When looking at what we want Juventus to do in every Champions League group stage, the two main things are pretty easy to figure out. For one, we want them to advance to the knockout round — which, thanks to their win over Manchester City, is already a reality. The next step is to get to the top of the group and hopefully get as favorable of a draw to begin said knockout stages as there can be. Basically, to have that happen, they need to finish at the top of their group and then sit back while the Round of 16 draw happens.
Well, with the securing of one measly point against Sevilla on Tuesday, Juventus can set themselves up for that second part to take place. We've reached the final game of this season's group stage, guys and gals. It's one last chance to grab three points before we start to re-antiquate ourselves with the wonders of aggregate scores and away goal rules.
Can Juventus close out the 2015 group stage without suffering a loss? That sure would be nice to see happen, whether it's thanks to a win or a draw in Spain.
You know they want that to happen — not just because it means they can brag about being only a small number of teams to not suffering a loss in the group stage, but also because it means they're finishing atop Group D.
Of course, that's why Juventus are going into tomorrow's final group stage game with the chance to finish top of the group. There hasn't been any kind of stumbling against teams Juventus had no business struggling against. There hasn't been the scoreless draw against the minnows of the group (usually somebody from over in the frigid temperatures of Scandinavia). Has every game been perfectly executed? No, of course not. But finishing top of the group is something Juve hasn't done in the last three seasons. Juve have more points than they did last season, so if you believe in good omens, then there's one right there.
They control their own destiny when it comes to finishing in first in Group D. That's more than we can say about previous seasons, and that's obviously another good thing to have happen knowing how this team has picked up its game in recent weeks.
Just keep the train rolling is what I'm trying to say. That's as simple of a request I can make.
Amen to that, Gigi. Amen to that.
Like I said, Juventus is already in the knockout round, so that's what matters the most.
Besides the usual suspects, we now have three more players to add to the list of those who didn't make the trip to Spain on Monday night: Mario Mandzukic, Patrice Evra and Mario Lemina.
As a man who knows a thing or two about Juve pointed out, maybe Max Allegri is doing this with Fiorentina on the horizon this weekend.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. If Sevilla looks more game than in the first meeting.
Let's face it, the only way Sevilla can get into third place — and subsequently get a spot into the Europa League — on the final match day is with a win against Juventus and Manchester City beating Borussia Monchengladbach. So, there is something for them to play for Tuesday night. But after four straight group-stage losses, including a 4-2 battering from Gladbach last time out, how much does Sevilla really want it? The last time Juventus played Sevilla, it was a completely one-sided game in Turin where the visitors, albeit missing some important players, looked all out of sorts. The final score was just what you would expect when one team plays well and the other one pretty much shows up and that's it. So maybe Sevilla will come out with some motivation to play some more European football. Or maybe it will look like the first time out. Who knows.
2. Álvaro Morata or Simone Zaza?
No Mario Mandzukic means Allegri has some decisions to make when it comes to who's starting alongside Paulo Dybala. Conventional wisdom says Morata because he's the next in line in the pecking order, but we all know Mr. Allegri can be a little sneaky when it comes to his starting lineups. Maybe he sees this is as game where Zaza could thrive. Or maybe it's something completely different. I'd like to see the Dybala-Morata partnership rekindled simply because of how well the young Argentine is playing these days and Morata would be able to play as a striker rather than a winger. It's not like Juve are trying to choose between a couple of Bendtner's here, so it's not a complete wash. It's the exact opposite, actually. There's a couple of strikers who haven't played much lately for whatever reason, so you know they'll be hungry to make an impact if they get the start.
3. The continued development of Alex Sandro.
No Patrice Evra means more Sandro in our lives Tuesday night — which is far from a bad thing the way the Brazilian left back is playing right now. Why do I say that? Because this is what Sandro has done in his last five appearances in all competitions, according to WhoScored:
Four starts, three assists, three MOTM awards
That's pretty, pretty good, I'd say. And this is a left back, mind you, not somebody like Dybala or Morata who is spending a lot of his time in the attacking third of the field. Sandro's impact thus far has been easy to identify. He's given Juventus a threat at left (wing)back that they haven't had in a long time. This isn't a shot at Evra by any means, but he's not the offensive player the Sandro is, I think that's fact at this point. No matter who plays up front, they're bound to be looking for Sandro to spin in his on-point crosses. And based on how accurate they've been lately, maybe that assist total over the last month or so will continue to rise. It's always fun to see that happen.
4. Does Fernando Llorente get a crack at his former club?
It's no secret here that I really like Llorente the player as well as the professional. I would like nothing more than to see Fernando succeed in his return to Spain. But not just against Juventus. Do we need to worry about the Ex Effect? I don't know. Llorente's form hasn't been all that great. He has two goals and two assists in his last six games, but those appearances have also been spread out over the course of about six weeks or so. He hasn't been playing much, but also relatively productive some of the time. He's not guaranteed to start, but it's going to be interesting to see what happens if he does — especially with how well Juve's defense has played during this rise up the Serie A table. You think watching Giorgio Chiellini and Llorente battle for 50-50 balls won't be like a throwback to Juventus training sessions the last couple of years? Ah, those were the days...
My starting lineup
Juventus XI (3-5-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Stefano Sturaro, Claudio Marchisio, Paul Pogba, Alex Sandro; Paulo Dybala, Álvaro Morata
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