Will Cristiano Ronaldo inspire Juventus to Champions League comeback over Atletico Madrid?
Updated 11-03-19 | 12:32 PM | Staff Reporter
Cristiano Ronaldo was brought to Turin to help get Juventus over the line in the Champions League. The club will need their forward to be at his very best against Atletico Madrid in midweek if they are to stay in the competition.
Juventus, who are on the verge of securing an eighth straight Scudetto, head into Tuesday night’s last-16 tie looking to become one of the few sides in Champions League knockout history to overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit.
Make no mistake about it, though, the pressure is well and truly on Ronaldo to deliver against Atleti, with Monday’s Corriere dello Sport pointing out: “He wasn’t signed to win the Scudetto or to boost merchandising. Juve are waiting to end years of disappointments.”
And yet Ronaldo, the competition’s leading scorer with 121 goals to his name in just 159 matches, heads into this game having scored just once in Europe’s premier club competition this season.
Meanwhile, the Portuguese was also largely shackled in Juventus’ first-leg defeat in Madrid, with Diego Simeone’s side reducing him to one early long-range free-kick that Jan Oblak tipped over, before he inadvertently deflected Diego Godin’s shot in for the hosts’ second.
So, Mr Champions League will need to turn the clock back if he wants to both get his hands on the cup with the big ears for a fourth straight year and his new team out of this hole.
Massimiliano Allegri and Co have been here before, however, this time last year to be precise after being written off following a 2-2 home draw with Tottenham at the same stage of the competition.
Then, the Juve head coach – who guided the club to the finals of this competition in 2015 and 2017 – berated journalists for writing his players off.
“People must realise that winning is not normality, it is extraordinary,” he raged, thumping the table, after the first leg in a scene caught in the documentary ‘First Team: Juventus’.
“I will not accept that tonight’s 2-2 draw could depress the Juve fans. There are some scary ups and downs in the mood here.
“This really irritates me, because people have no idea of how teams function. It was always 50-50 with Tottenham and it still is.”
The Italians, of course, went on to prevail at Wembley, before almost pulling off an even more remarkable comeback in their quarter-final showdown with Ronaldo’s Madrid.
These are the great nights, the fantastic ones. The team is confident of playing a great game, and I am too. To the fans I say: think positive, let’s believe
On that occasion, Juventus lost 3-0 to the holders in the first leg at the Allianz Stadium, only to exit the competition 4-3 on aggregate after an injury-time penalty from Ronaldo.
And according to Sky Italy journalist Augusto De Bartolo, anyone who believes the result of this last-16 clash is already a forgone conclusion should think again.
“Juventus are a great team who have demonstrated they can do everything,” says De Bartolo.
“Last year, they won at Spurs when everyone would have bet they were going out, but they won. And the same happened against Real Madrid when they almost overturned a 3-0 deficit.
“So, we cannot say they are already out, only that Atletico currently have the advantage.”
If Juventus are unable to turn things around on Tuesday, though, then the future of their serial-winning manager could be in doubt.
Allegri will meet with chairman Andrea Agnelli before the end of March to get a clear idea of whether he will still be in charge at the Juventus Stadium next season, Sky Italy understands.
However, much of the press in Italy have already been reporting that Allegri will leave the club if they exit the Champions League this week, while De Bartolo notes: “I’m not sure Allegri would remain at Juve even if they win the Champions League.
Did you know?
Juventus’s Cristiano Ronaldo has scored only one goal in his six Champions League games this season, his lowest tally in a single campaign since 2005/06 (0 goals). In fact, only one of his last 45 shots in the competition has found the back of the net
“Obviously after four straight Serie A’s and the failure of not winning the Champions League, the owner will probably think about a change.”
What better time, then, for the five-time Ballon d’Or winner to repay the faith Juventus showed in him last summer when investing a club-breaking £87m to secure the 34-year-old’s services.
“Everyone in Italy thinks Ronaldo could be the difference in this match due to his quality,” says De Bartolo. “But also because he is so keen to show he can win at the top with another team that is not Real.
“And looking at his season so far, it has been very positive, with many expecting him to be the key for Juve in the Champions League.”
A European exit could spell the end for Juve boss Max Allegri
In fact, after a slow start to his debut campaign in Turin – Ronaldo failed to score in his first three league games for his new team – the Portugal international’s usually frightening domestic scoring rate has since returned to something approaching relative normality.
Ahead of the return, the forward’s attacking numbers read: 19 goals and 10 assists in 26 league matches (he was an unused sub in Friday’s 4-1 home win over Udinese), impressive stats that will give the perennial Serie A title winners real belief an unlikely comeback is on the cards.
Ronaldo himself certainly believes one is on.
“These are the great nights, the fantastic ones,” he told the club’s in-house TV channel. “The team is confident of playing a great game, and I am too. To the fans I say: think positive, let’s believe.”
Ronaldo celebrates his record-equalling fifth European Cup win after Real’s win over Liverpool in May 2018
With unlikely Champions League fightbacks very much in vogue at present, few would bet against Ronaldo keeping alive his dream of becoming the first player to win the European Cup on six occasions by helping to eliminate Atleti on Tuesday evening.