Juventus have had a lot of big games during this whirlwind 2014-15 season. They've had big European games, big domestic games and some that impact one or the other in some kind of indirect or silly way. They've had moments that tested their strengths, potentially exposed their weaknesses and probably everything in between.
The string of big games have been there all season in Europe. There was the trip to Spain to play Atlético Madrid, a Champions League finalist last season. There was the task of even getting to the knockout round in the first place when Atléti came to Turin in December. There was the trip to Germany to play Borussia Dortmund in the round of 16. Then came Monaco and all the manic defending in the second leg that came along with it.
All of them have allowed Juventus to get this point.
Tuesday night's test is the biggest one of them all to date — both because of the opponent and the stakes at hand with 90 minutes in the Spanish capital left to be played next week. We could ay the same against Monaco. We could say the same against Borussia Dortmund. That's just what happens when you reach the knockout stages of the Champions League.
This one, though, just has that extra something.
Of course, being the semifinals instead of, say, the round of 16 has a lot to do with it. That's just what happens at this stage of the game. But Juventus vs. Real Madrid is a classic encounter between two European heavyweights. We've seen it take place last season, but that was just the group stage. This is the Champions League semifinals — something Juventus hasn't reached since the 2002-03 season.
Real Madrid are the reigning champions, looking to do nothing less than make the Champions League final once again and repeat as winners. Juventus have gotten their fourth straight Scudetto out of the way at the exact time they wanted to, and have been able to turn total focus over to Real Madrid's opening-leg visit to Turin and Juventus Stadium.
Just a couple of teams with nothing to play for, right? Ha! On the contrary.
Oh, what fun there could be. Hopefully.
Karim Benzema is officially out for tomorrow night's first leg in Turin. That's not meant to be a shot at Chicharito, but he's certainly not Benzema.
While Max Allegri is hoping for Paul Pogba to be back for the second leg, the French midfield dynamo is still out with his thigh injury.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. The eternal tactics choice: 4-3-1-2 or 3-5-2?
Maybe, just maybe, we've figured out what Allegri will do before the actual starting lineups are announced.
Well, that's a big help, I'd say. Maybe Max was in a giving mood during his pre-match press conference. Carlo Ancelotti wasn't feeling as generous and didn't say what his tactics would at his own presser on Monday, but I guess we all can't get nice things.
If the 4-3-1-2 is in play and the formation Allegri will go with, then that means Andrea Barzagli is probably the odd man out in defense and Roberto Pereyra is playing behind the strikers. Agree with it or not, that's just how Max is gonna roll. Juventus' ability to shift from one formation to the other allows Allegri to go back and forth whenever he so pleases. So if we see a shift from the 4-3-1-2 to the 3-5-2 at any given point Tuesday night, I guess we shouldn't be surprised at this point. But considering how Allegri believes there will be a good number of goals scored between the two teams, then maybe it makes sense Mad Max is going with a more offensive-minded formation.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Juventus' defense.
Here's what Ronaldo did when Juve and Real Madrid met in the group stage of last year's Champions League:
Two games, three goals, one assist, 11 total shots
Yeah, he's pretty damn good.
With Benzema out injured, there should be even more of a focus on Ronaldo in the final third. It doesn't really matter if it's a three-man or a four-man backline, Ronaldo is Ronaldo and one of the best players the game has to offer. His speed will give Juventus' defense fits, and he will draw the attention of just every Juve defender at some point in the game. Can Juventus stop him entirely? I don't know about that. But what the likes of Giorgio Chiellini and the rest of Juventus' defense will have to prevent is allowing Ronaldo to absolutely wreak havoc on the Juventus Stadium turf. We all know how important it was for Juve to keep the opposition from scoring an away goal in the last leg and what that can allow them to do away from home. Basically, if Ronaldo does anything close to what he did the last time Juve and Real played, then it won't be good news — or anything close to it.
3. Carlos Tévez vs. Real Madrid's defense.
As important Ronaldo is to Real Madrid's attack, the same can be said for Tévez, who has been a monster both domestically and in Europe this season. The last time Real Madrid saw him, Tévez was playing out wide in a 4-3-3 and Fernando Llorente was the one scoring the goals. This time, Tévez will be focal point of Juve's attack, with former Real Madrid striker Álvaro Morata looking to haunt the team that sold him over the summer. But this is the stage, once again, for Tévez to show the kind of form he's been in this season. Unlike the player we'll talk about in the next section, Tévez wasn't rested over the weekend in the Scudetto-clinching win over Sampdoria. Still, Carlitos will have to be crucial against Real Madrid, and continue the kind of form that has seen him score 26 goals in all competitions this season. You know he's going to work like hell to do exactly that, which is he's just so damn awesome.
4. How Carlo Ancelotti tries to stop Andrea Pirlo.
I'd say these two gentlemen know a thing or two about each other from their days at Milan, eh? What do you think?
As I said earlier this week, Pirlo will have to be one of the Juventus players who will probably need to be on top of their game for the team to be successful. We know that Pirlo will be rested after not featuring over the weekend against Sampdoria. Rested Pirlo is the best kind of Pirlo and obviously one that will look to break down the Real defense with his trademark passes and tricks. Given that Real Madrid are likely to shift away from their 4-4-2 they used over the weekend against Sevilla because of Gareth Bale's anticipated return to the starting lineup, a three-man midfield could be the direction Ancelotti goes. If that is indeed the case, just how, exactly, he sets things to defend against Juventus' resident maestro will be quite interesting to keep an eye on.
My starting XI (4-3-1-2): Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Bonucci, Chiellini, Evra; Vidal, Pirlo, Marchisio; Pereyra; 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