Like we saw last month, the Champions League offers us matchups we’ve seen in the relatively short past or something we haven’t seen before. Sevilla? Saw ‘em last year! Dinamo Zagreb? Well, a little longer than that. When it comes Lyon, there’s a past on the European stage — and one that is in the not-so-distant past, either.
The last time Juventus saw Olympique Lyonnais, it was in what proved to be one of Antonio Conte’s final games as Juve manager. It wasn’t in the Champions League. It was the Europa League, a competition that Juve eventually crashed out of a few weeks after Lyon’s visit to Turin.
So, just to show you all how different things were the last time Juventus played Lyon even though it was just two-and-a-half years ago, here’s a picture of the starting lineup Conte rolled out at J-Stadium.
Also, a side note: This lineup is not very good at looking at the camera when they’re supposed to.
To say things are a little bit different would be a slight understatement. There’s still the spine of the team at the back with Buffon, Bonucci and the rest. But Juventus’ midfield will be completely different. Juventus’ strikers are completely different. And, most importantly of all, Juventus’ goals in Europe are completely different than they were compared to when the goal was to try and play in the Europa League final at their home stadium.
Juventus went from middle of the pack after a scoreless draw against Sevilla to joint-top of the group with the Spaniards after dismantling Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia. That’s the beauty of the early goings of the group stage. One very good result can cancel out a not-so-hot result real quick. As much as Juventus grinded out the draw against Sevilla, it was the exact opposite in Croatia against Zagreb. Now, with the third of six group stage games on the horizon, Juventus has a chance to further solidify their chances of advancing to the knockout round.
The international break is a thing of the past. Juventus didn’t play particularly well in their 2-1 comeback win over Udinese on Saturday night, but they kept the winning streak rolling nonetheless. Chalk some of that up with a mostly second-string lineup with a new formation that Max Allegri hadn’t used much of in any game up to that point. Chalk some of it up just to Juve not finishing some of their scoring chances.
Either way, Juventus won.
The thing to do now? Keep it going.
Lyon have been a model of inconsistency domestically this season. They’ve won four, they’ve lost four, they currently sit in eighth place. Whatever you look at on paper says that they’re a team that is sitting mid-table and has yet to truly find any kind of consistent for to see them rise up the table and give France’s other top clubs a run for their money.
Does that mean it’s a cake walk for Juventus on Tuesday night? No, of course not. We know how Juventus, regardless of who or who may be playing, doesn’t always make things easy for themselves when playing in a European competition. But if Juventus can be more of the team that played against Dinamo Zagreb rather than the one that faced Sevilla to open the group stage, then things will be pretty okay for us.
.@Miralem_Pjanic: "@OL are going through a difficult period but tomorrow's match will be far from straightforward." #UCL #OLJuve— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) October 17, 2016
Not only did the 4-0 in Zagreb help Juventus go to the top of the group, but it also pushed their goal differential to plus-4 entering tonight’s round of games. This may not seem important now with four group stage games left to play, but come that’s obviously going to change come the jockeying for position that waits the fourth, fifth and sixth games in Group H.
Not called up for the match:
- Giorgio Chiellini (injury)
- Claudio Marchisio (continued injury rehab)
- Mario Mandzukic (injury)
- Kwadwo Asamoah (injury)
- Daniele Rugani (injury)
- Marko Pjaca (injury)
.@OfficialAllegri: "We're missing some key players but every good team should be able to roll with the punches and adapt." #OLJuve #UCL— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) October 17, 2016
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Can Paulo Dybala keep his goal-scoring explosion going?
Let’s go ahead and see what Dybala has done in his last three games, shall?
Three games, three starts, four goals scored
Last time I checked, that’s a pretty good goal-to-game ratio. And when you consider the kind of goal-scoring run he went on last season when things truly started to click for him, there’s the sense that his sudden uptick in goals is just the start of things. The beautiful thing with Dybala is this: When he gets going and truly hits his best form, it’s not just goals for himself he creates, but also opportunities for his teammates. That’s the greatness of Dybala right there. He’s a No. 10 in every sense of what a No. 10 is supposed to be. And when it comes to how he’s played in his last three starts, that’s the Dybala that we’re so used to seeing since he became a Juventus player. As we saw against Udinese, when it’s all clicking for Dybala, there’s arguably nobody better on the field. Throw in the fact that Gonzalo Higuain has started out his Juve career pretty well, too, and you’ve got the 1-2 punch from Argentina starting to really find its groove up front.
2. Miralem Pjanic against his former team.
Last time out in Europe it was Mandzukic and Pjaca facing their former team, now it’s time for Pjanic to visit his old stomping ground. And with him logging no minutes over the weekend against Udinese, he’s going to be pretty fresh to boot. We haven’t seen Pjanic a ton this year because of his early-season injury problems. But what we’ve seen from him when Allegri has fielded him as more of a somebody playing on the left of the holding midfielder — most likely to be Hernanes on Tuesday night — is exactly the kind of player we thought Juve were getting when they dropped €32 million on him.
3. Will Max Allegri go back to Patrice Evra on a European night?
When it comes to the predicted lineups that are floating around the Italian press and the internet right now, the answer seems to be that it’s a yes. However, as we know, the distance between Evra and Alex Sandro is much more noticeable this season than it was a year ago. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Sandro is a lock to start against Lyon, nor does it mean that we need to pencil him in at every given opportunity. Allegri has shown that he’s more than okay with playing Evra and all of his Champions League experience when Juve venture back into European competition. And considering that Evra has started both of Juventus’ first two group stage games this season, I think the odds of Uncle Pat being included in the starting lineup against Lyon are pretty favorable. That might not be the most offensive-friendly pick, but at this point it’s a trend that is become pretty clear to see.
4. Juventus’ defense vs. Alexandre Lacazette.
There were a number people around these parts of the internet that wanted Juventus to sign Lacazette over the summer. Something tells me that the acquisition of Gonzalo Higuain helped ease the disappointment of not signing the young Frenchman, but there’s no denying that his name was dropped more than just a couple of times during May, June and July. The talent is there — and it’s so easy to see. In five league games this season, Lacazette has scored six goals. He’s scoring a goal every 56 minutes, which is better than what Higuain is averaging to begin the season. Lacazette offers speed, he offers power and he is probably going to be one of the most-talked about names on the transfer market again next summer. No matter if Allegri goes three-man defense or four-man backline, it’s Lacazette who will be the No. 1 priority to pay attention to once the ball is kicked off on Tuesday night.
MY STARTING LINEUP
Juventus XI (3-5-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Medhi Benatia, Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli; Dani Alves, Sami Khedira, Hernanes, Miralem Pjanic, Alex Sandro; Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala
Location: Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon, France
Kick-off time: 8:45 p.m. local time in Italy; 7:45 p.m. in England; 2:45 p.m. on the East Coast; 11:45 a.m. on the West Coast
TV: PremiumSport 2 HD, Canale 5, RSI La 2 (Italy)
Online: ESPN3, WatchESPN, Fox Soccer 2GO USA (United States); beIN SPORTS CONNECT Canada (Canada)
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