Juventus crisis deepens after Champions League humiliation at Maccabi Haifa

Serie A side facing uphill struggle to make knockout stages after shock defeat in Israel

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Juan Cuadrado was still protesting, arms spread out, to the referee, when Maccabi Haifa set off, purposefully, to seal their upstart triumph.

By the time Cuadrado turned his mind back to his work, a counter-attack, launched when he was dispossessed on halfway by Pierre Cornud, was just about to bear spectacular fruit, Omer Atzili rifling his second goal of the night past Wojciech Szczesny.

Juventus’s 2-0 defeat in Israel on Tuesday all but terminates the Italian club’s Champions League interest for the season, and following hot on the heels of a loss by the same scoreline against AC Milan, a result that left them eighth in a domestic table they have spent most of the last decade routinely leading, it plunges the club into deep crisis.

Some context here: Maccabi Haifa are ranked 111th on the Uefa club coefficient table, a metric based on recent European performances and the strength of a club’s domestic league.

Juventus are ranked eighth. Cuadrado has won five Serie A titles, a Premier League and played at two World Cups. Cornud, a journeyman full-back from France had never played in a top division anywhere until July, when he joined Maccabi, champions of Uefa’s 20th ranked league, 16 places behind Serie A.

By half-time, Juventus were already trailing by two goals, and Szczesny had also watched a thumping free-kick from Tjaronn Chery, the Surinam international, ricochet off his crossbar.

Just before Juve went into the break, Dusan Vlahovic was hitting the turf in anger, after his header had been kept out by Josh Cohen, Maccabi’s alert and elastic-limbed goalkeeper.

If Cuadrado and Vlahovic, Juventus’ €70 million January recruit, felt exasperated and impotent, think of the more distant bystanders to Juve’s spiral downwards.

Paul Pogba, the summer arrival earmarked to smooth supply lines to Vlahovic and bring star quality and leadership to the squad, has yet to play a game in his second spell with them.

In his first, Pogba finished every season as an Italian champion. He returned amid fanfare in July, still carrying the knee injury that had curtailed the last season of his last contract with Manchester United. He chose to delay surgery, the better to enhance his World Cup chances; when he realised an operation was essential, his timeline for recovery was cut worryingly short.

It is touch-and-go whether he sees any significant action for Juve before his France coach Didier Deschamps decides on whether to take the risk of including Pogba in his squad for Qatar next month.

Angel Di Maria may be wondering at the wisdom of his move to Italy, too. Among the images of despair on Tuesday night – Cuadrado’s, Vlahovic’s – the Argentinians’s tearful agony when he felt a sharp pain in his thigh after setting off on a sprint after 25 minutes looked especially ominous.

Di Maria, who joined from Paris Saint-Germain in the summer, faces a third lay-off in his short Juventus career so far, one that had barely begun when he suffered muscle problems. That was followed by a red-card and two-match suspension, but also cast him as a rare figurehead who might raise this struggling Juve to the status the club imagines is its European birthright.

Di Maria, a key player in Argentina’s World Cup plans, had set up all the goals in the 3-1 victory over Maccabi last week, the one win in a group where two of his former clubs – Benfica and PSG – share the leadership, five points above Juve.

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After the humiliation in Haifa, the Juve president Andrea Agnelli said: “I’m ashamed”, but insisted he was not ready to bring an end to manager Max Allegri’s second term at the club. “At Juventus we don’t fire coaches mid-season,” he responded to the latest round of questioning about Allegri’s immediate future.

What Angelli has done is change coach in three of the last four summers, during a period in which he has also fronted the campaign for a breakaway European Super League.

Not for a long time have Juve looked less qualified to be pathfinders for a competition designed to celebrate the traditional elite.

The decline is beginning to look chronic: The nine successive scudetti, Italian titles, Juve won up to 2020 have been followed by back-to-back fourth places in Serie A.

Since they reached the second of two Champions League finals in three years under Allegri in 2017, they have been ousted twice in the quarter-finals and, in the last three campaigns, at the last 16 stage.

Updated: October 12, 2022, 1:38 PM
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