Comparing the 1996 Juventus Champions League winning side with the class of 2017

Adam Digby 1/06/2017
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As an exhausted Gary Neville left the field following a tense 1-1 draw with Bayern Munich back in 1999, he was asked for a brief television interview.

Waiting in the Old Trafford tunnel for the first question he asks if Juventus have qualified for the knockout rounds, which he is then informed he did.

The England international reacted by rolling his eyes in a mixture of disbelief and disappointment, fully aware of the danger posed by the Italian giants.

Indeed, that version of the Bianconeri had dominated in Europe, winning the competition in 1996 before reaching the final in each of the next two seasons.

They lost in both of those editions, and were famously eliminated by United in the 1999 semifinals, but that side seems to have won the eternal respect of Alex Ferguson and his players, with Neville and his team-mates repeatedly admitting that they saw the Old Lady as the standard-bearers they had to overcome.

“When I think of Juventus, it immediately brings back fond, but sobering, memories of my time at Manchester United during the mid-1990s when we were growing as a team and learning all about how to succeed in the Champions League,” Neville wrote in a newspaper column last year.

“Juventus were the benchmark, with Marcelo Lippi’s team reaching three consecutive finals during that period, and we came up against them eight times in the space of seven years.

“We measured ourselves against them and I still look back on the team of Alessandro del Piero, Zinedine Zidane, Alen Boksic and Didier Deschamps as the best I ever faced. They had everything that I would love to have in my team.”

Now, as today’s Juventus team look to repeat what their predecessors accomplished, it provides an ideal opportunity to see how the 2016/17 version of the Bianconeri stacks up against the team who won the Champions League 21 years ago.

GOALKEEPER

Marcello Lippi was fortunate to have a reliable goalkeeper in Angelo Peruzzi, a man who is often overlooked when discussing the very best to have pulled on the gloves for the Italian national team.

However, despite winning three Serie A titles and seven other trophies, he is no match for Gigi Buffon. Currently the club captain, “Superman” has broken record after record and won almost every honour available.

Yet the Champions League is the one winners medal he has yet to collect is the one on offer in Cardiff this weekend, something the 39-year-old will be looking to correct before ending his career.

WINNER: 2017

Buffon

DEFENCE

Much like with Peruzzi, Lippi had a defence that was consistent, well-organised and difficult to beat.

Lining up as a four-man unit, Italy internationals Ciro Ferrara and Pietro Vierchowod were no-nonsense central defenders, flanked by tireless full-backs Gianluca Pessotto and Moreno Torricelli.

Again it is difficult for that quartet to be compared to today, where Max Allegri can tailor his system to suit any opponent.

With Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini the Coach is blessed with three of the finest centre-backs in the world, while Dani Alves and Alex Sandro provide pace, power and an attacking outlet on the flanks.

WINNER: 2017

Chiellini, Bonucci, Barzagli

MIDFIELD

Here is where the 90s version really thrived. From the gritty steel of Didier Deschamps and Antonio Conte, Lippi had men who could protect his defence, while Paulo Sousa gave an air of class and creativity.

The current side, particularly since Allegri moved to his 4-2-3-1 formation, are playing more limited roles, holding their position and being functional to allow those around them to shine.

It is difficult to imagine Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanic being able to stand their ground against their predecessors in the centre of the pitch.

WINNER: 1996

Sousa, Vierchowod, Ferrara, Conte and Torricelli

ATTACK

Talk about a tough question! Alessandro Del Piero, Fabrizio Ravanelli and Gianluca Vialli or Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic?

There are lots of similarities between the two trios; a veteran striker signed for a record sum (Vialli/Higuain), a promising youngster who has started to deliver in big moments (Del Piero/Dybala) and a hardworking runner who willingly sacrifices for the benefit of the team (Ravanelli/Mandzukic).

It is difficult to choose between them, but the crucial difference is sadly all too obvious. The 1996 team won the Champions League, something Juventus have failed to do ever since, but perhaps Higuain and Dybala can change that on Saturday evening and end the Old Lady’s bad run of results in the final.

WINNER: 1996

Del Piero

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Review of the 2016/17 Serie A season

Adam Digby 30/05/2017
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Champions: Juventus.

