When Juventus steps onto the Santiago Bernabéu field tomorrow night, there will be a couple of similarities to the situation they found themselves in a little while back in Germany. Juve had the same 2-1 aggregate scoreline to protect, the same away-from-home deal and the well-known fact that their opponent, Borussia Dortmund, had an away goal in their back pocket.
When Juventus plays Real Madrid on Wednesday night, that part of the situation is exactly the same. It's the same 2-1 scoreline. It's the same trip away from Juventus Stadium — although it's Spain, not Germany. It's the same notion that Real Madrid has an away goal thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo's first-half header seven days ago.
The stakes, however, are even that much higher on Wednesday night in Madrid. Much, much, much higher.
By the end of Tuesday night, we will know who the winner of Juventus and Real Madrid will be facing. All signs point toward Barcelona being that team because of the insane final 15 minutes of the first leg that produced three goals against Bayern Munich. And come 24 hours later, the second Champions League finalist of 2015 will be officially set in stone as well.
For Juventus, it's simple: Protect the aggregate lead, head to Berlin next month and continue this season's magical European run into the grand finale.
Max Allegri and his Juventus squad has made its money the last two months with one impressive European performance after another when the situation has called for it. They stormed through Germany in the round of 16, then defended like their freaking lives depended on it on the banks of Monte Carlo to get past Monaco. (Okay, so the trip to France wasn't so pretty, but it worked out fine, didn't it?) It has been the clear signal that Juventus can be competitive in more than just the domestic portion of its schedule.
If they can produce another 90 minutes like they played in Turin against Real Madrid, well, the four-time defending Italian champions could very well be playing for a European title as well.
That's something we haven't been able to say for 12 years now. Is it fate that Juventus is playing the same team it played in the Champions League semifinals in 2015 that it did back in 2003? Or is this just a coincidence knowing that Real Madrid are easily one of the best the the world of football has to offer right now?
Maybe it's a little bit of both. We'll wait and see on that one.
But if the aggregate scoreline from 2003 wants to replicate itself once more, then there will be plenty of folks thinking that this whole thing was meant to be. (Although there won't be Milan awaiting us all in the Champions League final. I will resist further jokes at this time.)
I think the one Juventus player who remains from that game back in 2003 would be okay with it. That's just a hunch on my part.
Juventus holds a 2-1 lead heading into Wednesday night's second leg. By my calculations, there's just 90 minutes or so separating Juve and the Champions League final.
Real Madrid will be looking for a win, and only a win, with an away goal in their back pocket and doing so at home. That's because a win is the only way Real Madrid makes it into the Champions League final for the second straight season. All of this could combine into a very bad thing if Juventus don't come out and play like they did in the first leg.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Paul Pogba on short rest.
Seeing Juventus' No. 6 back on the field on Saturday was a wonderful sight simply because it had been nearly two months since we last saw Pogba and all the awesomeness he brings to the table. Pogba played well in his first appearance since mid-March while scoring Juventus' lone goal in a 1-1 draw against Cagliari in the process. Now, with Pogba being back in the fold, it is only natural for him to become a regular starter once again. But as was the case when Andrea Barzagli came back from his own injury absence — albeit a much longer one — there's the understandable curiosity of how he will look and respond to the short amount of time in between games. Everybody thinks Pogba will start tomorrow night. And, to be honest, he should. He looked lively against Cagliari, and didn't show much rust at all outside of not playing a full 90 minutes. But when you consider how Juve clearly won the midfield battle in the first leg thanks to Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio then throw in a now-healthy Pogba, that might make me sit a little easier compared to other aspects of the game.
2. Max Allegri's approach to the game.
When Juventus traveled to Germany, the tactical plans were perfectly clear — defend the final third like crazy and then hit Dortmund on the counter whenever the opportunity came about. Those plans worked out to near-perfection, with a dominant win and a spot in the Champions League quarterfinals coming Juve's direction. Might a different opponent call for different tactics? That's obviously something we will have to wait until Wednesday to find out for sure, but the high-pressure, hit-them-on-the-counter philosophy that has worked out quite well both domestically and in Europe over the course of the last couple of months. I don't think there are too many things that can grab your attention more these days than Carlos Tévez and Álvaro Morata storming forward at full speed on the counterattack. It has not only worked out to be a solid strategy, but it's created a good number scoring chances as well. And let's be honest, the possibility of shutting out Real Madrid and all the talent on that roster when they're going to be rushing forward in search of at least one goal is going to one tough thing to accomplishment.
3. Trying — emphasis on TRYING — to slow down Cristiano Ronaldo.
It seems rather simple considering Ronaldo has scored about a bazillion goals since he first donned a Real Madrid jersey. But even when you think you've got him all figured out, he goes and pops free in the six-yard box and scores between two defenders to even the score at 1-1. Ronaldo will be Juve's No. 1 defensive assignment just like he is against every single other team he plays against. Outside of his goal, I like to think that the Juve defense did a pretty good job against Ronaldo in the first leg — an accomplishment in its own right when you consider how he can go absolutely nuts on teams at seemingly the snap of his fingers. There's no doubting they will have to do the same kind of thing no matter what kind of formation Carlo Ancelotti goes with Wednesday night. That's the way it should be even with the other players Real Madrid will have on the field.
4. How Andrea Barzagli fits into the equation.
As we've seen from Allegri in recent months, when Barzagli doesn't start, it doesn't necessarily mean he won't be playing. In the first leg against Madrid, once the lead was taken back, in came Barzagli and the switch to the 3-5-2 was put into action to lock down the win. It's just another wrinkle that Allegri has added to the tactical flexibility this current version of Juventus has. Nobody is picking Allegri to go with a three-man backline from the opening whistle, and Barzagli playing 90 minutes over the weekend is a good indication that a 4-3-1-2 formation is in Juve's first-year manager's plans. But you have to think that if Juventus holds any kind of lead entering the second half, Barzagli will be one of the three substitutes coming off the bench to try and keep Juve ahead once again. And whenever that does happen, seeing Barzagli will help control the blood pressure. (A little, but that's it, though.)
My starting XI (4-3-1-2): Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Bonucci, Chiellini, Evra; Sturaro, Marchisio, Pogba; Vidal; Morata, 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