Juventus were drawn into a tough group in this season's edition of the Champions League. Am I going out on a limb with that last sentence? Nah, I don't think so. It's not very often three teams that made it into the quarterfinals the previous season meet the next time around.
There's also this: Juventus don't have to play any of those two to begin the group stage. Instead, Juventus have made a trip to Denmark for the second straight year. But don't worry, there won't be the struggle to figure out how the hell to spell "Nordsjælland" on a regular basis. (And, for the record, I am glad about that.) No, it's just simple spelling this time around, with Juve's trip to Denmark seeing them play FC Copenhagen in the Group B opener for both teams.
While their trip to play Nordsjælland last season was Juve's return to European football, this time the journey to Denmark comes with serious expectations. Juve have added to their squad this summer, reinforcing what was already a Champions League quarterfinalist and two-time defending Serie A champions.
Now, Antonio Conte is looking to build on what is a damn good foundation.
Go right ahead, Mister. You won't find me complaining about wanting to go even further in the Champions League.
Juventus are opening the group stages with FC Copenhagen instead of Real Madrid. Say what you want about opening with a challenge, but I'll take the very good chance to get three points straight away every day of the week.
Injuries. Martin Caceres (knee surgery), Claudio Marchisio (knee ligament), Simone Pepe (thigh strain) and Rubinho (pelvic muscle strain) are all recovering from their respective problems. Fun!
And the schedule is busy again. Seven games in about a month. That's rough — with or without the current injuries Juventus are dealing with. More on that in a little bit.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Just how pissed off Juventus are after a Derby d'Italia draw over the weekend.
Antonio Conte likes to win. I like that Antonio Conte likes to win. I think everybody likes that Antonio Conte likes to win. Well, those of us who root for this great club, but I'm not so sure about the others. And even though Conte was pleased with his team's effort against Inter on Saturday, it wasn't a win — and therefore Il Mister can't be completely satisfied...right? This is a great chance for Juve to start Group B action on a really good note and get all three points right out of the shoot before the tougher group games arrive. I'm sure they realize that, and want to have all three points possible in their pocket when they get on the plane back to Turin.
2. The condition of Mirko Vucinic.
After hearing for a week leading up to the derby about Vucinic's injury status and availability, Vucinic was available on Saturday and his performance was, uh, not so good. Maybe that's just Mirko being Mirko and following the trajectory of his career, I dunno. But with everything that was going on during the week and having to shake off an injury in such a short period of time, it's hard to think it didn't play some kind of role — significant or minor — in his performance.
3. The striker situation.
I could, realistically, say this in every preview I write up in the same kind of fashion I did a season ago. But this time, it's not because we don't know who will play on consistent basis. Carlos Tevez will play much more often than he won't. I could go on and on about Fernando Llorente needing a chance to show what he's capable of just to shut people up, but I won't. For all I know, Conte could be planning on changing things for the simple fact of squad rotation and that will be that. Much like the Inter preview, this is basically tied to Vucinic — if he's deemed healthy enough to play, Mirko will most likely play. It's as simple as that.
4. Which Andrea Pirlo shows up.
Conte has made his stand, and we know the maestro is playing.
Now that we've established that Pirlo is playing, let's talk about how he hasn't been the player we've come to know since he arrived the last couple of weeks. Pirlo's not on his best form. That's not some wild theory I'm throwing out there right now, either. The amount of misplaced passes are starting to add up. So are the amount of turnovers he's committing. Conte says he doesn't need rest, so we'll go with that. But I'm just going to sit here and wonder what a night off might do if that okay with all of you. It's not like giving Pirlo a break has helped in the last year or two. Oh wait...
5. The condition of Olof Mellberg's world-class viking beard.
Because before Pirlo's beard, there was Mellberg's beard. And since we'll be seeing an old friend tomorrow night, there's no reason not to pay attention to his glorious facial hair.
6. How much Conte actually rotates the squad — now and in the future.
From Conte's post-match interview on Saturday night:
"I'll need to call on everyone and will rotate the side the side when the moment's right, with the league championship in mind as our realistic objective. I definitely couldn't rotate in a match against Inter."
So, he's established that he will rotate things. How much? That's still to be seen. But it's something I expected him to do more often a year ago and it didn't happen as much as it probably should have. Has Conte learned? I don't know. That's just something he's going to actually have to prove to me — and a lot of other folks around these parts — before we truly believe that squad rotation is going to be happening when the schedule is busy like it currently is. Even with some of his better players injured right now, Conte has the depth at his disposal. It's time to take advantage of it.
My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Ogbonna, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pirlo, Pogba, Asamoah; Llorente, Tevez
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