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UEFA Champions League Preview: Juventus vs. Atlético Madrid — Taking care of business

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Just a nice, relaxing evening of football awaits us all tomorrow night. Or maybe just 90 minutes of absolutely stress and the biting off of our fingernails. Either/or...

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Because Juventus suddenly discovered they actually have to play half-decent football to even have a chance of getting out of the Champions League group stage, they enter Tuesday night's final group stage game knowing they have a really good chance to get into the knockout round. And with it, they know exactly what each result will mean for them and their future in Europe's premier club competition.

A quick refresher course, if you will, of what each result means:

  1. A win by at least two goals would give Juventus three points and the top spot in Group A. And because of it, a good chance to get a nice draw for the round of 16 next week.
  2. A draw means Juventus take second place in the group and advance to the knockout round. Simple as that and then pray Juventus get a somewhat favorable draw — at best probably — next week.
  3. A loss ... well, we don't even want to think about that for a second straight season.

Pretty easy to figure out, right?

Well, that's basically the short nuts and bolts of it all. But Juventus aren't trying to get to the next round of the dance by playing some cupcake squad from Serie B like they were this time last year in the Coppa Italia. Nah, it's just the defending La Liga champions and Champions League finalists coming to Turin, one that has already beaten Juventus once already this season and made then look absolutely terrible in the process.

While Juventus are coming off a rather drab and relatively listless draw against Fiorentina on Friday night, the Juventus we've seen in the last six weeks is different than the one that showed up in Spain on the first day of October. And because of that, they've put themselves in a good position to get to the knockout stage.

That is, if they take care of business at Juventus Stadium on Tuesday night.

Despite the fact that Juventus is playing such a damn good team, they couldn't have really asked for anything better considering how they started the group stage out. They've got the game at Juventus Stadium, they will have a fired up and rowdy crowd singing in full force giving them plenty of support. It's got all the makings of a classic European clash between two very good teams.

Juventus don't need to win to get into the knockout stage. We all know that and will certainly be reminded of it. But, please, if they want to go ahead and rise to the occasion and grab the top of the group, you won't find me objecting to it.

GOOD NEWS

Atlético Madrid will be out on of their two standout center backs, João Miranda, because of a hamstring injury. And while Diego Godín is still around and looking to terrorize Juventus' strikers, at least his badass partner in crime won't be around.

BAD NEWS

While Juventus are playing well these days, there's still the chance that they don't make it out of the group stage for the second consecutive season if everything lines up totally against them. They need a lot of things to go wrong, but it's still a possibility. So until Juventus either get a draw or a win Tuesday, I'm not going to feel completely at ease.

See, aren't you glad I didn't talk about all the injuries in this section for once? Eh, maybe not a good alternative to go with instead. Oh well.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

1. Is it back to a four-man defense for Juventus?

I mean, Allegri has to, right? One of the biggest reasons why Allegri decided to go to a 3-5-2 formation against Fiorentina was that there was no Stephan Lichtsteiner available. Well, guess who's back? Yeah, this guy. There are still plenty of injuries because of course there are. Howoever, having Lichtsteiner back not only gives Juventus their No. 1 right back, but also gives Allegri the ability to go back to his more preferred 4-3-1-2/4-3-2-1 formation that has worked so well the last month or so. We don't even have to look far to see the difference in the two systems' effectiveness, too. When Allegri switched to a three-man backline against Fiorentina, it was night and day — and not in a good way — in terms of how the team looked. I don't want to see that happen again in such an important game, and neither should Allegri.

2. Can Juventus break down the relentless Atlético defense?

Atlético Madrid might be a little bit of last season's pace when it comes to goals allowed in La Liga, but that doesn't mean they've suddenly become a terrible defense. Not even close. We can just look at what happened in Juventus' visit to Madrid earlier this season. Atlético put on a defensive clinic, keeping Juve's attack almost completely quiet despite a noticeable margin in possession numbers. No matter who starts alongside Carlos Tévez — more on Fernando Llorente and Álvaro Morata in a bit — their task is to try and create scoring chances against a defense that can lock down even the most world-class of attacking squads. See? Nothing to worry about. (Right....)

3. Can Juventus keep the relentless Atlético counterattack relatively quiet?

Defend and then hit their opponent on the counter. This is Atlético's style. It's not a secret, and Juventus have been one of the many teams to find it out first hand in their 1-0 loss in Spain. Even though Juventus created a relatively small number of scoring chances, they still had nearly 60 percent of the possession. Why? Because Atlético did what Atlético does. And it's not like this is going to suddenly change just because they're away from home. Simeone has drilled his squad so well that it's pretty much second nature. They will defend like madmen and then they will try to break their opponent on the counterattack. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?

4. Is this the time for Álvaro Morata to get his chance to shine?

Allegri stepped up to the mic at his pre-match conference and his first questions was basically this: Morata or Llorente?

Well, I think it's safe to say that's pretty much no help to us at all. So as much as Allegri can skirt around questions and answer it with no definitive answers, there's a decision to be made. Will Llorente, who scored the game-winner against Malmö a couple weeks ago, get yet another chance to play from the opening whistle? Or will Morata, the €20 million summer signee who has started just three games in all competitions this season, get his chance to partner with Tévez? Maybe another question/talking point should be if Allegri will make the kind of big-time decision in such a crucial European game or play it safe like he has most of the year and go with Llorente once more.

5. Containing Atlético's Super Mario.

Here's what Mario Madnzukic has done since the middle of October: 10 games played, eight goals scored.

We talked a couple weeks ago about the absolute roll Carlos Tévez was on after he declared he was in the form of his life, but Mandzukic is on quite a vein of form of his own. The last time he stepped on the field in the Champions League, he almost singlehandedly beat Olympiacos as he dropped a hat trick on the Greek champions in a 4-0 win. It doesn't really matter if Simeone lines Atlético up in a 4-4-2 or a 4-4-1-1 or whatever, Mandzukic is going to be the focal point of the Spanish champs' attack. That means Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini will have to be on top of their game if they want to keep the Croatian striker relatively quiet tomorrow night.

My starting XI (4-3-1-2): Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Bonucci, Chiellini, Evra; Pogba, Pirlo, Marchisio; Vidal; Tévez, Morata

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