Juventus haven't made things easy on themselves in the beginning of the Champions League group stage the past couple of years. That's as much of a secret as Antonio Conte having some of the best hair plugs in all of Italy. There's last season's inability to completely qualify for the knockout round thanks to frustrating draw after frustrating draw. And even though they made it to the quarterfinals two years ago, it's not like they got out of their group in a textbook kind of manner.
Luckily for Max Allegri and his squad, they have two things going for them in this year's group stage.
- There's no Danish team to bug the hell out of us all for two group-stage matches.
- There's no long trip to Turkey or Eastern Europe where the field might be covered in snow by the time Juventus arrives in town.
That sound you probably hear right now is the collective sigh of Juventus supporters remembering there's no trip to Denmark and/or Turkey during the group stage. (And don't remind me about that field in Istanbul last December. That was incredibly stupid.)
Instead, Juventus opens their Champions League fixture list at home, the same place where they picked up a 2-0 win over Udinese on Saturday. Their opponent? Swedish champions Malmö, who are looking to make some noise in a group that also features one of last season's finalists, Atlético Madrid. We shall talk about Atléti and Diego Simeone at another time, though. Tuesday night is all about Malmö coming to Turin.
Oh, and also about Juventus trying to get three points in their Champions League group stage opener for once.
Do the Juventus players need to come out and make a collective statement at home against a team they should beat 11 times out of 10? Maybe.
But at the very least, those same Juventus players need to do exactly what they didn't do in back-to-back years under Antonio Conte in the Champions League — win their opening game and start the group stage out on the right foot.
Juventus are at beautiful home stadium, in front of their own crowd, and playing the minnows of the group. If there ever was an equation to start the Champions League group stage with three points, I'm pretty sure this is it.
The injuries to important players are still present. No Andrea Pirlo nor Arturo Vidal starting in the midfield. Andrea Barzagli, who was on the bench for Saturday night's win over Udinese, has not been called by Allegri as he continues to rehab from heel surgery. Luca Marrone is also out injured, while Roberto Pereyra — who played well in his first official start as a Juventus player — is suspended thanks to a card he picked up during his Udinese days last season.
At least Giorgio Chiellini is all but certain to start against Malmö, but more on that in a little bit.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Carlos Tévez and the personal Champions League bugaboo.
Do you remember the last time our dear Carlitos scored a goal in the Champions League? Not in Europe, just in the Champions League? It was back in 2009 when Tévez was still with Manchester United. That was the season United made it all the way to the final, eventually losing to Barcelona in Rome. There has been a lot of talk since then — even during his first season with Juventus — about Tévez and the lack of goals in Europe's top club competition. Some of it was hushed when he scored against Benfica in the Europa League last year, but until he scores in the Champions League, the chatter will continue. I would like nothing more than to see Carlitos score a goal tomorrow night and just put a finger up to his mouth. "Shhhhhhhhh!"
2. How Juventus deals with the quick turnaround after Saturday's win.
It's always a thing to talk about, but especially so when it's so early in the season and they've played all of about 90 or so minutes following a two-week international break. Did Malmö manager Age Hareide notice this? You bet he did.
"Juventus have only just started their season and this could be an advantage for us. We've seen them play and we noticed that they were a bit tired towards the end against Udinese."
(Source: Football Italia)
In a way, what Hareide said at his pre-match presser is exactly on point. Juventus have played two games this season, that's it. And, to add to his point, those two games have been separated by two weeks. You can argue that the core of Juventus' starting lineup tomorrow night will have just come off international duty and we're sitting around, and you would be correct. But this is the first time, as a team, Juventus have had to deal with a 72-hour turnaround from one match to another.
3. Kwadwo Asamoah, wingback or central midfielder?
Allegri brought up a certain Ghanian midfielder at his pre-match press conference. This is what he had to say:
Ah, so cagey, Max. But yet so intriguing at the same time. With Patrice Evra's arrival, Juventus have a legit backup at the left back/wingback position for the first time in years. Because of that, it gives Allegri a lot more flexibility in the midfield. With Vidal injured and Pereyra suspended, this could be the time for Allegri to go with what we've wanted to see ever since Asamoah was signed — Kojo as a central midfielder. Not only would a Asamoah-Marchisio-Poigba midfield be a very good one with skill alone, it'd also be one hell of an energetic group of
4. The fitness level of Giorgio Chiellini.
We have yet to see Giorgio this season — for both disciplinary and injury reasons. All indications point toward Chiellini making his return to the starting lineup Tuesday night. It will be the first time we've seen Chiellini on a field for club or country since he was getting chomped on the shoulder by Luis Suárez. Since then, he has had to sit out Juve's first two games because of a three-match suspension that carried over from last season and then a minor muscular injury that made him pull out of Italy's training camp last week. How fit is he?I don't know. But he's ready to play. And you know whenever Giorgio Chiellini steps onto the field, there will be a multitude of crazy tackles with limbs flying everywhere.
5.Juventus starting off on the right foot.
So you're playing at home and have a team everybody expects you to beat coming to town. What do you do? No, the answer is not "Record 20-something shots, 10 of which get saved, and end up with a frustrating draw." Juventus were able to overcome their inability to beat the group's minnows both times around in Conte's first Champions League campaign, but not last season. With Malmö coming to Turin, there's only one acceptable result — a win. Why? Because Juventus is better, for one. And because Atlético Madrid is right around the corner. Juve is the favorite to win in one of these games, and I'm pretty sure all of you guys and gals can figure out which one it is.
My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Cáceres, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Pogba, Marchisio, Asamoah, Evra; Tévez, Llorente
OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 8:45 P.M. IN ITALY; 2:45 P.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 11:45 ON THE WEST COAST