Juventus continue home dominance by dispatching Porto, reach UCL quarters
TURIN, Italy -- Here are three quick thoughts from Juventus' 1-0 win over Porto on Tuesday at the Juventus Stadium, which sees the Italian champions advance to the Champions League quarterfinals by a 3-0 aggregate score.
1. Fortress J Stadium holds firm
When Juventus' name comes out of the hat for the Champions League quarterfinal draw on Friday in Nyon, their opponents can be sure of one thing: They will have to survive in one of the trickiest venues in Europe.
With 31 wins in a row in Serie A and 47 games unbeaten in all competitions since August 2015, Juve's record at the Juventus Stadium speaks for itself. When the Stadio Delle Alpi was razed to the ground in 2008, they replaced it with a smaller yet much more intimidating copy, and the results have been astonishing.
Juve vs. Porto was the 150th game at the Juventus Stadium, where the Bianconeri's record now reads won 119, drawn 26 and lost five. They have scored 320 goals and conceded 85. Since moving to their new home, there have been no other champions in Italy other than Juve, who have won the past five Scudettos in a row.
They have won 79.34 percent of their games, with a total of just five defeats, only one of which -- against Bayern Munich in the 2012-13 quarterfinals -- came in Europe. On 96.67 percent of occasions, Juve have emerged without being beaten on home soil.
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that they triumphed once again Tuesday. Porto did not appear in awe as they strolled out with their 2,400 fans making most of the noise, and they confidently took the game to their hosts, who appeared happy to sit back and defend, despite the array of attacking talent they had at their disposal.
The visitors nevertheless knew that not only did they need to join that small minority of under 4 percent to come away from Turin with a win, but they also had to do so by scoring two goals at least. Their good intentions did not last long, and Juve soon started to boss the game, raising their share of possession to 60 percent come half-time.
By then, they also had the lead, thanks to a gift from Porto (see below). A Paulo Dybala penalty after the guests were reduced to 10 men effectively sealed Juve's passage to the last eight with a half still to play.
Francisco Soares screwed a good chance wide early in the second half, and Porto's hopes, like those of most of those to have visited the Juventus Stadium before them, were over. Given the scant hospitality here, few will be relishing a trip to Turin next month.
2. A tale of two red cards
The first leg in Porto was tipped in Juve's favour by a red card for Alex Telles in the 27th minute, and on Tuesday, the Italians were forced to play against 11 men for 40 minutes before Maxi Pereira was given his marching orders.
He could have had few complaints, though, as he imitated Iker Casillas, who denied Alex Sandro only seconds earlier, to make a save from Gonzalo Higuain's goal-bound shot. When Dybala -- arguably Juve's most dangerous player on the night -- sent the Spanish goalkeeper the wrong way, Juve were firmly in command of this tie.
We will never know how this tie would have evolved had it been 11 vs. 11 for 180 minutes, but the Bianconeri were undeniably assisted by their numerical advantage for 113 minutes of it.
They say that what comes around goes around, however, and Porto might not have even been in the Champions League this season had there not been a red card in their playoff fixture with Roma.
Daniele De Rossi was sent off for a wild lunge on Pereira in the 39th minute of a second leg that was still finely poised after a 1-1 draw in the first leg and was actually leaning in Roma's favour at the moment of his dismissal.
Benefitting from that favour, Porto ended Roma's dreams of reaching the group stage with a commanding 3-0 win at the Stadio Olimpico. Then, like now, the destiny of the tie was determined by a red card, with the only difference being that Porto were beneficiaries in August and benefactors seven months later.
3. Could this be Juve's year?
After they got close in 2014-15, reaching the final when few had them down among the top eight candidates, and after they had Bayern on the ropes last season, could this be Juve's year?
There has certainly been a palpable shift in the club's focus this season. While winning a record sixth straight Scudetto remains their ultimate objective, they have not been so concerned about taking the odd risk in the league to ensure that they have been at their best for their European appointments. Massimiliano Allegri's squad rotation might have cost them a few points here and there, but his team have been noticeably sharp in European weeks.
With an eight-point cushion at the top of Serie A, Juve have established a position that enables them to neglect their league duties a little between now and the end of the season, thus allowing them to focus even more on an ambition they have harboured since 1996, the year they last won the Champions League.
After dispatching Porto without really breaking a sweat in either of the two legs, the Bianconeri will go into Friday's draw as one of the teams most would prefer to avoid, which is already quite an indication of how far they have come in recent years.
Although they might not have beaten Porto as emphatically as they could have, their progress to the last eight was rarely in doubt over the two legs that they largely controlled from start to finish. Indeed, it could be said that they have had quite a comfortable ride right through to the quarterfinals, with Sevilla easily nudged into second place in a group in which Olympique Lyonnais and Dinamo Zagreb failed to put up any significant resistance.
They will probably arrive at next month's home-and-away tie fresher than their opponents, though they are likely to have some preferences about whom they meet. They still have a score to settle with Bayern after effectively throwing away victory in stoppage time in Munich last year, but Carlo Ancelotti's men appear to be hitting form at just the right time, unlike under his predecessor, Pep Guardiola, when Bayern appeared to be tired -- mentally and physically -- when the big appointments arrived toward the end of the season.
The Bianconeri also have a score to settle with Barcelona following their 2015 final defeat, but Allegri would probably choose to meet them in the final -- if at all.
Of the other quarterfinalists, the Italian champions would arguably fancy their chances against any of them -- even a Real Madrid side they ousted on the way to the final two years ago, particularly after seeing how close Napoli were to beating the holders. What Napoli lacked at the Stadio San Paolo a week ago -- nous and experience -- Juve have in abundance, though any of the other five potential opponents would arguably be their preference.
A young, developing Borussia Dortmund side should not strike too much fear into a much more mature Juve, particularly in a 180-minute tie. Atletico Madrid could cause more problems with their style of play, assuming they get the better of Bayer Leverkusen, while Juve also beat Monaco on their way to the final in 2015 and would probably not shirk that challenge again, should the Ligue 1 leaders recover to beat Manchester City.
If not, a date with Guardiola's City would also be a tie Juve would be confident of coming through with the home and away wins over City from last season's group stage still quite fresh in the mind.
Whatever the pairing Friday, Juve are more likely to be feared than fearful.
Ben Gladwell reports on Serie A, the Italian national team and the Bundesliga for ESPN FC, UEFA and the Press Association. @UEFAcomBenG.