fact that Allegri considered resigning speaks on the enormous pressure that he’s been dealt with to accomplish a particularly difficult task in winning the only club trophy missing in his cabinet.
Allegri is indeed 0–2 in Champions League finals, having lost to Barcelona in 2015 and Real Madrid in 2017. However, anyone with football knowledge would be cruel to fault Allegri for these losses, considering their extremely formidable opponents. The 3–1 loss in 2015 was against the terrorizing trio of MSN, (Messi, Neymar, Suarez) and the defeat in 2017 versus the equally frightening attacking three of BBC (Bale, Benzema, Cristiano). In a brilliant Players Tribune piece written by Allegri himself, the manager meditates on both finals losses, in particular, the defeat to Real Madrid:
“ To reach the final, you need talent and luck. To win it, you need to be the better team. And this may sound strange, but I actually walked off the pitch that night with peace of mind. Because I knew we weren’t the better team. It was as simple as that.”
Although football has exceptions, Allegri is right in the sense that the better team wins most of the time. Luck certainly plays a role in the Champions League, whether it be from drawing favorable opponents, having the crossbar on your side, having an entirely fit squad, etc.… No matter the case, it is unfortunate in Allegri’s case considering he’d arguably have two UCL trophies to his name if he faced anyone other than La Liga’s most consistent powerhouses. Every follower of football knows that there are several speculative ‘what if’ moments in the beautiful, yet simultaneously heartbreaking sport. What transpires is set in stone, and the only choice is to either move forward or call it quits. Allegri decided to take on the challenge, preparing himself and his team for either a miraculous second leg comeback or a bitter consecutive defeat against Simeone’s Colchoneros.
Despite the great stakes ahead of the match, Allegri dismissed the idea that the second leg would be the most important match of the season: “It’s a Round of 16 tie, but if we were to call this the biggest match of the season, we’d be in real trouble. If we do go through, it’s not as if we’ve won the Champions League, as there are other games. We need calm and to take it one game at a time. “If we manage to overturn the first leg result, it will be extraordinary. After that, we either think about the quarter-finals or ending the season on the right note.” (MARCA). Today, on March 12, 2019, Juventus did just that, remarkably overturning the aggregate from 0–2 to 3–2, eliminating Atletico Madrid to punch their place in the Champions League quarterfinals. Cristiano Ronaldo will deservedly receive most of the spotlight for his unworldly hat-trick performance, but the tactical brilliance of Allegri simply cannot be overlooked.
In the first leg, Simeone took the spoils, as his compact 4–4–2 fortress could was once more proved unsolvable at the Spanish capital. Much of the criticism Allegri received for the first leg was due to predictable conservatism, as his team took few offensive risks by over-relying on width, allowing Atleti to prevent the angles of any potential threatening crosses with pressing tactics. For a more in-depth analysis of the first leg, I highly recommend checking out PiotrFoot’s tactical analysis via YouTube. To compensate for his initial mistake, Allegri ensured that Juventus would “play in a different way to the approach [they] had in Madrid, with more vertical passes, pace, and pressing” (Football Italia). Juventus did just that, as Bonucci and Chiellini better exploited the tiny midfield gaps of Simeone’s repeated 4–4–2 shape, allowing the likes of Federico Bernadeschi, Leonardo Spinazzola, Jao Cancelo, Mario Mandzukic, and occasionally Cristiano Ronaldo to deliver lethal crosses with less pressure and overall predictability.
Allegri’s decision to start Bernadeschi and Spinazzola in particular required enormous confidence, as he favored them over the likes of superstar Paulo Dybala, and experienced veteran Andrea Barzagli. Both selections paid off, as Bernadeschi and Spinazzola each received impressive match ratings of 8 per Squawka Football for their performances. Not only was Allegri’s starting xi spot on, but so were his second-half in-game changes, as he substituted Dybala for Spinazzola and Kean for Mandzukic in that order. With the scoreline standing at 2–2, the fresh legs of Paulo certainly made a difference. The added benefit of Kean’s attacking capabilities was almost immediate when the nineteen-year-old nearly scored on a break. It is noteworthy that Moise Kean is currently just 19 years of age, yet Allegri chose to substitute the prodigy for a proven veteran in Mario Mandzukic without hesitation when the match was the most intense. With everything to lose, Allegri remained poise, throwing every single dart he had without second-thought.
Naturally, it would be unfair to give full credit Allegri without also praising the warriors that delivered his near-perfect strategy on the pitch. Again it is Cristiano Ronaldo that has rightly stolen a majority of the headlines, but the victory of Juventus was nothing short of a collective effort, with brilliant performances from Bernadeschi, Spinazzola, Can, and Matuidi in particular.
Having achieved the unthinkable, what remains is how this version of Juventus will perform in the remainder of their champions league campaign. With arguably the greatest pure goalscorer and Champions League performer that football has ever witnessed, Allegri’s side for the first time will perhaps be considered a real favorite to lift the trophy. No matter the outcome, in my opinion, Allegri should undoubtedly be considered one of the greatest tacticians of modern football, comparable to the likes of Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti, Jose Mourinho, Sir Alex Ferguson, and more.
Massimilano Allegri is my favorite manager of all time for his qualities mentioned above, along with his consistent composure, class, and willingness to experiment when necessary. There is perhaps no more magnificent manager in recent memory that is better with his back against the wall, consistently showcasing his understanding of strategic adjustment. No matter whether you support Allegri’s stylistic approach or Juventus in general, it is without question that we should all give Mister Allegri the rightful title as one of the best managers in European football. Grazie Mister. Fino Alla Fine.