Let us rewind this story to a little less than a year ago. Back to Nov. 20, 2012, to be exact. Juventus found themselves in dire need of points and the (supposed) top team in the group was coming to Turin. Juve were coming off a so-so showing over the weekend, but it didn't matter — everybody knew what was at stake.
That game, Juventus vs. Chelsea at Juventus Stadium, not only saw Juve leapfrog the then-Champions League holders, but also made us all forget about the way the group stages started. It was a vintage showing. Juve not only beat the defending champions, but absolutely crushed them. It was, hands down, one of the best games of the Antonio Conte era in Turin.
With that, we have this: The more things change, the more things (kinda) stay the same.
Real Madrid comes to Turin with Juventus sitting in third behind Los Blancos and Galatasaray. Sound familiar, doesn't it? It should. Juve may have one more game to play with compared to when Chelsea rolled into town for Round 2 a year ago, but the situations are still a lot alike. Conte's squad needs points in the worst possible way. Two draws and a loss in three games is all to show for Juve's Champions League campaign thus far. On the other hand, Carlo Ancelotti's men are in the driver's seat in Group B with a full nine out of nine points.
Quite the differing situations, isn't it? Real wins, they're in the knockout stages; Juventus wins, they're heading into their final two group-stage games against Copenhagen (home) and Galatasaray (away) with a much better chance of advancing than before. The Bianconeri control their own destiny. If Juventus truly take advantage of the opportunity in front of them, good things will follow.
And we all know that the group stage is just the start of what this team wants to take part, not the end of it. What better way to say you do mean business than to feed what is likely to be one of the best atmospheres at Juventus Stadium all season and against a team that a good number of people think can win the whole damn thing?
I like that idea. I hope Conte reads about it somewhere.
What did the first time around against Real Madrid do? It proved a point. It showed us that Juve can rise to the occasion when things aren't going well and hang with the big boys. Even with a loss, it helped begin a new run of improvement for a team that just a few days earlier got absolutely stunned in Florence. It brought confidence back, it brought a sense of belief back, it showed us they hadn't lost their hunger. Other than getting three points and putting them in your pocket for the trip home, you can't ask for much more than that.
Surprise, surprise! Juve will be missing key players tomorrow night.
Conte will be without two of his top defenders tomorrow night, with Giorgio Chiellini being suspended after his undeserved red card and Stephan Licthsteiner won't take part because the injury he picked up last month won't seem to go away. The same goes for Mirko Vucinic.
This just in: I am getting tired of writing about the same players being injured.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Antonio Conte has to go back to the 4-3-3, right? ...RIGHT?
Sure, it was a loss in Madrid, but you can't blame it on the way Juventus played. The shift to the 4-3-3, one of the formations that helped Juve win the first of their two straight Scudetti, had a whole lot to do with the team's performance. Based on that, Conte has to deploy the same tactics...right? It would only make sense. Like Ivo said in his Juve-Madrid recap two weeks back, having something other than the 3-5-2 will do Conte a whole lot of good going into the future.
2. If Juve go to the expected 4-3-3, who's the other winger?
I think it's safe to say Claudio Marchisio isn't a winger and will never be one. That's not breaking news. That's news we've known for years and years on end. But he was deployed as a makeshift winger in Madrid instead of playing behind the Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente like some rumors before kickoff were saying would happen. Might Conte go in the same direction with Marchisio out wide? I have no idea, but it kinda seems like that will be the case. If Conte liked what he saw, then I wouldn't expect him to change.
And there's also the trickle down effect. If Marchisio is out on the wing, then who plays in the center of the midfield will be a moot point. But if Conte decides to go with somebody like Sebastian Giovinco or Mr. Champions League aka Fabio Quagliarella in a more attack-minded trident, then that's a whole different matter entirely.
3. Whether Juve will be able to set the tone early on.
The stadium will be electric (more on that later), that's pretty much assumed at this point. The crowd will be ready to go from the opening whistle, and so will Juve if they want to come away with all three points. This won't be one of the relegation battlers Juve have faced the last couple of weekends where a sub-par effort might be able to get the job done. No, no. If Conte's men come out flat, Real Madrid will make them pay for it. That's what good teams do. What made Juve successful in Madrid? They were able to play their game — one for all and all for one common goal.
4. The performance of Juve's improving defensive unit.
I could basically write what I did last time about the attacking threats Real Madrid have. Cristian Ronaldo, Angel di Maria, Gareth Bale — the names are right there in front of us. But you wanna know how many goals Juve have given up since their visit to Madrid a couple weeks ago? Zero. The defense, for the most part, has gotten their act together since the second-half meltdown against Fiorentina on Oct. 20.
But the catch is this: No Chiellini, no Lichtsteiner. No exactly what you want to hear going into such an important game.
5. The atmosphere at Juventus Stadium.
Much like the squad itself, the Juventus Stadium crowd has done its part when the occasion calls for it ever since the doors opened in 2011. Keeping with the Juve-Chelsea references, I remember sitting at home watching the game on television and the crowd noise was so loud before kickoff you couldn't even hear the Champions League anthem played over the speakers. And as much as I love listening to "THE CHAMPIONS!!!" over and over again, it was deafening inside the crown jewel of Italian stadiums. It only got better as the game — and the goals — went on.
And if Antonio Conte wants it to be rowdy and as loud as it can be possibly be against Real Madrid tomorrow night, then that's exactly how it should be.
My starting XI (4-3-3): Buffon; Caceres, Barzagli, Bonucci, Ogbonna; Vidal, Pirlo, Pogba; Tevez, Llorente, Marchisio
OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 8:45 P.M. IN ITALY; 2:45 P.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 11:45 A.M. ON THE WEST COAST