When the going gets tough, so does Juventus? It seems like that has been the case on more than one occasion at least in the Champions League this season for Antonio Conte's men. It's obviously not the ideal way to do things, but up until this point, Juve have shown the ability to fight back when the chips are stacked against them.
How do I know this? Well, here's some evidence.
I take you to Nov. 20 at the Juventus Stadium. Defending European champion Chelsea visited Turin with both teams needing a win to get that much closer to knockout round qualification. A loss would have essentially ended Juventus' Champions League run barely after it started, which would have given us a lot of sad moments and probably angry comments. But the end result? I think you remember what happened...
See, a happy video! (UEFA's stupid copyright rules made me resort to this. Sorry 'bout it.)
That's the same exact Juventus that needs to show up Wednesday night against Bayern Munich. It's not only a team that played with a complete sense of desperation and urgency, but one that executed nearly perfectly in every aspect of the field. That's what was the difference than Juve's dismantling of Chelsea and last Tuesday against Bayern. Juventus forced Chelsea into all kinds of mistakes, and subsequently the same can be said about Bayern's pressure against Juve in the first leg.
What kind of tactics Conte uses remains to be seen. But one thing is for certain: If Juventus wants any chance of advancing to the semifinals of the Champions League, anything other than a perfect showing won't get it done. Not against this Bayern Munich team, that's for damn sure.
And that's the task Conte has on his hands. Juventus can't be so-so. They have to be good — beyond good. They have to play a truly great game to not only win, but flip the 2-0 aggregate into their favor.
It's a lot to do, but not impossible at the same time. This is Juventus afterall. More importantly, Antonio Conte's Juventus, one capable of greatness on the biggest of European stages. We've seen it before. And we'll need to see it again if this season's European adventure wants to continue.
Despite being down 2-0 on aggregate, the best thing going for Juventus is that the second leg is at home instead of in Munich. Even though the last time Bayern went home with a lead after the first leg in the Champions League it became total schadenfreude, i wouldn't have a whole bunch of confidence if this one was headed back to Germany. But it isn't, so that really doesn't matter.
One thing that does matter: Juventus' support will off the charts. The staio will be as loud as it has ever been and that will certainly be something for the players to feed off of. We've seen it before domestically and in Europe this season— and that's why all hope shouldn't be lost.
1. Down 2-0 after 90 minutes.
2. No Arturo Vidal or Stephan Lichtsteiner due to suspension. Dammit.
That's really all that needs to be said.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. How Juventus starts. Whether you look at the highlights from the Chelsea win above or you decide to re-watch the suckfest from last Tuesday, you can see just how important starting these kinds of games can be. Juventus were full on the gas against Chelsea. They were completely shocked against Bayern. Sure, it's a 90 minute game. I completely understand that. But Juve have a monumental task to get done even before kickoff. If there's a slip up, the two-goal disadvantage can become even greater, thus making the chances of advancing all but vanish.
2. Arjen Robben's impact. As much as the first-minute goal in Munich didn't help, the changed completely in Bayern's way once the talented Dutch winger came on for the injured Toni Kroos midway into the first half. Robben was all over the wing and to expect anything different on Wednesday would probably be the wrong thing to do. Whether it's Simone Padoin or somebody else playing as the wingback on the right side of Juve's midfield, their main concern will be Robben — and rightfully so.
3. How much room Andrea Pirlo has to operate. Out of any Juventus player the bearded maestro/part-time world traveler definitely had one of the worst performances in the first leg. His 70 percent completion percentage on his passes was by far one of the lowest totals he's recorded since coming to Juventus. Some of that had to do with the pressure Bayern put on him for the entire 90 minutes, but some of it had to do with Pirlo being completely off his game.
4. How well Paul Pogba fills in for Arturo Vidal. Out of all that went wrong in Munich, Vidal was one of the incredibly few bright spots — especially when you consider how the rest of the midfield plays. But because of the Chilean's suspension, in comes Pogba for the return leg in Turin. His role will be different than the one he had against Pescara over the weekend with Pirlo returning to the lineup, but his importance remains the same. He'll certainly have to do more defensive work than he did on Saturday — even though that's pretty much expected. Still, this is a game where a player like Pogba can make his mark on the biggest of stages.
5. Whether Big Game Mirko shows up for real this time. First, a few words from Antonio Conte himself regarding Mirko Vucinic's performance against Pescara on Saturday.
"I told Vucinic he had a terrible game and still scored two goals. ...Imagine what he would've done if he had played well. It's important that he scored today and that bodes well for the Bayern match, even if I'm thinking of benching him!" (via Football Italia)
As Ivo pointed out after the first leg, Vucinic not starting was one of the biggest mistakes Conte made in Munich. And while we never got the full and definitive answer as to why Mirko didn't start against Bayern in the first leg, there's no doubting his performance will play quite a roll in Juventus' attempt to eliminate the hole they find themselves in. It doesn't matter what aspect of the game, really. The man behind 'Big Game Mirko' will have to be at his best. There's really no other way around it.
My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Padoin, Pogba, Pirlo, Marchisio, Asamoah; Quagliarella, 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