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Europa League Preview: Juventus vs. Lyon, Leg 2: The final four awaits

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Valerio Pennicino

By nature, I'm a very optimistic person when it comes to Juventus-related things and Juventus-related events. So, when I see Juventus play the way they did over the weekend against Livorno, all of those random optimistic parts in my noggin get a little more positive than they have in past weeks. It's hard not to, really. The way Juve played, it's impossible not to be happy about it.

Was I sitting there watching Juventus dominate Livorno from opening kickoff to final whistle and screaming "THEY'RE BACK, BABY! THEY'RE BACK!"? Nah, I don't think I would go that far. Ninety-minutes against Livorno won't completely outweigh what we've been seeing the past month or so. But considering how they played on Sunday night, it's hard not to think there was at least something good that came out of it.

See, that's the eternal optimist in me coming out again.

Now, this is the thing they need to do — show it wasn't just a 90-minute outlier in a four-week period full of yuck and drab performance after drab performance.

It's safe to say that Lyon aren't Livorno. Therefore, thinking that Juventus will have things as easy as they did on Sunday will be a little hard to believe. But if Juventus play anywhere close to the way that they did three days ago tomorrow night in Turin, then this Europa League journey will be continuing and the chance to the final into a home game.

But at the same time, small sample sizes can be funny, wonky, whatever you want to call them. We can say that Juventus are possibly turning a corner into something positive again and that better days are ahead. Or, the devil sitting on my shoulder can slap me in the face and remind me of how Juventus played against Napoli two weekends ago. For every good that happened against Livorno over the weekend, there's four weeks full of meh to remind us that this probably some instant kind of fix.

Basically what I'm trying to say is this: Juventus can either build off of what they did against Livorno or they can just revert back to what they've been for most of March and April.

I think I know which one I'd prefer. I think I know which one Antonio Conte prefers. Now it's just time to get to the semifinals. That's because it's what everybody prefers.

GOOD NEWS

Juve returns home with an away goal in their back pocket. That's a little different than, say, the situation they had against last opponent in the Round of 16. There's also the thing about playing the first leg at home rather than this way, but that was pretty much a given.

BAD NEWS

It wasn't exactly a dominant showing against Lyon in France. It's pretty easy to figure that out when you think about Leonardo Bonucci having to bail everybody with a last-minute goal.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

1. Protecting the away goal.

Because what else is more important than that when trying to advance? Exactly. The biggest thing that will determine Juventus advancing or not is pretty simple — the team that showed up in France or the team that faced Livorno. If it's the former, then hold on to your hat because it's probably going to be a pretty stressful 90 minutes. If it's the latter, then Good Juventus is here to make all of us happy again and Conte's squad will be two games away from the Europa League final in their own stadium. Obviously every game is different. That's cliché, sure, but it's the truth as well. Which Juventus will stand up?

2. How Lyon defends Andrea Pirlo.

I'll open the question up for discussion: Did Lyon do the best job of any team Juve have faced this season in taking Andrea Pirlo completely out of the game? Go ahead and talk about it because it's out there now. But the facts were the facts — Lyon's primary objective was to take away Pirlo and that's exactly what they did. It caused Juventus to basically build their attack from the back through Bonucci. Not that doing so is such a bad thing as a compliment to Pirlo's brilliance, but not as a complete substitute to the man with the magical beard. There's only one Pirlo, you guys. Just in case you forgot.

3. Does Carlos Tévez get the start?

There are a whole lot of people who want to see Carlitos break his European goose egg and find the back of the net sooner rather than later. But if the rumor mill is to be believed, Tévez may not even part of the starting lineup when Juve take the field against Lyon tomorrow night. To put it the way Google translate turned a Tuttosport article from Italian into English, "Conte can't stop thinking about Giovinco." Well, when you put it that way...

In all seriousness, if Conte does end up resting Tévez, I'll understand why. Juventus have a goal to play with and that means Conte has some room to work with when it comes to who he does or doesn't choose to start. And we all know that Conte loves him some Giovinco. So much so, he can't stop thinking about him. (I couldn't resist.)

4. Will Angelo Ogbonna get the start over Giorgio Chiellini?

While Andrea Barzagli still works his way back into the lineup, one of Juventus' other injured defenders made his way back into the squad over the weekend. Ogbonna didn't see any kind of playing time, but his inclusion in the squad for the Livorno game was certainly a sign that he is getting back to full health. And there's no denying that Chiellini has been playing just as much as anybody in recent weeks because of all the injuries and games happening every three or four days. Much in the same fashion as with Tévez, the 1-0 scoreline being in Juve's favor could give Conte the idea to possibly give a few guys a rest. Not saying it will happen, just kinda throwing it out there.

5. How an extremely well-rested Arturo Vidal plays.

I can't remember a time where a player has had to sit out back-to-back games in different competitions because of the same reason — yellow cards — like Vidal did in the first leg against Lyon and then Livorno over the weekend. Vidal, who plays as much as anybody in the non-Gigi Buffon category, has basically had nearly two weeks off since his last appearance in a game. He's had so much time off that the last time Vidal play it was a totally different month. Okay, so "last month" was 10 days ago, but you probably get what I'm saying. The rest came at a good time for Arturo, and now it's time to get back to his usual awesomeness.

My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Caceres, Bonucci, Chiellini; Isla, Vidal, Marchisio, Pogba, Asamoah; Tevez, Giovinco

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