It's not difficult to figure out what is currently standing in front of Juventus. There's 180 minutes left of the group stages and Juve are currently looking up at three teams in Group B. No, really. That's no typo., folks Through four group matches, all Juventus have to show for it is three draws and a loss.
You can probably guess where I'm going with this.
Juventus need points in the worst possible way. There's not just one team to jump over in the standings to get into the next round, but two. The first opportunity comes in Turin Wednesday night when Juve host FC Copenhagen. Yeah, the same Copenhagen squad that Juve played out a 1-1 draw in Denmark back in the middle of September.
But that was then — a different kind of period in time this season. And as we've come to see the past four or five weeks, that Juventus is not the same as the current Juventus team that went toe to toe with Real Madrid and hasn't allowed a goal in five straight Serie A games.
It's fairly certain that Good Juventus will have to show up these next 180 minutes if there's any chance of Antonio Conte and Co. getting to the knockout round. There's no other way around it. Playing Copenhagen at Juventus Stadium is one thing, but going to a hostile atmosphere in Istanbul is another.
To have a chance for the trip to Turkey to mean just as much as Juve's trip to Ukraine a year ago, there's only one thing that they need to do — win, win, win.
In conclusion: I like the Champions League anthem. I don't want to stop listening to the Champions League anthem before Juventus games when the calendar flips over to 2014. I'd like to hear it some more at Juventus Stadium. And not some video on YouTube, either. The real deal, you guys.
So, Juventus, make sure we're listening to said anthem in February. It'd be really cool.
Juventus' first eight Serie A games: 10 goals allowed.
Juventus' last five Serie A games: 0 goals allowed.
I know this is the Champions League and all, but this needed to be pointed out.
Injuries — because what else have we filled this preview space with lately?
Stephan Lichtsteiner, Mauricio Isla, Andrea Barzagli, Sebastian Giovinco and Simone Pepe all miss out due to injury. Some of those names are not a surprise, some are recently added to the list.
Have I mentioned yet that I miss Stephan Lichtsteiner? Because I miss Stephan Lichtsteiner.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Which formation Juventus rolls with, 3-5-2 or 4-3-3?
The first time around against Copenhagen,. there was no debate. Conte had his 3-5-2 and that was that. No need to debate it, no need to even talk about it — at all. That non-debate was put to bed when Conte went back to a 4-3-3 when Juve played in Madrid last month. The non-debate became a, well, debate again. Should Juve go with a 3-5-2 or 4-3-3 from now on in Europe? The results are the results. Against Madrid, it was 4-3-3. Against Copenhagen, it's more of a guessing game. Different team and tactics, of course, but the 4-3-3 has worked in Europe — so why go away from it all the sudden?
2. Who plays on the right wing — regardless of formation.
The status of Lichtsteiner and Isla remains exactly the same as it was a few days ago. That means Juve will, again, be without its starting right back and the immediate backup. And if Conte does go with a 3-5-2 like some people are suggesting, then it's down to either to Martin Caceres or Simone Padoin. But I like Uruguayans with high socks, so you probably know who'd I'd like to start.
3. Who plays in the absence of Andrea Barzagli.
While Juventus will have a pair of players — Leonardo Bonucci and Angelo Ogbonna — back from the squad that traveled to Tuscany to face Livorno, the odds of the Great Wall of Barza playing have officially been set at zero after Conte ruled him out.
Basic logic would tell you that the natural replacement for Barzagli on the right side of Juve's three-man defense is Caceres. But since the options are pretty limited on the right wing, it's not all that certain. Could Ogbonna take over in the middle and push Bonucci to the right? It's possible. But I like Uruguayans with high socks, so you probably know who'd I'd like to start.
4. The ever-improving rapport between Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente.
Consider both Tevez and Llorente scoring goals against Livorno as the latest chapter in the story. Or, you can think of it however the heck you want. Either way, Tevez and Llorente are starting to click. It's not just the goals, but the entire package that comes with the Tevez-Llorente combo finding its stride. The combination play between the two seems to get better as the games go by, and so does the overall understanding. The general assumption was that whenever it clicked, this would be Juve's No. 1 partnership. Well, it's done just that — and now it seems as though Conte is seeing what we all are, too.
5. The impact of Kwadwo Asamoah.
The highlight of Asamoah's game against Livorno was the run he made that led to Llorente's opener. It's pretty easy to figure that one out. But it wasn't just that memorable run that made his game so good, as a certain Ivo Andov discussed in his match review. The more Asamoah was involved, the more of an impact he had. That's not all that surprising considering that can be said for a lot of players — you see more of the ball, you have a better chance to do something good. And there's no doubting Asamoah did plenty of good against Livorno. Now, to build on it...
My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Bonucci, Ogbonna, Chiellini; Caceres, Vidal, Pirlo, Pogba, Asamoah; Llorente, Tevez
My starting XI (4-3-3): Buffon; Caceres, Bonucci, Chiellini, Asamoah; Vidal, Pirlo, Pogba; Vucinic, 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