It's been almost two months since we talked about Juventus and the Champions League on an individual basis. there have been mentions, but nothing solely concentrated on it. The Champions League has been there, chillin' in the back of our heads while Juve try to right the wrongs of what was a pretty uneventful month of January, both on the field and in the transfer market.
But what has been in the back of everybody's mind is now at the forefront.
Yes, Juventus' return to the knockout stages of Europe's premiere club competition is finally upon us. Well, at least it's close enough to be considered "Here." The squad arrived in Glasgow on Monday, leaving Torino 24 hours after recording a convincing 2-0 win over Fiorentina. And now the focus wholeheartedly shifts to the European stage, with both teams making a return to the knockout stages after a few years on the outside looking in.
Ah, it's good to be back.
The good-natured vibes will of course be dependent on how the first leg away from or beautiful home goes. Juventus have shaken off a sluggish January (more on that a little later), getting some momentum going again as they head to Glasgow. At least they timed it correctly, right? I don't even want to think what the vibe would have been like if Juve were coming off a couple of draws or even a loss.
But we don't have to worry about all of that. So I'll end that nonsense right there.
Back to reality: Juventus and Celtic in the round of 16. Good times, good times.
Two February games, two February wins, six out of six points in February. It's that simple. Juventus have left their January troubles in, well, January. I wouldn't say Juve are all the way back — Tuesday's tilt against Celtic will certainly be a huge measuring stick — but things are starting to point in the right direction. Even with the injuries and suspensions they've had to deal with as of late, things are starting to get back to normal around zona bianconero.
Sure, Juventus are not completely back to their usual self. Completely basing an argument off what Juve have done for two games would be a little silly, but like I said, they're headed in the right direction. And with Celtic mere hours away, that's good news. Thus the reason as to why it's in this section! Full circle!
It seems like I've just rinsed and repeated this section in recent previews, but the injury bug unfortunately won't go away. Paolo De Ceglie is the latest casualty of Juve's round of injuries, suffering a thigh strain against Fiorentina. Now we know why he was removed despite the fact he was playing a very good match and continuously whipping in his 10 thousand bazillion MPH crosses like there's no big deal at all.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Alessandro Matri. Why lead off with this? Because really, seeing him returning to form is pretty damn awesome. He's scored three goals in the last three games, and five in the last five games. Matri is now showing signs of the striker that first came to Juventus. He's not only scoring goals, but he's contributing to just about everything else in the attack. He's giving the squad a strong, physical striker that it's lacked since the last time he was scoring goals at will last season. Now, as Juve enter the biggest game of the season, Matri is getting back to his best. And that's exactly what the doctor ordered.
2. How Juventus start. Have you noticed that two first-half goals have led to two victories for Juventus in the month of February? If not, now you know. Juve getting off to a good start will be even more important considering it's the Champions League, they're away from home, and their opponent is a whole lot of difficult when they play on their native turf. And the biggest thing from January to now is that they've been able to continue the good start — especially against Fiorentina, essentially putting the game to bed with 30 minutes left on the clock.
3. Handling the Celtic Park atmosphere. You've heard so much about, now it's time to witness the craziness that is the Hoops faithful live and in person. I don't expect Juventus to be rattled by it, but that's just an assumption from afar rather than insider information. It will be quite the crowd that's on hand Tuesday night at Celtic Park. They will be ready to go hours before kickoff takes place and that will certainly feed into the adrenalin the Celtic players have as they walked out of the tunnel. (And yes, there will probably be a few adult beverages consumed by the supporters along the way.)
4. Who's on the left wing? To be completely honest with you, I don't really know how to answer my own question. Paolo De Ceglie didn't make the trip to Glasgow. Kwadwo Asamoah went straight from AFCON duty to Glasgow, but who really knows what kind of shape he is in considering he's basically been playing non-stop away from Juventus' watchful eye for the last month. So, what to do? The logical choice would be Federico Peluso simply because he's the only natural left-back that is actually, ya know, rested and ready to go.
Conte: Asamoah returned yesterday. It would be asking too much of him to play, he'll train with us & will be ready for Saturday #CelticJuve— JuventusFC (@juventusfc) February 11, 2013
My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Caceres; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pirlo, Marchisio, Peluso; Vucinic, Matri
OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 8:45 IN ITALY; 2:45 P.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 11:45 A.M. ON THE WEST COAST
Important note for U.S. readers: Juventus-Celtic will be broadcast LIVE on Fox Soccer Channel (times obviously vary depending on location). If you wanna put yourself through the pre-game "analysis," it starts 15 minutes before kickoff on FSC.