Juve keep proving critics wrong but must be wary vs. Udinese
Tell Juventus they're the favourites in a tie and watch them crumble. Label them old and at the end of their winning cycle and suddenly, they spring back to life. A side that demonstrated the full extent of their desire to be taken seriously, Juventus came back to defeat Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 in the second leg at Wembley to qualify for the quarterfinals of the Champions League yet again.
"Outplayed" was how many in England analysed Juve's game. It was clear Juventus didn't exactly control proceedings or produce wave after wave of thrilling attacks, but this is Juve. They don't play great football. They rarely care to control a match and they'll rarely outscore an opponent. They're simply cynical, cruel and outstanding at taking their opportunities, whether it be provoking an error to score or managing the game in frustrating fashion to secure the win.
They are the quintessential Italian side and if you look hard enough, you'll see the beauty in that. They don't care to entertain you or have you gush at their ability to rotate the ball. They simply adapt, fight and win as viewers struggle to understand how they managed it yet again.
What Allegri accomplished in London was nothing short of brilliant, yet he continues to be criticised as Juve are not meant to suffer, but rather thrash opponents with ease despite the average age and the lack of investments made over the summer. How many coaches can win a match by introducing a 34-year-old Stephan Lichtsteiner, whom many (including this blog) had deemed over the hill? He and 29-year-old Kwadwo Asamoah, two veterans of the side that Juve have tried to upgrade for so many years, came on and changed the face of the game like Allegri, and only Allegri, thought they could.
With no attacking options available on the bench and facing a side that's not only fit and young but full of drive, Juve's band of "pensioners" pulled through and relied on experience to outwit the opponent.
When you consider that the Bianconeri have not conceded a league goal in 2018, are through to the Coppa Italia final and could well topple Napoli in the league if they win their game in hand, then one has to understand how it is possible Allegri is so often disrespected and criticised. What more can possibly be achieved by a side that has sold stars every summer and not brought many? Perhaps they ought to remember their old coach questioned their ability to topple Galatasaray in the group stages of the Champions League despite having a world-class midfield that boasted Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo and Paul Pogba and a much younger defence.
Juventus need major investment and while we applauded their experience in London, it's clear many upgrades are required, especially in midfield. Blaise Matuidi has proved an excellent addition to the side but his poor control has proved worrying and been exposed by better opponents. Sami Khedira is clearly struggling physically this season and is no longer capable of offering the energy required to ensure balance in the side when faced with a physical and fast opponent.
As for Miralem Pjanic, he may be the youngster in that department, but he lacks the character required at the highest level. Once again, in a high-profile match, he disappointed against a side that know how to bully the opponent. His performance proved more disappointing than all of the players put together because he's capable of producing so much more. His talent knows no bounds yet it cannot be unleashed until he discovers the confidence required to play as a leader at this level.
In terms of technical talent alone, he's not far off the likes of Luka Modric or Toni Kroos but is miles away from boasting the character required to make the decisive difference in the same way those two manage to do every day at Real Madrid. He is still so easily knocked off his game and provoked into mediocrity when not allowed time and space to manoeuvre and think.
It will be interesting to see how the midfielder will do against Udinese on Sunday afternoon considering the opponent's physicality. In truth, this is not the ideal match for the Bianconeri after playing two exhausting matches last week, both against Lazio and Spurs. Udinese love a fight, expend a lot of energy and are known to commit a foul or two.
When you consider that Massimo Oddo's side are wrested and have not played since Feb. 25, it's clear Juve will need to be at the top of their game physically to collect three points against a fresh side. However, while Oddo's men may be relatively fresh, some of their important players aren't available. Udinese will be without top scorer Kevin Lasagna and defenders Danilo and Jens Stryger Larsen but are still set to play in a 3-5-2 formation.
Allegri will look to counter with a 4-3-3 shape and Mario Mandzukic is likely to start. A player who proves important in matches such as these, Juventus are out for another three points and yet another clean sheet.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.