It's not often that a team from Italy like Juventus travels to Turkey twice within a two-month period of time in two separate European competitions for two completely different games. Then again, it's not often that one of the best teams in Europe is not playing in the Champions League this time of year.
But Juventus find themselves traveling to Turkey in the final few days of February for the Europa League, not the other European tournament we all wish they were still taking part in.
It's Part II of Juve's adventure to Turkey this season. The first time they were there — yeah, we won't talk about that. This second time, though, will be the difference between Juventus advancing to the next round of the Europa League or seeing another European competition come to a crashing, facepalm-worthy end.
Might the second trip to Turkey treat Juventus better than the first?
We sure as hell hope so.
Ninety or so minutes after the opening whistle blows on Thursday night, a spot in the Round of 16 will have been secured by somebody. Or, in the mind of a lot of people, Juventus advancing will mean the expected just becomes a reality. That's just what happens when you're one of the favorites to win the whole thing. And who doesn't want to have the final be a home game? I can think of a few people who wear black and white on a regular basis who wouldn't mind that.
In that case, keep the wins coming, Gigi.
For as frustrating and not-so-good parts of Juventus' first leg against Trabzonspor, they head to Turkey with a 2-0 lead on aggregate. It could have been a lot worse for the simple fact that Juve were walking on a tightrope for almost the entire second half in Turin last week. But the end result was an important one — Juventus 2, Trabzonspor 0.
Add Kwadwo Asamoah to the list of players who are injured. Juventus' starting left wingback, according to the Juventus website, has been ruled out "after reporting muscular fatigue in the posterior area of his right thigh at the conclusion of yesterday's training session." Then again, he probably wasn't going to play tomorrow night anyways, but still. He will rest for a couple days and then have his condition be monitored — which basically means his status for the Milan clash on Sunday is completely up in the air right now.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. How much squad rotation will there be?
Why do I ask? Because the way Antonio Conte went about things lineup-wise in the first leg, there's no reason to think it won't be the same seven days later. It's not expected to be the complete turnover like in the Coppa Italia, but it's close enough. It's not if there will be changes, but how many players from over the weekend won't be starting Thursday night. There will be turnover in Juve's starting lineup, and probably a good number of it, too. Conte keeps saying he has faith in his entire squad and that means we'll be seeing a good portion of it in the Europa League.
2. The rumored Dani Osvaldo and Sebastian Giovinco partnership — if it happens.
In the first leg Osvaldo was paired with Carlos Tevez. Now it seems like he's getting teamed up with an even shorter striker. If indeed the reported Osvaldo-Giovinco tandem plays from the start tomorrow, it will be the first time that they've played alongside one another in a 3-5-2 formation. Giovinco, of course, came off the bench in the first leg as Conte switched to a 4-3-3 in the second half, but there's no reason to think he won't go back to his default formation tomorrow night. That means it's Giovinco and Osvaldo for the first time. And here's to hoping it delivers the goods.
3. How much Juventus' wingbacks contribute.
In one word, the way Mauricio Isla and Federico Peluso played in the first leg can be described as this: Meh. Isla was the best of a rather average pair — and that's probably putting it lightly. There were more mistakes than positive impacts being made last Thursday by Peluso and Isla. And when you consider how well Asamoah and Stephan Lichtsteiner have played over the last month or two, having Peluso and Isla do not much of anything seems even that much worse. They don't need to be spectacular, really. They just need to get the job done. But sometimes, even that seems like it's as painful as pulling teeth.
4. Which center midfield will get a rest in anticipation of Sunday's clash with Milan?
The interesting thing about the Europa League being around is that it screws with the schedule just as much as the Champions League did. But unlike when the Champions League is around, there's no the certainty that Juventus' best starting lineup will be fielded on a game-to-game basis. Arturo Vidal didn't play over the weekend due to suspension, so you'd think he doesn't need to be rested. That means it's either Paul Pogba or Andrea Pirlo who will make way for Claudio Marchisio in the starting lineup.
Or maybe it's Vidal-Pirlo-Pogba through and through and I just wasted a bunch of time.
5. How Tranbzonspor begin the game.
Because Trabzonspor came up empty, the Turkish side need goals in a hurry. That's no secret. And with no away goals coming back with them to Turkey, it's even more of the case entering tomorrow night's second leg. You would like to think that they will come out looking for an early goal to possibly get the home crowd really behind them and make things just that much more interesting. Here's to hoping that Juventus don't have any of their defensive miscues from the first leg. That'd be pretty unfortunate and bring a lot of unnecessary into all of our lives.
#Conte: It's important when you win 2-0 without conceding at home. But it's a slight advantage and we know they'll be pushed by 25,000 fans.— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) February 26, 2014
My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Caceres; Isla, Vidal, Marchisio, Pogba, Peluso; Osvaldo, Giovinco
OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 9:05 P.M. IN ITALY; 3:05 P.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 12:05 P.M. ON THE WEST COAST
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