Juventus finds itself in a European situation they were in not too long ago.
Everybody remembers the trip to Germany and Borussia Dortmund in the last round of the Champions League. Juve claimed the opening-leg win at home, led by a one-goal margin on aggregate and heading to the opposition's home arena. There are differences, of course, because this scoreline reads 1-0 in favor of Juventus rather than the 2-1 situation heading to Dortmund just about a month ago.
But the fact still remains: Juventus controls its own destiny against Monaco just like it did against Dortmund. A win or a draw at the Stade Louis II and they're through to the Champions League semifinals for the first time in over a decade.
Advancing to the final four of the Champions League would be the latest feather in the cap of first-year manager Max Allegri. He's got the club on its way to its fourth straight Serie A title by a considerable margin, he's got Juventus in the Coppa Italia final against Fiorentina, and now just 90 minutes away from the semifinals of the Champions League.
Allegri has his club playing some of its best and most efficient football of the season right now. I don't think there's anything really there to disagree with that. This is a team that has dealt with injuries to key pieces, yet still found a way to get things done and compete on three fronts when some thought it wasn't a possibility.
But with the league essentially clinched, the Champions League is the focus — and rightfully so. Juventus don't need to win Wednesday night, but it sure would be nice. And if the team's performance is anything like the second leg against Dortmund, then Juve will be on their way to a round in Europe's premier club competition that they haven't seen in a good number of years.
"Juventus, Champions League semifinalist" does have a pretty nice ring to it. Although "Champions League finalist" and "Champions League winner" are also perfectly fine alternatives as well.
The aggregate scoreline says Juventus is ahead 1-0. I'm okay with that.
The aggregate scoreline is 1-0, which means the room for error isn't exactly all too great.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Does Max Allegri go 3-5-2 or 4-3-1-2?
To be honest, it doesn't really matter to me what tactical setup Allegri goes with against Monaco simply because of how well Juve has played utilizing either formation in recent weeks. We saw the in-game switch from four-man defense to three-man defense against Borussia Dortmund last month and how well the team played after that. Common reasoning in my head tells me Allegri will go with a 3-5-2 simply because of who is available in the midfield and the fact that Andrea Barzagli is healthy. If it hinges on Barzagli, I don't think I will ever object to him playing in a big game because he's been so good since returning from his lengthy injury absence. So if this decision does hinge on Barzagli playing, then let's fill up the pro-Barzagli bandwagon real quick.
2. The health status of Arturo Vidal.
This wouldn't have even been a discussion point if Monday's news of Vidal battling tonsillitis didn't actually take place. But because Vidal is trying to shrug off tonsillitis, we are sitting here wondering what kind of shape Vidal will be in come Wednesday night. Juventus said he would be evaluated Tuesday morning, and based on what Allegri said about him at the pre-match press conference, Vidal is going to play against Monaco. How much this case of tonsillitis will affect Vidal still remains to be seen. It's clear that Vidal is getting back in form after struggling mightily to begin the season. Maybe this tonsillitis development is just a blip on the radar and King Arturo is good to go come kickoff. In that case, all of of our collective worrying will have been for nothing even though it could have been something.
3. The effectiveness of Andrea Pirlo.
Call it convenient or something else entirely, but Pirlo's return to the starting lineup last week against Monaco was a rather unique time to have him come back. And he looked like a player who was understandably rusty after close to two months on the sidelines rehabbing. Well, now Pirlo has had another game to shake off the rust in the form of Juventus' 2-0 win over Lazio this past weekend. Pirlo will be playing from the start against Monaco and will the man pulling the strings in the midfield because of course he will be. The big question is this: Will Pirlo look better than he did in the first leg? I'm not talking about his beard, either. I'm just hoping there's fewer turnovers and bad, misplaced passes like there were last Tuesday night. If that happens, then Pirlo starting is worth it.
4. How Juventus handles Monaco's counterattack.
This is maybe the single-most important thing we saw in the first leg from Monaco. For a good portion of the game, their counterattack was fast and effective, storming forward to put the Juve backline under serious duress. If not for some last-ditch defending and some Gianluigi Buffon heroics, then the aggregate scoreline definitely wouldn't be 1-0 heading into the second leg. Monaco's wingers are quick, Juventus' defenders aren't. It doesn't matter if it's 4-3-1-2 or 3-5-2 or something else entirely, if Juventus is able to relatively handle the Monaco counterattack, then the chances of Allegri screaming on the sidelines during the Champions League semifinals go up that much more. Juventus have racked up clean sheet after clean sheet lately, and Wednesday night would be the perfect time for yet another shutout. (And I'm not just saying that since I'm a former goalkeeper, people.)
My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pirlo, Marchisio, Evra; Tévez, Morata
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