It's rather convenient that Juventus have made a trip to the Spanish capital the past two Octobers for the Champions League. It might be a little earlier than last year — 22 days to be exact — but 12 months after facing one Champions League finalist, Juventus has the task of facing the other. Funny how that's all worked out.
This time Juventus won't be playing a team that has spent 100 times as much as they did over the summer. Instead, Juventus get that other team in Madrid. You know, that other team in Madrid that nearly did the double last season after winning La Liga and getting to the Champions League final. That other team in Madrid that is managed by one of the most intense managers in Europe who they last saw a few short weeks before he was leaving his post at Catania.
Juventus vs. Atlético Madrid is the biggest test to date for Max Allegri and his version of this bianconeri side. It's almost like you're pulling out your GPS just to see where exactly this Juventus side stands a little more than a month into the season. I know I've probably used that line before, but it's applicable in this sense.
We've expected Juventus to beat pretty much every opponent they've played thus far. Cesena? Yeah, no problem there. Same goes for Milan, Udinese, Atalanta and the rest. Malmö? Meh, they might have been hard to see off, but a win was pretty much the only option to open the Champions League. Atlético? Well, that might be a little different simply because they're the best team Juventus will be playing up to this point in time.
Atlético are the favorites not only in the game, but also the group. And to be honest, unless further notice, that's the way it should be because of what they did a season ago, what kind of squad is in place and who manages the club. But a Juventus result could change that notion — especially with a game in Turin against the two sides still to be played in early December.
I'm in the mood for Juventus to make a statement. How about you? A statement game would be pretty good if you ask me. Especially one
Juventus is 6 for 6 in all competitions to begin the season. They have yet to allow a goal in all competitions. I'd say one of those things has to do with the other. Let me get back to you on that.
While he took part in a practice match against USD Caravaggio on Sunday, noted bearded maestro Andrea Pirlo still isn't fully fit and isn't part of the traveling party to Madrid. Same goes for another Andrea with a beard, Andrea Barzagli, as well as Luca Marone and the newly-injured Romulo. Basically the same thing we've been saying for the last couple of match previews.
At least Martín Cáceres is back in the squad. Let there be a party full of high socks in the near future.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Carlos Tévez in red-hot form.
It's fun to watch Carlitos right now, isn't it? Like, even more than usual, right? Yes, yes it is. Tévez is almost carrying Juventus' attack on his back right now. He's scored six goals in the last four games in all competitions. He's scoring for fun, it seems like, but at the same time, racking up game-winner after game-winner. And now that Carlitos has his Champions League scoring drought out of the way, we can concentrate on what he does best — scoring goals, being an all around awesome player. The eternal optimist tells me that Tévex will just continue what he's been doing (because it's not a matter of if he will score, just a matter of when he will score). But Atléti, at least on paper, are a good defensive team because Diego Simeone has drilled a certain work ethic at the back into their minds. Let's just hope whatever happened in Greece against Olympiakos is brought back to Madrid with them.
2. Fernando Llorente on Spanish soil.
The last time El Rey León was back in his homeland, he was scoring against Real Madrid in one of his first starts in a Juventus jersey. We all know how that season turned out (and what a lovely season it was for Llorente). This season, however, has yet to see our beloved Fernando yet to find the back of the net. He is still playing his part — see his contributions to some of Tévez's goals over the last few games as Exhibit A — even without officially recording an assist and/or goal. But it's clear that his role is a little different compared to last season. Allegri has used Llorente more of a target man to build the attack around rather than a prima punta in the mold of last season. That's okay, Llorente certainly has the skill to do a number of things in leading the forward line. I'm sure he would like to get that zero away from his goals scored stat, though. I'd like that, too.
3. How Atlético defend Claudio Marchisio.
If my memory serves me correctly, Saturday's win over Atalanta was the first time an opposing club has purposefully man-marked the man stepping in for Andrea Pirlo. Would it surprise me to see Simeone do the same type of deal? No, not really. That's especially true considering how hard he works his team and demands so much from them over the course of a 90-minute match. The good thing going for Marchisio? Both Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal will be in the starting lineup alongside him, so there will be plenty of other things for Simeone to worry about in the midfield. And as Marchisio continues to prove to us in his new-ish regista role, he can pick out a pretty good pass even if his last name isn't Pirlo.
4. Juventus' defense against Mario Mandzukic.
Many folks viewed the signing of Mandzukic as quite a bargain for Atlético this summer. Brought in from Bayern Munich to be a direct replacement for the Chelsea-bound Diego Costa, the 28-year-old Mandzukic hasn't totally hit his stride just yet, scoring just one goal in four Liga appearances as well as one against Olympiakos. But here's the thing about Mandsukic: He's given Juventus plenty of problems in the not-so-distant past. If he, say, basically posts up right next to Leonardo Bonucci and serves as Atlético's version of Fernando Llorente, then the onus will be on the back three to keep him quiet. Because, you know, that's what they're paid to do.
5. Can Juventus take complete control over their toughest competition in the group?
Let's say Juventus does win at the Calderón tomorrow night. Juve will be a perfect 2 for 2 in the Champions League, sitting pretty on six points with the chance to go top of the group all by themselves based on the Olympiakos-Malmö game Wednesday (or when the Greek champs come to Turin in three weeks) or when Juve go to Greece in three weeks time). And in turn, if Juve win Wednesday night, Atléti will be sitting on zero points after two group stage games — something I feel safe in saying a vast majority of people never even thought would be possible. It would basically be the complete opposite of how Juve started last season's group stage. So go for it, fellas. That's my suggestion.
My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Ogbonna, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Marchisio, Pogba, Asamoah; Llorente, Tévez
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
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