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Juventus crashes out of Champions League to compound season’s woeful start

<i>PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/AFP via Getty Images</i><br/>Juventus crashes out of Champions League to compound season's woeful start. Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie reacts following the defeat to Benfica.
Juventus crashes out of Champions League to compound season's woeful start. Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie reacts following the defeat to Benfica.

By Matias Grez, CNN

Just when Juventus fans thought things could not get any worse — or perhaps even that their season had turned a corner after Friday’s 4-0 win over Empoli — on Tuesday, they did.

Another Champions League defeat, this time a 4-3 loss away to Benfica, ensured Juventus’ exit from the competition at the group stage for the first time in nine years.

It was the fourth defeat in five Champions League matches, one of those a humiliating 2-0 loss away to European minnow Maccabi Haifa, during what has been a humbling campaign — and it may yet get worse still.

Juve hosts Paris Saint-Germain in the final group stage game next week and needs to at least match Haifa’s result at home to Benfica to ensure qualification to the Europa League and avoid dropping out of European competition entirely.

With the team sitting a lowly eighth in Serie A, already 10 points behind leader Napoli, and now out of the Champions League, in any other year manager Massimiliano Allegri would have likely lost his job following consistently abject performances.

However, La Vecchia Signora — The Old Lady — finds itself in a precarious position financially, last month posting losses of €254.3 million ($256.95M) for 2021/22, the largest recorded loss in Serie A history.

In short, Juve simply cannot afford to sack Allegri. In May 2021, the Italian signed a new contract at the club reported to be worth €9 million ($9.06M) per year, inclusive of bonuses, which is set to expire in 2025.

The question posited by Juventus fans, however, is whether it has become more costly in the long run to keep Allegri and fail to reach the Champions League knockout stages — and potentially next season’s tournament entirely — along with all the revenue it brings or dismiss him now.

Following the 2-0 defeat to Haifa, chairman Andrea Agnelli insisted the club’s finances are playing no part in his decision to stick with Allegri.

“No, no, you are completely off track here,” he told Sky Italia, per Football Italia. “It cannot be the fault of the coach if we don’t win a single tackle on the field.

“Juventus have always evaluated situations at the end of the year. I always struggled to consider a dismissal during a season and I continue to believe that.

“Allegri is the coach of Juventus and he will remain as the coach of Juventus.”

Given the club’s finances, it is perhaps unsurprising that Agnelli still remains determined for the much-maligned ‘European Super League’ project to go ahead.

Fans of Benfica, a club not considered glamorous enough by Agnelli and the ESL leadership group for a place in the competition, will no doubt be reveling in the irony of eliminating Juve from this season’s Champions League.

What next?

Of course, this season’s failure cannot all be placed on Allegri’s shoulders, with players throughout the squad underperforming on a weekly basis.

There is no denying the current side is considerably weaker than the Juve teams of recent years, but eighth in Serie A and Champions League misery are still well below this season’s expectations.

However, it will surely be somewhat concerning to Juventus fans to hear Allegri insisting that he does not consider this early exit from the Champions League to be a “failure.”

“We are disappointed and angry because we are out of the Champions League,” Allegri told reporters after Tuesday’s defeat, per Reuters.

“Now, we have to focus on the league and also remain focused against Paris because we have at least to book a place in the Europa League.

“We made too many mistakes tonight, but it’s not useful to talk about that now. I don’t consider this a failure. In football, there are also defeats.”

Allegri may be right on that final point, but if there is one thing Juventus cannot afford many more of this season — both competitively and financially — it’s defeats.

Even in the wake of the loss against Benfica, there may be cause for optimism on the pitch.

The introduction of 19-year-old Samuel Iling-Junior on 70 minutes helped get Juve back into the game, with the youngster’s two crosses leading to goals from Arkadiusz Milik and Weston McKennie.

The England youth international joined Juventus from Chelsea in 2020 and earned his first-team debut against Empoli.

While the salvaging of Juve’s season is certainly too much pressure to place on Iling-Junior’s young shoulders, with Federico Chiesa and Angel Di Maria still out through injury, the teenager looks likely to earn more playing time in the coming weeks with the team desperate for an injection of quality.

Juventus’ season is by no means over, but three huge games in the next week against Lecce, PSG and Inter Milan could go a long way to defining its outcome.

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