Champions League Preview: Juventus vs. Bayern Munich — Bavarian Battle Royale

Claudio Villa

No Aprils Fools' jokes. Normal service is as normal as it gets. THE CHAMPIONS!!!

It's been a few years since Juventus have been in the quarterfinals of the Champions League. To be exact, that figure is seven years, but we're not trying to get particular right now. But obviously the road to get back to this stage of the game has been a long and eventful one — probably filled with just as many downs as there have been ups. Well, that was before Antonio Conte arrived on the scene.

But after the long anticipated wait on the outskirts of the final eight, Italy's Old Lady is right back where she belongs.

Juventus' quarterfinal tie against Bayern Munich has been a long time coming. And it just so happens that in Juventus' return to the elite eight of European football, it's the main event of the round. Even though most of us residents of the United States won't be able to watch it live on our televisions (thanks, Fox Soccer), this is heavyweight vs. heavyweight. If it were taking place in Vegas, it would be the top of the card with the biggest of celebrities sitting ringside to watch.

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See? Gigi's excited about heading back to Germany.

Few players remain in Bianconero from the last time these two teams played in the Champions League. I won't get into details about the final score — because who really wants to relive that game? — but it was hard reminder of just how far Juventus has come since the last time there was a Champions League game featuring the Old Lady and Bayern Munich.

Different circumstances. Different players. Different coaches. Different vibes around the two clubs in general.

It's the best of the best meeting tomorrow night in Bavaria. And as I said in the initial Champions League draw post, this tie is more than two of Europe's giants going up against one another. The individual match-ups are plentiful — everywhere you look there's a great player going up against another great player. It's just another reason why this two-legged tie with the chance to advance to the Champions League semifinals is so massive and so impressive even before the two teams step on the field.

LE CHIAVI

There isn't much to say about how good Bayern has been in the Bundesliga this season. That's mainly because they haven't been good — they've been absolutely dominent. A few quick numbers to only support that, okay?

Wins: 23

Draws: 3

Losses: 1

Goals scored: 78

Goals allowed: 13

Goal differential: Plus-65 (!!)

Pretty much sums up why Bayern has a 20-point lead in the Budesliga right now, isn't it? They're good. Really, really good.

GOOD NEWS

For the first time in a long time, everybody who plays a significant role within this Juventus squad is basically healthy. Sure, we could go on about whether or not Giorgio Chiellini is completely, 100 percent fit or if Mirko Vucinic has gotten over the fever that kept him out of the Derby d'Italia victory over Inter on Saturday.

BAD NEWS

I don't really know to be honest. Maybe that both legs aren't being played at Juventus Stadium? That would be cool, but totally unrealistic, so why fret about it to begin with.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

1. Antonio Conte's tactics. 3-5-2 or 3-5-1-1 with a Paul Pogba twist? We've talked about it already, but it deserves to be mentioned again. It's kinda important, don't you think? I think so, too. We got a glimpse of what Juve's formation against Bayern might look like when Conte substituted Paul Pogba with about 15 minutes left to go against Inter on Saturday. Clearly, the circumstances were a bit different than they will be tomorrow night — Juventus were looking to lock up their lead rather than playing with a six-man midfield from the opening kickoff. Still, there's just a feeling that Conte will go with a lone striker rather than his regular 3-5-2 formation. I dunno. I just have a hunch about this.

I'll just leave this here.

You won't find me disagreeing with that.

2. The battle in the midfield. No matter what formation Antonio Conte rolls with, the midfield is going to be huge — and there will be game-changing players everywhere you look. Marchisio-Vidal-Pirlo vs. Muller-Kroos-Ribery. That's two of the best midfield trios that you'll find anywhere. Obviously Muller and Kroos will have to deal with Juventus' wingbacks — Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah — a good amount of the time, but there's no denying that Marchisio and Vidal have quite a bit of defensive responsibility in Juve's midfield.

3. The Vucinic Effect. That's if he plays, of course — which I'm pretty sure he will. What do ya know — another guy who was the subject of an international break post is likely to be a key player in how Juventus do tomorrow night. Vucinic will either be the lone striker on the field or paired up with one of Sebastian Giovinco, Fabio Quagliarella, or Alessandro Matri. That's about all we know. If he's fit, which he probably will be, he's starting. That's just the way it is no matter how QuagliaMatri played against Inter.

4. Containing the Bayern firepower. When you've got a player of Arjen Robben's quality coming off the bench, you know you've got one heck of an attacking force. There's no doubting that this will be the biggest test for Juventus' three-man defense to date. I won't obsess over the fact that Bayern just stormed out for nine goals against Hamburg on Saturday because nobody could have expected that much of a straight beatdown. Are Bayern a very good offensive team? Absolutely. Are Juventus a very good defensive team? Absolutely.

5. Arturo Vidal — the man with German ties. Bayern Munich wanted to sign the Chilean dynamo, he chose Juventus instead. When Bayern's management had some not-so-nice things to say about Vidal after his transfer to Juve was announced, he went on to prove why he's one of the best midfielders in the game. They mad? Yeah, they mad. This will be Vidal's first official return to Germany since he was signed from Leverkusen two summers ago. Something tells me he will have a little something extra to show Bayern what they're missing out on.

My starting XI (3-5-1-1): Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pirlo, Pogba, Asamoah; Marchisio; Vucinic

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

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