Three months from now, there will be a Europa League game at Juventus Stadium no matter what. We've known this for awhile, so that part isn't all that much of a surprise. Come 24 hours from when this article is being published, Juventus will be playing a European game on the Juventus Stadium turf.
But not in the European tournament we were all hoping for when the season began.
Yep, it's Europa League time, ladies and gents. The tournament that we didn't expect Juventus to be in is in fact the tournament that Juventus is currently in starting tomorrow night in Turin. Their opponent? Well, that's somebody, Trabzonspor, from the same country of the team who knocked Juve out of the Champions League — Turkey.
Not exactly how we drew it up, but that's the reality Juventus find themselves in.
#Conte: The @EuropaLeague is a goal we want to achieve with all the players we have here, I've got great belief in my squad #JuveTrabzonspor— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) February 19, 2014
That means we have one question: What's next?
When comparing it to the Champions League, Juve clearly don't want to be here. Even in Juve's first season of hell in 2009-10, they didn't want to be in the Europa League. But because of starting the group stages as sluggish as can be and a loss in the mud against Galatasaray, Juve are in the Europa League once again.
So, how are they going to play it?
Go for it. Win it all. Have the Europa League final in May be a home game, dammit.
And that quest begins tomorrow in the same stadium where it could very well end in a couple of months.
Usually this would be where I'd update you on Juve's unbeaten run in Serie A. But since this isn't a domestic game, we're going to have to go in a different direction.
Let me get back to you on this one.
Just in case you haven't noticed or have been living under a rock the past couple of months, the European competition Juventus is playing in tomorrow isn't the Champions League. I know, breaking news.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Just how seriously Juventus take this thing.
The players and management can say all they want in the lead up to the match. That's their right and let them proceed at their own free will. But until Juventus actually take the field and don't do stupid things that see them bow out of a second European competition this season, then just how much they care about the Europa League will be an important talking point. There's no denying that this isn't the European tournament that the Juventus players and management want to be a part of. Those games took place over the past 48 hours. No reason to dwell on what could have been now, right? The past is the past and this is where Antonio Conte finds his squad right now.
2. Just how serious the Juventus tifosi take this thing.
One of the greatest things about Juve playing in European competition is that the Juve faithful bring the noise. We've seen the stadium packed and heard the noise in just about every single one of Juve's game since the doors opened three years ago. But this obviously isn't a Champions League tie against Real Madrid or Chelsea with a ton at stake. This is the Europa League Round of 32, something that isn't exactly glamorous or was high on fans' must-watch list entering the season back in August.
But I guess we can hang our heads on this: If they show up for a Coppa Italia game against a Serie B side that was basically a win from the opening whistle, they'll probably show up for Juventus vs. Trabzonspor. Right, guys?
3. What Juventus' starting lineup looks like.
You would think that if Juve are as serious about the Europa League as they say they are, the starting lineup would obviously reflect that. I don't think Conte will drastically change things up like he does for Coppa Italia games, but I've been wrong about what goes through his head before. It's one thing to do it against Avellino, it's another to do it on the European stage — regardless of it being Champions League or the other European competition. We know that Angelo Ogbonna will be in because Giorgio Chiellini is still recovering from his calf injury. And you'd like to assume that Carlos Tevez was rested over the weekend so that he could play major minutes on Thursday.
#Conte: I need a full squad at my disposal for the upcoming run of fixtures. We want to honour the @EuropaLeague as best we can.— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) February 19, 2014
Does "full squad" mean "squad rotation"? Conte mentioned those kinds of words a number of times during his pre-match press conference on Wednesday. I guess there's only one way to find out — watch the game.
4. What Trabzonspor is all about.
I don't say I am an expert on Trabzonspor, nor do I say I play one on television. The amount of knowledge I had about Trabzonspor before doing a bit of research could probably be held in a hand and that's about it. I'm going to assume that Mister Conte knows a wee bit more about his opposition than I do. If he doesn't, then maybe we're due for some more hair-pulling-out moments. But this is what we do know about Juventus' opposition: They're sitting mid-table in the Turkish Super Lig. They currently don't have a head coach — no, really — after Mustafa Akcay resigned on Feb. 10. Not exactly how you would like to go into a European contest, would you? Yeah, that's not very good.
#Conte: We're up against a team who won their group ahead of Lazio. They've got some strong players in forward areas. #JuveTrabzonspor— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) February 19, 2014
5. No messing around with any aggregate shenanigans.
The last time Juve were involved in a home-and-home series in Europe, they were getting blown out of the stadium by the machine otherwise known as Bayern Munich. The round before that, things were essentially over between Juventus and Celtic after the two teams played 90 minutes in Glasgow. Now, there's no denying that Juventus are a better team than Trabzonspor. And there's no doubting that Juventus should be able to score goals against Trabzonspor. They do that, then they should make sure that when we head over to Turkey for the second leg, there's no reason to mess around. End it in Turin, fellas. That's just a helpful suggestion.
My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Caceres, Bonucci, Ogbonna; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pirlo, Pogba, Asamoah; Llorente, Tevez
OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 7 P.M. IN ITALY; 1 P.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 10 A.M. ON THE WEST COAST
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