Juventus take on Manchester United again this week and José Mourinho's right, the gap between the Italian champions and his side, plus many other hopefuls, is huge - writes Andy Brassell
"Everyone knows they should have more in the bag, with Marcello Lippi's mid-90s team in particular poorly rewarded for their majesty and for their achievement in reaching three successive finals."
Every time Juventus visit the San Siro, they are mocked on the curvas, the areas behind the goal where the hardcore sit and stand. Whether they face Milan or Inter - both of whom despise the Bianconeri to different degrees, of course - taunts in the form of banners and chants poke at the glaring thin spot on the Turin giants' illustrious roll of honours.
Despite reaching the European Cup/Champions League final on nine occasions, Juve have won just twice. The last occasion on which they did so was over 20 years ago, in 1996. Milan remain European Cup royalty, despite recent difficulties, having lifted the trophy on seven occasions (only Real Madrid have done so more, and it's pretty much their competition), while Inter's 2010 victory under José Mourinho was their third, so even they can allow themselves to join in.
They should be strong enough
There aren't many ways to get at Juve, especially in the current context, but it hurts. Everyone knows they should have more in the bag, with Marcello Lippi's mid-90s team in particular poorly rewarded for their majesty and for their achievement in reaching three successive finals.
Yet there are few clubs - not just teams - that Champions League hopefuls should more want to be than Juventus. As they prepare to take on Manchester United in Turin this week and potentially seal a place in the last 16 already, few are in any doubt over the gap between the perennial Italian champions and Mourinho's side.
The Portuguese coach was not slow to point this out after the first game at Old Trafford, a 1-0 win which was much more comprehensive than it sounds. Accordingly, Juve are [1.65] to win on Wednesday night, with United out at [6.6] - when were they last priced that long to win a group stage game?
The Old Lady is flourishing
Under Massimiliano Allegri, Juve have flourished in the Champions League and after Real Madrid, no side has been as impactful on the tournament in the last four years. Their run to the 2015 final in Berlin shocked many in Europe, with Allegri having been a far from overwhelming choice to get the job in the first place, and with his predecessor Antonio Conte having written off the current team's chances of being able to make a dent in the Champions League.
In every season since, they've been one of the best teams in it. They were unlucky to exit in truly titanic ties for the ages against Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in 2016 and last term respectively, while they were even the better team in the first half against El Real in the 2017 final in Cardiff before Zinedine Zidane's side broke away in the second period.
Off the field, their ownership of the Allianz Stadium has been a big part of what has established them as the pre-eminent force in Italian football, providing atmosphere incomparable with the old Delle Alpi and with the commercial means to feather the nest. Every year they shed top players - think Tevez, Pogba, Vidal and Pirlo to name just four since the Berlin final - and yet every year they come back stronger, with a direction and identity that puts the hopes of other challengers like Paris Saint-Germain in perspective.
That they are third favourites to win the final in Madrid next year at [7.2], behind only Manchester City and Barcelona, is the very least they can expect. Juve are doing it just right and there are very few teams in the Champions League who shouldn't aspire to be where they are.