Of the eight teams still alive in the UEFA Champions League, four could conceivably still win Europe’s top club competition in addition to their domestic league and cup this season: Bayern Munich in Germany, Paris Saint-Germain in France, Barcelona in Spain and Juventus in Italy. However, following the respective 3-1 first-leg losses by Bayern Munich and PSG to FC Porto and Barcelona last Wednesday, the chances of the reigning German or French champ of reaching the UCL semifinals are, shall we say, greatly reduced, leaving Barca and Juve as the two likeliest European giants to lift the hallowed treble of UCL, domestic league and domestic cup this season.
Luis Enrique’s team, in particular, is looking especially formidable at the moment, sitting at the top of La Liga, in the Spanish Copa del Rey (King’s Cup) final against Athletic Bilbao on May 30, and with one foot in the UCL semifinals already following last week’s 3-1 win in the quarterfinal first-leg in Paris. Unbeaten in its last 12 games in all competitions, and with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar (not to mention Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano) firing on all cylinders, Barca looks a sure bet to pick up at least one, if not two of the three trophies it is currently vying for, but all three is a really tough ask, even for a team with the undoubted quality of this year’s Blaugrana.
Why? Because barring a total capitulation on the part of Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid, the La Liga title race looks set to go down to the wire. Currently, the hated rivals are separated by just two points, and Real holds the head-to-head tiebreaker should the Spanish giants end the season level on points. With six games still to play, it’s going to be a dog-fight until the end season, requiring a lot from Enrique’s first-choice players, in particular. And as every one of the (very few) coaches that have won everything in one season knows, the last six weeks, especially when faced with a closely fought title race, can be very, very taxing.
That’s why, of the four teams that still have a shot at a treble (or the in the case of PSG, a quadruple), Juventus is the most likely candidate to achieve the feat.
Indeed, Massimiliano Allegri’s men need just seven points from the last 21 in order to secure a fourth consecutive Serie A title. Over the weekend, the Bianconeri stretched their lead at the top to an effectively insurmountable 15 points with a comfortable 2-0 win at home to second-place Lazio.
Having already qualified for the TIM Cup (formerly known as the Coppa Italia) final, also against Lazio, on June 7, and with the Scudetto race drawing to an early close, Juve -- unlike Barca, or any other club left in the competition, for that matter -- has the luxury of focusing solely on the UCL from now until the final.
The Turin club will be especially confident heading into the second-leg of its two-game quarterfinal series against Monaco on Wednesday, where it holds a 1-0 lead after the first game. While much has been made about how difficult it is to score against the principality club, Juve might be even harder to score against: in its last 10 games in all competitions, the Old Lady has conceded just three goals, losing once: a shock 1-0 loss in the Italian league on April 11 to bankrupt, last-place and relegation-bound Parma -- a game in which Allegri decided to rest key defenders Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli, midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo, and forward duo Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata ahead of the UCL quarterfinal first leg at home to Monaco.
Moreover, if Juve manages to grab an away goal in Monaco on Wednesday, then suddenly, the Ligue 1 club would require at minimum three goals to progress to the semis, something Leonardo Jardim’s low-scoring team has only managed once at home in the French league this season.
Of course, as FC Porto showed us last week, there are no certainties in the Champions League, but betting on Juve’s progression would be a wise choice given the organized and effective manner in which Italy’s best team has gone about its business. Beyond that, it’s anybody’s guess; and though some might argue that Serie A is an inferior competition to Germany’s Bundesliga or Spain’s La Liga these days, the fact that Juve is very tough to score on, let alone beat, bodes well for the Turin club going forward, especially in a knockout competition like the UCL.