Well, after nine months of action, the 2016/17 campaign ended the same way as the previous five. Juventus are once again crowned champions of Italy, clinching a record sixth consecutive Serie A titles, something no other club has ever accomplished before.

Adding a third Coppa Italia triumph – another first for that competition – this season saw a major evolution for the Bianconeri, one led by Max Allegri and embodied in the attacking talent at his disposal. Indeed, while their earlier successes were built upon the defence and Gigi Buffon, a tactical shift to 4-2-3-1 brought so much more effort and excellence from the likes of Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain and Mario Mandzukic.

Dani Alves and Alex brought an unpredictable edge to their play, while the likes of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini ensured that they remain difficult to beat, once again conceding fewer goals (27) than any other side in the division.

However, while there was something of a predictable air to Juve’s dominance, it should not be said that they had it easy. AS Roma pushed them hard for long stretches, but ultimately their own emotional fragility was their undoing, prompting Coach Luciano Spalletti to leave just two days after the season came to an end.

Napoli – playing unquestionably the most attractive brand of football on the peninsula – came in third, with Dries Mertens worthy of mention as Serie A’s Player of the Year. With Higuain in Turin, Arkadiusz Milik injured and Manolo Gabbiadini proving ineffective, the Belgian winger was asked to play as an out-and-out striker despite standing just 5’ 7” tall.

He responded in spectacular fashion, netting 28 goals as he finished off so much of Napoli’s thrilling attacking play. That put him just one goal behind leading scorer Edin Dzeko, but it must be noted that he took 30 more shots than the former Manchester City man, who remains as wasteful as ever for Roma.

Perhaps rivalling Mertens’ scoring outburst as the shock of the year was Atalanta’s fourth place finish, a rise inspired by Coach Gian Piero Gasperini decision to find space for products of the club’s incredible youth sector.

With the likes of Mattia Caldara and Franck Kessie in the side, the Bergamo-based outfit shocked some of Serie A’s biggest clubs, but they will now surely lose a number of them before next season gets underway. The same teams they have beaten have already begun to pick off some talented youngsters, and it will be interesting to see how Atalanta fare in the Europa League.

Elsewhere, disappointing campaigns for Milan, Inter and Fiorentina will certainly lead to changes. For the former, now owned by a Chinese consortium and finally back in Europe, that seems to mean major investment in the playing squad, while the other two will be looking for a new Coach and some fresh impetus over the summer months.

There was a major surprise at the bottom of the league too, where Crotone managed to survive at the expense of Empoli on the final day, recording a famous win over Lazio to escape the drop zone.

That meant the Tuscan minnows will drop into the second tier along with Palermo and Pescara, while Crotone will extend their first ever stay in the top flight by at least another twelve months.

The best news for fans of Serie A arguably came from UEFA, the governing body announcing that from next year Italy will send four teams directly into the Champions League group stages. It is a move that should allow Napoli, Roma, Milan, Inter and Fiorentina to realistically dream of a place in the elite competition and in turn close the gap to Juventus.

Player of the season: Dries Mertens (Napoli)

When your star striker leaves for your bitter rivals and his replacement blows out his knee, even the most optimistic of supporters would struggle to expect a slightly-above-average winger to fill the void. 27 goals, nine assists and a Champions League berth later, the Belgian star did exactly that.

Young player: Roberto Gagliardi (Atalanta)

Starting the campaign as a bright prospect way down the pecking order, the 23-year-old forced his way into the first-team, then did well enough to force a big money move to Inter in January and even became part of the Italian national team. A star on the rise.

Best signing: Gonzalo Higuain (Juventus)

The most expensive signing of the summer turned out to be the best, the €90 million striker finishing as Juve’s leading scorer and helped secure a record-breaking sixth consecutive title. Netting in the biggest matches, he shrugged off questions over his big-game temperament to deliver when the Bianconeri needed him most.

Best manager: Max Allegri (Juventus)

Few coaches in world football could reinvent their side midseason, but the Juve boss did just that as the Bianconeri stumbled into January. Unleashing a previously untested 4-2-3-1 formation, Allegri’s switch was the moment everything clicked and the Old Lady went on to win the league and Coppa Italia while earning a place in the Champions League final.

