On Wednesday, Real Madrid take on Atletico, but this year's dark horse in the Champions League comes from Italy. After the win against AS Monaco in the first leg, Juventus are once again dreaming of a European title.
It's been nearly 20 years since Juventus won the Champions League title. Since then, a great deal has happened to the side famous for sporting black and white jerseys. This season though, Massimiliano Allegri has the team primed for a final and the fans are both excited and expectant.
"The team is in the right place to make a final," said Arturo Vidal to Italian sports magazine 'Gazzetta dello Sport' ahead of the first leg against AS Monaco. "The Champions League is a difficult competition, but we are one of the best teams," added the former Leverkusen midfielder.
Juventus' dominance sounds a lot like Bayern Munich's in Germany. The Italians are currently leading Serie A with 73 points and have only conceded 15 goals - their fourth consecutive title is within touching distance.
With that in mind, the club can finally concentrate all of its energy on the Champions League. Results certainly show that approach is paying off. A pair of wins against Borussia Dortmund in the round of 16 and a first leg victory against AS Monaco leaves - thanks to a strong defense and an in-form Carlos Tevez - the club in an excellent position to reach the final.
History full of highs and lows
For too long though, finals have been a thing of the past for the Italian giants. In 1985, head coach Giovanni Trapattoni guided the club to their first European title and although he led the side to six Italian league titles, their European success was tainted by the Heysel tragedy, when on May 29 1985, 39 people died before the game against Liverpool when fans from the English club stormed a Juventus fan block, causing mass panic.
11 years later in Rome against the defending champions Ajax Amsterdam, Marcello Lippi lead Juventus to their second European Cup, sparking a new era of success for the Italian club. For the following two years, Juventus returned to the European final, but lost on both occasions - first to Borussia Dortmund and then to Real Madrid. In any case, Lippi had put Juventus back on the map.
With every high comes a low, and Juventus know that better than perhaps any other football club. In 2006, Italian football was rocked by a match-fixing scandal. The Italian Football Association stripped Juventus of their titles in both the 2004/05 and 2005/06 seasons. The trial stated "structured sporting fraud" as the reason. On top of that, Juventus were made to play the 2006/07 season in Serie B, starting on minus 30 points.
Resurrection from disgrace
The Old Lady stubbornly battled back though. By the 2012/13 season, Juventus returned to the Champions League where they promptly lost in the quarterfinals to eventual winners Bayern Munich. Nevertheless, confidence was returning and then head coach Antonio Conte brought in the likes of Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo to start the spell of domestic dominance that now leaves them on the edge of that aforementioned fourth consecutive Serie A title.
When Allegri arrived last July, it was clear both he and Juventus had one thing in mind. "Juventus has dominated Italian football. Now it is time to improve in Europe," said Allegri in his first press conference at the club. The command had been given. This season has been about delivering.
Defending champions Real Madrid are inconsistent and will be without Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Luka Modric for the second leg of their tie against Atletico Madrid. But with Bayern Munich and Barcelona coming back into form, Juventus will have to earn this year's Champions League title, even if they are in the right place to win it.