Before we begin to discuss the match that is right in front of us, I want to take you back to the last time Juventus were facing Chelsea in the Champions League. It was a different time, without a doubt. Different coaches were in charge of deciding the tactics, different management was wasting money on stupid signings. Different players wearing the famous stripes.
Understandably, the lineups were different that night, March 11, 2009, at the Stadio Olimpico in Torino. Of the Starting XI for Juventus, only three — Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, and Claudio Marchisio — remain in the fold. Most of those have either been sold for peanuts or moved on to another team and phase of their career, be it retirement or a different league.
Still, there remains memories of that match, which ended 2-2 and saw Juventus bow out 3-2 on aggregate. We remember when Vincenzo Iaquinta was actually a productive player in the Juve squad. We remember the impressive 30-minute cameo Sebastian Giovinco on the bench. We remember the grinta showed after Chiellini was sent off for picking up his second yellow. We remember the goal Il Capitano scored to temporarily put Juve even on aggregate.
What am I trying to say with all of this?
Guess who's back, Chelsea.
To me, it only makes sense that in Juventus' return to the Champions League, our beloved Old Lady plays the team that won it all last season. This is the chance for Juve have to show everybody who doesn't follow them on a regular basis that they are a force to be reckoned with. This is Antonio Conte's Juve, not the one pieced together with clearance-rack tape by Alessio Secco that went crashing out against Bayern Munich the last time they were in the Champions League.
This is the game that everybody will be paying attention to. This is Wednesday night's Main Event. People will be talking about Chelsea and how they are defending their European crown. I wouldn't mind after 90 minutes that Juventus was the team dominating the discussion.
It's the Champions League and Juventus are back in it. What more do you want? This is awesome. Let us celebrate.
To be frank, there's not much of any bad news outside of Conte hanging out in a luxury box instead of screaming his lungs out on the sidelines. The squad is basically as healthy as it can be, so there's nothing to worry about there.
Yeah, all good to go. By the time you read this preview, the players and coaches have already arrived and settled in London. Let's just let this song ring in our collective heads for the next day or so.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
- Any kind of fatigue factor. Andrea Pirlo played 90 minutes over the weekend. So did Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Sebastian Giovinco, and Claudio Marchisio. And a good number of those people mentioned played pretty much every minute of Italy's World Cup qualifiers. While I don't expect Juventus to be completely gassed because Conte has drilled them in the conditioning department, it's just something to keep an eye on. A lot of Juve's key players have played a lot of minutes in a small period of time.
- Chelsea's attack vs. Juventus' defense. Edin Hazard is good. So is Juan Mata. You know what hasn't been as good as it can be lately? Yeah, the Juve defense. Sunday's first-half showing against Genoa was, ummmm, shaky at best. It's no secret that the success of Juventus both domestically and in Europe is tied to how the defense performers, so I won't go much further. But the fact is, if Juventus want to not only win the group, but go far in the Champions League, the defense is going to have to get back to the way it was last season.
- Sebastian Giovinco and Mirko Vucinic vs. Chelsea's defense. There's really no debate as to who should start up front for Juventus right now. And I don't think there's no denying that Chelsea's backline has, on occasion, not exactly impressed some people. So what gives — Gio-Vucinic or the Chelsea D? They have the creativity to break the home side down, now it's just a matter of delivering the goods.
- Massimo Carrera's maiden voyage in Europe. I haven't found anything to really get too upset about since Carrera took over the game-day duties from Mr. Conte. But the Champions League can be a different monster. And like me emphasize, it can be. There's no reason to doubt that Juventus won't be prepared because, the last time I checked, Conte is still training them. Come game time, though, it's Carrera making the final decisions and this is his first European voyage.
My starting XI (4-3-3): Buffon; Grygera, Mellberg, Chiellini, Molinaro; Marchisio, Tiago, Nedved; Del Piero, Trezeguet, Iaquinta
Wait. That was three years ago. Okay, for real now...
My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pirlo, Marchisio, Asamoah; Giovinco, Vucinic
That was pretty damn easy to figure out, I must say. What a genius.
Chelsea probable (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivsnovic, David Luiz, Terry, Cole; Mikel, Lampard; Ramires, Hazard, Mata; Torres