Propelled by a splendid midfield trio, Juventus racked up three wins on the bounce to top Group E and, as one of four unbeaten teams, must now be viewed as serious contenders.
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Returning to the UEFA Champions League group stage after three years away, Juventus qualified for the round of 16 in impressive fashion. Though the Bianconeri's progress was still in doubt heading into matchday six, they ultimately finished top of Group E ahead of the impressive FC Shakhtar Donetsk and holders Chelsea FC.
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Juventus, undefeated in last season's Scudetto-winning campaign, started the group stage away to Chelsea and immediately proved their determination to make a mark on their return. Two down at Stamford Bridge, Arturo Vidal and Fabio Quagliarella scored to earn the visitors a share of the spoils. After another point followed at home to Shakhtar, a 1-1 draw at FC Nordsjælland complicated matters for the Serie A side. They moved up the gears when needed, though, concluding with three straight victories – and as many clean sheets.
Victor Moses's added-time clincher for Chelsea against Shakhtar on matchday four undid much of the good work achieved by Juve's 4-0 success against Nordsjælland. Subsequently requiring a home win against Chelsea, the Italian outfit responded in emphatic style in what defender Giorgio Chiellini described as an "almost perfect" performance: 3-0 the scoreline. Would they have produced such a display if their backs were not against the wall?
Midfielder Vidal, aka 'The Warrior', justified his nickname in the opening game when he scored at Chelsea despite visibly running with a limp following a nasty knock. The 25-year-old Chilean international ended the group stage with three goals and two assists – but showed himself to be more than just an attacking threat, embodying the never-say-die attitude of the Old Lady. "We are showing the same heart as last season," said Vidal, admirably supported in midfield by the excellent Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio.
With such stiff competition in the middle of the park, it is no surprise Paul Pogba has had limited first-team opportunities. However, the 19-year-old has proved Juve can count on him whenever necessary. Two-footed, physically strong, technically sound and with a sense for goal, the French youth international revealed his worth when he deputised superbly for the suspended Marchisio in Donetsk. "Pogba is hard, physically strong and good at getting into scoring situations," said Pirlo. "He reminds me of Patrick Vieira."
After beginning with three successive draws – taking their tally to nine in a row in European competition – the Bianconeri signed off with three straight wins, making them one of only four teams to finish the group stage undefeated.
"It was a show of strength; we sent out a strong signal to the whole of Europe. If somebody had doubts about us, I think we swept every question away by playing as we did."
Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon feels Juve can aim high after their impressive group stage effort.