I take you back to September. Juventus was just a few days removed from the first international break of the season, hosting relatively unknown Swedish champion Malmö at Juventus Stadium the Champions League opener. It was Max Allegri's first European game as Juve manager, and his team neither played well or extremely poor, winning the game thanks to a brace from Carlos Tévez and the subsequent robot-dancing brilliance.
The way Juventus is currently playing, that game two months ago seems so far away. So very far away.
Since then, we've seen Juventus struggle, get beaten by a last-second goal in stoppage time, change formations and now find itself again. It's been an interesting couple of months since Juventus last played on Sept. 16. Juventus have a new identity under Allegri, with his 4-3-2-1/4-3-1-2 formation giving a bianconeri side some much-needed life and energy.
Gone are the days of the 3-5-2. It was a good run, a multiple-title-winning run. But now, we reach the next step of Juve's newfound and much-refreshing run of dominating form: Europe. One where Allegri is starting to put his stamp on the club.
Juventus travel to Sweden to face Malmö in basically the same kind of situation they faced a couple of weeks ago against Olympiacos — it's must-win. This is the fifth of six group stage games, and Juventus, who are currently tied on six points with their Greek counterparts, stand face-to-face with their most winnable game yet as the Spanish champions and Champions League finalist from a year ago loom in the distance two weeks from now.
Juventus know they need three points.
We know they know they need three points.
It's a pretty easy thing to figure out considering how they played in the first three group stage games. But this Juventus isn't that Juventus, and that's something we can all agree on. So when they go out and seek three points away from home in Europe, I feel a whole lot better than I did a month or two ago. That's just what happens when you win a string of games in absolutely dominating fashion.
.@carlitos3210: "We must win tomorrow and then we'll have an excellent chance of reaching the knockout stages." #UCL #MalmoJuve— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) November 25, 2014
Juventus' four games in November: 15 goals scored, two goals allowed (both against Olympiacos). That's good, right?
And for once, good injury news! Both Angelo Ogbonna and Patrice Evra are back in the squad for Wednesday night's game against Malmö. So you can rest easy again because Juventus actually have enough defenders to have some choices. (Even though there probably won't be any hard decisions as to who's playing.)
Juventus is still without Andrea Barzagli, Martín Cáceres and Kwadwo Asamoah amongst others. So when you read about the injury list starting to shrink, don't forget those important players who are still missing.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Juventus getting three points. Nothing more, nothing less.
It's simple. Juventus beat Malmö, they're heading into their final group stage game against Atlético with a very good chance of making it to the knockout round. And, at the same time, avoiding crashing out of the Champions League group stage for the second straight season, causing a collective freakout from the United States to Italy and everywhere in between no matter what route you take. The Atléitco Madrid game won't be easy, even with it being in Turin and Juventus looking like a completely different team compared to the one that listlessly lost in Spain back in early October.
And what is the common denominator of Juventus' last couple of wins? Well, obviously the scoring of some absolutely lovely goals from Paul Pogba and Carlos Tévez. But also they've scored those goals early in the game — which has enabled them to either protect a lead or just cruise to the final whistle.
2. Might Fernando Llorente make way for Álvaro Morata?
I honestly don't have any idea. I would say the odds of Llorente starting are pretty good just because that's what Allegri has done a good number of the time. But call me curious to see what Morata can do in the new setup. And no, I'm not exactly counting what he did against totally overmatch Parma side — although those two goals were quite pretty — a couple of weeks ago. Like a lot of the time, it's more of a deal with Morata's potential and what things might look like more than anything just because he hasn't had consistent playing time this season. Morata is a good player, yes, but this is a different Juventus side than what we've seen him play with in his first couple months at the club. Don't lie to yourself, you too are intrigued by the vision of Morata playing in this version of Juventus from the opening whistle.
3. Who's the odd man out in the midfield?
While the formation Allegri uses will play a role into which midfielders are selected, the question still remains. Who's in? And who's out? Even if it's a Christmas tree formation rather than a 4-3-1-2, we know Carlos Tévez will be taking up one of those '2' spots behind the main striker. So that leaves four midfield spots for the available five midfielders. One of Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal, Paul Pogba and Roberto Pereyra will be on the bench tomorrow night. There's no way Pogba is going to be left on the bench the kind of form he's in, and you would think the same applies for Claudio Marchisio. So, like I threw out there after the win over Lazio, if it's a pick between Vidal or Pereyra, who ya got? In one end of the spectrum, it's a nice problem to have. But, man, I'm glad I'm not Max Allegri trying to make these decisions right now.
4. Simone Padoin, left back extraordinaire?
Patrice Evra is available after being named to the 22-man traveling squad to Sweden, but he's only been training with the main squad for a couple of days now. Does that mean Super Padoin gets another start at left back in Allegri's four-man defense? It should, especially with Evra probably nowhere near full match fitness. And, to be honest, I won't have a problem with Padoin starting against Malmö. It's not like he's trying to shutdown Ronaldo or Messi out on the left wing. I'll be the first to tell you that Padoin was very good against Lazio, and that's taking the two yellow cards that probably weren't worthy of getting him sent off into consideration. He just does what he does. It's not spectacular, but as we saw on Saturday in Rome, it works.
And, just in case you were wondering, there are Simone Padoin fangirls out there. Seriously.
October 20, 2014
5. Field conditions in Sweden.
I was going to talk about something, probably try to crack a couple jokes in the process as we hit the last bullet point in today's match preview. But when I saw what came out of Tévez's mouth when he began his press conference, I couldn't help but hit the breaks and start over again.
.@carlitos3210: "The pitch isn’t great for either side. We need to show that we’re capable of playing on such a surface." #MalmoJuve #UCL— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) November 25, 2014
Yikes. Who else had flashbacks to a certain night in Turkey last December after reading that?
Sitting here from afar, we don't know what the field conditions are going to be like until we hear something from the Italian reporters who made the trip or see it for our own eyes when the game actually begins. But there must be at least a little reason to worry if Tévez is talking about it 24 hours before kickoff and the field is as good of shape as it will be all week. I mean, why else would he say it? It's not like addressing field conditions is something that's brought up before every game, right?
.@OfficialAllegri: "The pitch is what it is. We need to adapt & win tomorrow. We're in good shape & have what it takes to get the result."— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) November 25, 2014
My starting XI (4-3-2-1): Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Bonucci, Chiellini, Padoin; Vidal, Marchisio, Pogba; Pereyra, Tévez; Llorente
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