I won't beat around the bush. I won't some kind of slick lede that makes you either laugh or facepalm — or both. This game is too important to kid around and prove that I'm still, in some way, a five-year-old trapped in a writer's body.
Nope, not gonna do it.
There are two, maybe three, possibilities for tomorrow's game against Chelsea — one that will play a huge part whether Antonio Conte will be managing in the Champions League or the Europa League when the calendar flips to 2013.
1. Win, get three points, move into second place and be in the driver's seat.
2. Draw or lose, get one or no points, then have to go to northeast to Ukraine having to rely on some not-so-favorable situations and conditions.
Yeah, that doesn't sound fun. I don't want to head to Donetsk needing a win to qualify for the knockout stages. I don't think anybody does. That kind of fixture is difficult as is, let alone with a 'win or be eliminated' kind of stipulation attached to it. I'd rather avoid that jazz — and I'm certain my line of thinking is shared by the majority of folks out there.
So, win tomorrow, Juventus. That's my one suggestion.
How do you like that for insight? /takes a bow
The last time these two teams met at the Bridge, Chelsea were hot like fire. A really, really hot fire that was doing some serious damage. They were storming through the early stage of the EPL schedule, taking no prisoners with a new-look attack as many a pundits jumped on the bandwagon of the defending European champions. But, as our SBN brethren over at We Ain't Got No History have pointed out, that fine form has turned, well, sour. For us as Juventini, we can take it as a good thing, I guess. Chelsea's most recent loss — 2-1 to the EPL's biggest surprise team thus far, West Brom — dropped the Blues down to third place domestically behind the Manchester brothers.
And all of this is happening while Chelsea's captain, John Terry, can only watch from the luxury boxes as he recovers from injury. I guess that could go in the section below, but meh. Serves the same kind of purpose, right?
The biggest piece of good news, for me at least, is two-fold.
1. Andrea Pirlo is rested after sitting out the scoreless draw against Lazio on Saturday. We've seen what a fresh Pirlo can do in the past, and especially with this season being so incredibly busy, any kind of complete day off could pay wonders.
2. Arturo Vidal is back to being Arturo Vidal. He was crucial the last time these two teams met in London a few months ago. Even playing on one leg, his impact was immense. Now, with his few weeks of bad form behind him, Vidal's presence will again be looked up to be a huge boost in the midfield. Then again, why wouldn't it be regardless of who the opponent is? Exactly.
Chelsea are basically in the same spot as Juventus when it comes to the group standings, which means they're going to be busting their ass to get a positive result. And, since there's just a slim one-point difference right now, nothing is certain — and that means Juve are going to get all they can handle. It's not like Chelsea weren't going to try or anything like that. This is obviously going to be a difficult game. But it just makes it that much more the case and it that much more difficult of a game.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Juventus Stadium. This is the kind of game that makes a home field advantage so important. Juventini took over Stamford Bridge in September and look what happened. With the tifosi out-singing a stadium full of Chelsea supporters, they were there to will on the squad after falling down 2-0. Will it be the same kind of atmosphere in the return leg? It freaking better be. An incredibly important match in Turin is what makes Juventus Stadium so special. If the sold-out crowd is rockin' — which is should be — then life for Chelsea will be that much tougher.
2. Containing Chelsea's firepower. Regardless of what kind of form they are in as an overall team, Chelsea's front line — sans Fernando Torres — still scares me. There are playmakers there that can seriously take over a game and run wild on a defense. I thought that Juventus' defense did a pretty good job as a whole keeping things under control when the two teams played in London. And we know that if Juve want three points and leapfrog Chelsea in the Group E table, it's gonna have to be that way again.
3. Will Big Game Mirko show up? My gut tells me Vucinic will be one of the two starting strikers tomorrow night if he gets over this freaking flu that saw him miss out on the Lazio draw. If he doesn't play (or start), then I've just wasted a bunch of time writing this section of the preview. But if he does, then this is exactly the kind of game where Mirko's reputation has been built on — big game, big kind of impact. If he comes off the bench, then it better be the same kind of deal. Whichever roll he plays, all I want is Good Mirko. No Bad Mirko, please.
4. The Sebastian Giovinco Watch. It's really something that will never go away — especially when Juventus don't win games they should like what happened on Saturday. For me, other than his shooting and a couple of misplaced passes, I thought Giovinco had a solid game. Sure, I'm not as harsh of a critic as some people who want to send him back to play with kids his own size, but he's one of the better options Juve have right now. And with that, there not only needs to be patience, but a sense of belief that he can deliver the goods. He's certainly shown it before. Maybe not on a European stage, but he definitely has in Italy.
5. Crossing the line. Or, for this matter, crossing the goddamn ball to your teammates properly. Want to know how many accurate crosses Juventus' two wingbacks, Kwadwo Asamoah and Mauricio Isla, had against Lazio? Two — out of 17 attempted. That's...not very good. Just a minor suggestion: IMPROVE ON IT.
My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Isla, Vidal, Pirlo, Marchisio, Asamoah; Vucinic, Giovinco
KICKOFF TIME: 8:45 P.M. IN ITALY, 2:45 P.M. ON THE EAST COAST, 11:45 A.M. ON THE WEST/BEST COAST