It was only natural for Max Allegri to be asked about Borussia Dortmund following Juventus' 1-0 win over Palermo on Saturday. If you played an absolute snoozer against a mid-table team with arguably the game of the season next on the fixture list like Juventus, I'd be asking about the Champions League, too.
Allegri's words about how his team needs to "perform better from a technical standpoint" was far from a surprise based on what they did — or mostly didn't — do in Sicily. It wasn't exactly going into the decisive second leg against Dortmund with a ton of wind in their sails on the performance alone.
"It will be difficult but we've got a good chance of going through. We know all about Borussia's qualities. It's a game in which we need to score, perhaps more than once, so we need to play on the front foot and perhaps also have a slice of luck. However, we approach it with plenty of enthusiasm and must make sure our preparations are spot on."
To say Juventus' game on Wednesday night against Borussia Dortmund is fundamental for the 2014-15 season's final verdict is the easy thing to do. Juve have the slim 2-1 lead heading into the second leg. Sure, the lead leaves little breathing room and is far from not ideal, but a lead is a lead and you'd rather have it this way compared to Juventus having to win in Germany. Instead, Juventus don't need to win, although that would be a lot less stressful than sweating out a scoreless or 1-1 draw.
In simple terms, yes, this is Juve's most important game of the season. Hopefully there are a few more important European games to be played this year. The Serie A lead is at 14 points after Roma lost to Sampdoria on Monday night. Seriously, people, FOURTEEN POINTS. For all intents and purposes, it's all over. It doesn't matter what folks around the team may say. A 14-point lead with 11 games to go is pretty damn comfortable to me and a lot of other people. And that means Juventus' No. 1 priority should shift, if it hasn't already, to going as far in the Champions League as humanly possible.
That won't be possible if the aggregate scoreline gets flipped into Dortmund's favor in the second leg. That's also pretty simple to figure out.
Thus, everything hinges on the 90 or so minutes in Dortmund tomorrow night. As much as winning another Scudetto will be a great accomplishment for this club we love so much, an even deeper run in Europe would be just that much more sweeter. Especially with this squad, how much talent it has and how frustrating the Champions League was last season.
Juventus want to be amongst the game's elite once more. There's only one way to do it after dominating Serie A for yet another season — win in Europe. Simple statement, yet not always the easiest to see out.
Juventus' current Champions League situation: Up 2-1 on aggregate heading into the second leg. I think I've mentioned that once or twice already. Oh well. It's not a bad thing to be reminded of right now.
Juventus could very well be out of the Champions League a little over 24 hours from now. That's ... not a very good thing to think about right now — especially when you throw in Juventus are entering the second leg ahead on aggregate.
Oh, and the injuries. No Andrea Pirlo. No Martín Cáceres. No Stefano Sturaro. No Kwadwo Asamoah, Paolo De Ceglie, Romulo and Luca Marrone. Many of those are reserves, but those first two are rather important players.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. How Andrea Barzagli does on short rest following his return from injury.
Here is the reason why Allegri is heavily-rumored to be going from a 4-3-1-2 to 3-5-2, folks. Barzagli's showing in his first start in nearly a year was, well, a typical Barzagli performance. He came up huge at times and pretty much looked he had been playing for weeks on end rather than the complete opposite. Now, if Barzagli is going to get the start — and, not surprisingly, Allegri was rather coy when asked about it because he always is — it's a matter of how he responds to 90 minutes in his legs a few days prior. One would think that if Allegri didn't feel Barzagli was able to play 180-plus minutes within a five-day period, he wouldn't risk things at all knowing the defender's recent history with injuries. That's why when you see this kind of stuff said at the pre-match press conference on Tuesday...
...it makes you think that we'll be seeing plenty of Barzagli come Wednesday night against Borussia Dortmund. Judging by how he looked over the weekend, that's definitely not a bad thing.
2. How Juventus does sans-Pirlo.
If anything, the first leg in Turin proved that Juventus can be a competitive team against a competitive opponent without Pirlo pulling the strings in the midfield. Claudio Marchisio might not have the passing ability of Pirlo, but he's certainly an upgrade on the defensive end of things. No trequartista duties means Arturo Vidal plays a more natural role on Marchisio's right. And, well, Paul Pogba always has the chance to wow us every chance he gets on the ball. If you remember back a couple weeks, this is the midfield trio I wanted to see start in the first leg. And with Pirlo out injured for tomorrow's second leg, it's almost certainly the midfield we'll see from the opening whistle. This is about as energetic and effective of a midfield as Juventus can offer to try and counter everything Dortmund is going to be throwing their way.
3. Juventus' lack of speed at the back vs. Dortmund's superior ability to accelerate.
Just like in the first leg, this is what worries me the most. Mainly it's because of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Marco Reus and the incredible amount of pace and creativity they bring to the table. Juventus, however, has nowhere near the amount of pace to match what Dortmund will be throwing in the Italian champions' direction. Aubameyang is expected to play at the top of Jürgen Klopps' 4-2-3-1 formation as opposed to out on the wing in the first leg. That's obviously a spot where he's had much more of his success this season than as a winger where he was relatively quiet in Turin. And Reus, well, I think we all know what he brings to the Dortmund side. Barzagli and Stephan Lichtsteiner will have their hands full trying to silence the talented German winger. Hopefully, just hopefully, nobody slips in the process ... right?
4. Can Juventus get a goal or two from Carlos Tévez and Álvaro Morata?
In the four games Dortmund has played since the loss in Turin in late February, they haven't allowed a goal. While they have only won two and drawn the other pair of games over that stretch, it's not because of the play at the back. Despite the recent shutout streak, we know that Dortmund's defense is susceptible to mistakes just like we can say for Juventus' backline. We saw it for ourselves in the first leg. It would certainly behoove Juve's chances to advance if they get the goal Allegri mentioned in the opening quote — especially if it's Wednesday's opener. And, let's remember one other thing: Max Allegri has spoken about his liking for 1-0 wins lately. What better way to get into the quarterfinals than to do exactly that?
My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Marchisio, Pogba, Evra; Tévez, Morata
OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 8:45 P.M. IN ITALY; 3:45 P.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 12:45 P.M. ON THE WEST COAST
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