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UEFA Europa League Preview: Juventus vs. Benfica, Leg 1: On the road again...

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Claudio Villa

Juventus have three regularly scheduled home games remaining this season. There's two league games, both in the month of May against Atalanta and Cagliari, and there's the second leg of the Europa League semifinals against Benfica.

But there's also a chance for a fourth home game. You know, the Europa League final that will be in Turin on . And to get that fourth game, Juventus have to make sure that the second leg, the semifinal at Juventus Stadium. means something other than just another game.

Or, I could take you to a famed quote from former entertaining and sometimes crazy Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders owner Al Davis.

See? That ain't so hard to figure out now, is it?

Juventus have great coaches. Juventus have great players. Juventus are a great organization. And we're telling them one thing. Yep, just listen to Mr. Davis and forget about all the drama and craziness that came with him in his latter years of life. (Trust me, as a former Oakland resident, I got to see it all the time growing up.)

The soon-to-be three-time Italian champions and the recently-crowned Portuguese champions will be tangoing in the first leg of the Europa League semifinals this time tomorrow night in Lisbon. It will be the first step in Juventus trying to ensure they'll get that extra home game this season.

The first step towards another game at Juventus Stadium this season won't be an easy one. Benfica didn't get here just by snapping their fingers, clicking their heels and magically appearing in the semifinals. Benfica, even with their recent injury news, have talent all over the place. And let's not forget, this is a Benfica side that was playing for the Europa League title nearly a year ago.

So yeah, they're a quality side — regardless of who is or isn't healthy right now.

One-hundred-eighty minutes stand between Juventus and some more history this season. The Scudetto is basically locked in, now it's time to turn our attention to what's going on in Europe. Sure, it's not that European competition that is also going on this week. But having an extra home game this season won't be such a bad alternative at this stage in the game.

You basically got one in the bag, Paulie. Now it's time to get the second.

GOOD NEWS

Carlos Tévez seems like he's ready to kick the injuries and return to the starting lineup after his two-game hiatus. Not exactly like Juventus took a nosedive in the standings because Tévez was out and recovering from his knock, but Tévez is Tévez. And it's time he scores a goal so we don't hear this "No goals in Europe" nonsense.

BAD NEWS

Arturo Vidal reportedly did not train with the rest of the team on Wednesday before they departed for Portugal. That's not exactly a good sign if you put money on Vidal taking part in tomorrow's first leg in your office pool. Maybe there's still time for you to get your money back...

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

1. The health and effectiveness of Carlos Tévez.

Carlitos has gotten some much-needed rest over the past two weeks. A lot, a lot of rest. He's been included in the match-day squad the past two Serie A games, but his actual inclusion in the actual games hasn't happened. Some will see this as a sign that Antonio Conte is doing the right thing and not even taking the chance of getting his star striker hurt. Others might go out proclaim that Tévez is still hurt and that his status for tomorrow night's first leg in Portugal is anything but certain. The truth is that we don't really know, and probably won't until either Conte's pre-match press conference or the actual starting lineups are announced before kickoff.

2. The health and effectiveness of Arturo Vidal.

The one difference besides the obvious injury problems between Tévez and Vidal? King Arturo actually got a bit of action — albeit not very much at all — against Bologna this past Saturday. That could be seen as a sign that Vidal is actually ready to get back into a meaningful game in something other than the 89th minute. Or, it could be seen as something that suggests Vidal is still a little bit of time away from being fully match fit and ready for such an important match. If anything, Juventus are in a position where they don't have to play Vidal tomorrow night. Paul Pogba, Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio are more than capable of handling the midfield.

I guess what I'm trying to say is what I've been saying all along when it comes to Vidal's injury situation — don't play him from the start of the game unless he's 100 percent certain he is 100 percent.

3. How Benfica mark Andrea Pirlo.

This is the part of the Europa League if Juventus' next opponent learns from their last one. Will Benfica do what Lyon did and mark the crap out of Pirlo, basically forcing Juventus to build through Leonardo Bonucci rather than the man with the best beard in Europe? That's not a swipe at Bonucci, who is a very good passer of the ball in his own right. But when Juve have to seemingly rely on Bonucci to be the only outlet out of the back rather than having Pirlo directing play, that's not always going to end up being a good thing. We can site Bonucci's passing stats all we want, but that won't change the fact that he's struggled the last couple of European games with sending passes over the top.

4. Who starts on the right side of Juventus' defense, Andrea Barzagli or Martin Cáceres?

When it comes to simple preference, I have none. Cáceres is probably playing as well as any single Juventus player at the moment, and Barzagli is going to be Barzagli because he's Barzagli. The determining factor for Conte is probably going to be this: Is Andrea Barzagli, following all of his time missed due to injury, ready to handle back-to-back games? Forget the fact that Juve will have had four full days off between their win over Bologna and tomorrow night's first leg against Benfica. If Conte feels that Barzagli is recovered well from playing 90 minutes for the first time in nearly a month and a half, then the Great Wall will be back. If not, then get your high socks ready because Mr. Cáceres is back in action.

5. Away goals, away goals, away goals.

Because even when Juventus play kinda meh like they did in the first leg against Lyon in France, it was a 1-0 win and an away goal in regards to what the bottom line of what they came away with. And while I feel safe in saying that Benfica are certainly a better team than Lyon, I also feel comfortable saying that Juve are capable of grabbing an away goal just like they did a couple weeks ago. And with Tévez looking like he will be good to go tomorrow night, getting an away goal is even more that much more of a possibility.

My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Cáceres, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pirlo, Marchisio, Asamoah; Llorente, Tévez

OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 9:05 P.M. IN ITALY; 3:05 P.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 12:05 P.M. ON THE WEST COAST