Massimiliano Allegri.

Massimiliano Allegri.

Biggest flop: Gabriel Barbosa (Inter)

He certainly isn’t the first expensive Inter signing to flop, but former Santos striker Gabigol could be the one with the most misleading nickname. “Gabigol” was deemed not good enough for the Nerazzurri, managing just 113 minutes of action in a truly forgettable season.

Gabigol.

Gabigol.

Best game Fiorentina 3-3 Napoli

The season turned on Juve’s loss to Fiorentina, but the Viola managed to be even more entertaining when they took on Napoli back in December. Going down 1-0 and 2-1, they took a 3-2 lead only to see a Manolo Gabbiadini penalty peg them back.

Best goal: Mauro Zarate (Fiorentina v Napoli)

From that same game, Zarate’s stunning volley following a wonderful pass from Federico Bernardeschi was simply sublime. Pepe Reina stood no chance of stopping what was a sensational finish.

Hope for 2017/18: That someone challenges Juventus

Next season, fans will be hoping for an actual title race. This term both Napoli and Roma failed to make it close, only Juve’s decision to concentrate on European commitments cutting the gap between them and the chasing pack.

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Francesco Totti's emotional farewell as Gigi Buffon leads heartfelt tributes to the Roma icon

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Pele, Diego Maradona, Alex Ferguson and a host of famous football personalities have paid tribute to Roma legend Francesco Totti throughout his storied career.

Below is a selection of their thoughts on the 40-year-old Italian icon, who retired after completing his 25th and final season with the Serie A club on Sunday…

ALEX FERGUSON

“Totti is the symbol of Roma, just like Ryan Giggs was at Manchester United.”

FBL-EUR-C3-LIVERPOOL-MAN UTD

DIEGO MARADONA

“At his best, Totti was the world’s number one.”

And Totti’s response: “After Maradona said I was the best player he’d seen in his life, I can retire now too.”

STEVEN GERRARD

“I think he would agree that I play football for the people, and to make the people happy. The most important thing for me is to win and have success and share it with my people, the people of my city.

“That’s what makes me want to play football and win, and I’m sure Francesco, over the years, his buzz and his happiness comes from making the Roma people happy. And that’s where we’re similar.”

SINISA MIHAJLOVIC

“If you ask me, Totti has been the best player in Italian football for the past 20 years. And I’m sure he’ll be just as influential on the other side of the pitch.”

DANIELE DE ROSSI

“He can’t complain because he’s played for so long, we can’t complain about the feats he’s let us enjoy watching, and we have enjoyed them. With his skills, which I envy, he’ll still be playing exactly the same way when he’s 50 and having a kickabout with friends.”

MASSIMILIANO ALLEGRI

“We owe him a big thanks for what he’s achieved, because it’s top level footballers who make the game beautiful. After 20 unforgettable years, it’s a special moment for him and the fans, but he will remain a part of Roma’s history. I wish him well for the future.”

ALESSANDRO DEL PIERO

“Eras in football never end: what’s been achieved remains forever. Especially if history has been made. We’re very different from each other but we took similar paths: that’s why we’re so close and why we’ve had such a special relationship for so long. I have huge respect for him and I know the feeling is mutual.”

LUCIANO SPALLETTI

“In the past few seasons he hasn’t had many playing opportunities, so it’s good to see his enthusiasm hasn’t waned. When I arrived at the club, that’s what was asked of me, because Roma is a top club with a quality side. I had to take a lot of things into account, but primarily Roma.”

RAUL

“I would have been honoured to play alongside Totti.”

PELE

“Totti was the best player in the world in his prime.”

GIANLUIGI BUFFON

“Totti has written the story of Italian football. I’m one of his favourite victims. I’ve played so many games against him – and he’s always played in strong teams, as I have – so it was inevitable he has scored goals against me.

“I can’t say I was happy he scored against me, but if I’d saved some of the goals he scored, I would have ruined a masterpiece.”

JAVIER ZANETTI

“He’s one of a kind. When it comes to players like him, club legends, you can see how great they are by the amount of passion and talent they show on the pitch. He’s one of those players who can produce a moment of magic at any time.

“It was a huge honour for me to play against him on so many occasions, in big games with silverware on the line.”

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