Now that Juventus' task of officially wrapping up the Scudetto has been achieved, all — and I mean all — of the club's attention can be turned toward their return to the Champions League semifinals and the date with Real Madrid.
It's been a long time coming for Juve to return to the final four on Europe's biggest stage. The last time Juve were playing at this point in the Champions League over a decade ago, Kingsley Coman was probably just realizing he can run faster than anybody he comes up against. And, whether it's a sign from above or just plain dumb luck, Juventus finds itself playing the same Real Madrid club it did back in the 2002-03 semis.
Understandably, the players who are still around from back then can be counted on one hand. Just a couple of legendary goalkeepers remain from Juventus' 4-3 aggregate win over Real Madrid 12 years ago.
By now, we know each of the current-day rosters up and down. We know Juventus' strengths. We know any kind of potential weakness on Max Allegri's roster. (Shhhhh, don't tell!) We know what needs to happen for everything to go right against the reigning European champions.
Who's a potential difference maker Tuesday night in Turin? Who's going to be somebody who might be able to make the narrative shift from "Juventus the underdog" to "Juventus the legitimate Champions League final contender"?
Let's take a look.
Remember when Chiellini rightfully or wrongly picked up a red card against Real Madrid last season and fell for the diving tendencies of a certain Cristian Ronaldo? That's all I'll mention about that little incident from the not-so-distant past, but the fact still remains that things haven't come easy for Chiellini lately no matter which team Juventus has been playing.
Four-man defense, three-man defense, whatever the heck is used, it doesn't really matter. Giorgio Chiellini is going to be the Juventus defender under the largest spotlight because of how his season has gone thus far. Andrea Barzagli has been a brick wall ever since his return from injury, Leonardo Bonucci is playing as well and as consistent as he's ever been in his career over the course of the season, and then there's Chiellini. He's been chronically inconsistent, prone to big-time and potentially game-changing mistakes. This isn't just the fact that he's slipped on the turf in a couple of Juve's recent European fixtures.
We know Real Madrid have attacking talent. And that's not even including Ronaldo, who will be coming off a hat trick against Sevilla on Saturday.
Maybe this has to do more with his past than anything else right now, but Morata hasn't been the same kind of striker he was a few months ago — at least from a pure goal-scoring standpoint. By the time Juventus kicks off against Real Madrid in Turin, it will have been just about seven weeks since Morata scored his last goal (in the second leg against Borussia Dortmund on March 18). Morata has contributed other ways, but having him re-discover his goal-scoring touch against his former team could be the difference.
We know the Real Madrid defense is going to put a huge focus on trying to stop the Argentina hurricane otherwise known as Carlos Tévez. And that could very well open up some opportunities for Morata to operate — both in terms of scoring chances for himself as well as teammates making runs forward. What made Tévez and Morata so good in the middle of the season was that they were both in very good form and working well off one another. Considering how Real's defense is prone to a mistake or two this season, taking all of the goal-scoring burden off Tévez is always a good thing.
And can you just imagine the kind of reaction there will be if Morata does in fact score against the side that sold him 10 months ago? Oh man, make it happen, please, Álvaro.
I think it's pretty easy to say that Vidal is easily playing his football of the season right now. I can only imagine how the confidence is just flowing freely whenever he takes the field and then he does what he did over the weekend in Juventus' Scudetto-clinching win over Sampdoria. That was a classic Vidal kind of game — tackles, interceptions, running all over the field like a badass and the game-winning goal to boot. That's the kind of thing we saw oh so often from Vidal a year ago when he was being called arguably the best box-to-box midfielder in all of the world.
The absence of Paul Pogba is a massive one, obviously, but Vidal's ability to regain form the last couple of months has made it a little easier to deal with. Real Madrid are also dealing with injuries in the center of the park, with Luka Modric missing out due to a ligament injury in his right knee. No Modric may very well mean Vidal — as well as fellow in-form midfielder Claudio Marchisio — has the chance to truly dominate a Real Madrid midfield that has seen Sergio Ramos starting alongside Toni Kroos in recent weeks.
You're telling me Vidal can't potentially do any kind of damage against a makeshift midfield? The way he's playing these days, I like the chances of Vidal doing some more Vidal things.
He will be rested. He will be healthy. And he undoubtedly will be in Allegri's starting lineup on Tuesday night.
There's been a lot of talk about how Pirlo fits into the equation in the future because of the high-energy midfield Vidal-Pogba-Marchisio presents. But for now — and the immediate future as well — Pirlo is still going to be Juventus' regista. He will be looked up to do what he almost always does, and that's dictate the tempo of things in the midfield and going forward. Pirlo will be trying to outsmart a manager in Carlo Ancelotti who probably knows him as well as anybody in the game these days.
How Real Madrid set up to try and slow Pirlo down matters, surely, but as he's proven lately, he's able to send a through ball or two to a teammate and change the game. (Hi, Arturo Vidal penalty against Monaco.)
Somebody excluded from this list
This is largely dependent on which formation Allegri goes with. If it's a 3-5-2, then probably the combo of Andrea Barzagli and Stephan Lichtsteiner knowing how will be lining up across from them for Real Madrid. If it's a 4-3-1-2, then maybe it's somebody like Roberto Pereyra playing behind the strikers. This is the guessing game we're left to play in the lead up to Juventus' biggest European game since the last biggest European game a couple of weeks ago.
And it's not like Allegri is going to give us any kind of help or hints about his tactics when he takes the podium at his pre-match press conference on Monday at Vinovo. I think we should all be used to that by now. That's just how he rolls.