Juventus’ form in the Champions League hasn’t necessarily been anything to brag about. There has been one not-great game, one so-so game and then one game where Juve throttled a team that pretty much everybody in Group H has been beating up on. It’s a mixed bag, surely, but it’s also something that has Juventus on the top of the group at the midway point.
Three games down, three games to go.
The first of those remaining fixtures, Wednesday night against Olympique Lyonnais at Juventus Stadium, sees Max Allegri’s squad face the same team they were matched up against just a couple of weeks ago in the Champions League. As much as we say that “Juventus saw Lyon last month and that’s that,” it’s not totally like that. It was just a couple of weeks ago that Juve lined up against French opposition in the Champions League, a game in which they grinded out 1-0 win and got some god-like heroics in goal from captain Gigi Buffon.
That world-class performance by Buffon as well as Juan Cuadrado’s bolt of lightning from the right wing has put Juventus within reach of their first European target of the season — qualifying for the knockout round. Considering that Juve’s in first due to their plus-5 goal differential and Lyon is four points behind in third, a win at Juventus Stadium on Wednesday night means Allegri’s squad is heading to said knockout round. No worrying about it coming down to the last day. None of that. The only thing to determine in the last two group stage would be if Juve finish in first or second.
And considering what happened last season and the draw that Juve had to deal with in the Round of 16 because they finished second in the group, that’s something I certainly don’t want to see repeated in back-to-back years.
“If we want to go far in Europe and compete with the continent's best teams we need to raise our game higher still. We can't rest on our laurels just because we've won this match.
“Winning is the most important thing because it shields you from criticism and allows you to work constructively without any added pressure.
“(Saturday’s) victory is a fillip for us on a long journey. We're showing who we are through our results but if I think of the latter stages of the Champions League we need to grow a bit more."
Those are the words of the same Buffon who won Juventus three points the last time against Lyon a couple of weeks ago. Those words are pretty much as on point as on point gets. You want an honest opinion on a certain matter regarding Juventus and how things are at that given moment, you go to interview San Gigi himself and never look back.
Against Lyon, Juventus will obviously need to be better than last time even though they got the three points. A lot of that will have to do with the fact that they can actually play with a full 11 men on the field again. But, more than anything, it’s about playing better and getting into the knockout round. No messing around now and leaving it to later.
Get the first European objective out of the way and try to figure how to play some consistent ball when those games do arrive.
Treat us to good things on the second day of November, Juventus players. Your manager has said this, and we want a good performance to talk about, too.
Juventus in first place in the group. Juventus has the best goal differential in the group. All of this while not exactly playing their best football. Yeah, that’s good news.
Injury list roll call!
- Paulo Dybala
- Marko Pjaca
- Giorgio Chiellini
Maybe not as long as previous editions, but those are some important pieces right in front of all of you.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Can Sami Khedira kick things into gear?
Short answer: Hopefully.
Longer answer: Khedira has dropped off dramatically since he started the season off with two goals in Juve’s first two games. Since then, a span that stretches over 10 matches, Khedira has all of one assist to show for it. Obviously, it’s very nice to see Khedira playing in many more games than he did at this point of last season. But with that has come a form that is nowhere near where he was when he was suddenly looking like a goal-scoring machine and making non-stop runs into the opponent’s defending third. The thought is that the return of Claudio Marchisio — more on that guy later, folks — will help Khedira (and Miralem Pjanic) shoulder some of the load. It’s definitely still too early to tell if that’s going to be the case, but I guess we’ll need to give that aspect time. Then again, considering how quickly Khedira’s form has gone from really good to not very good at all, it might not be such a far-fetched thing to see hos game click once again.
2. Can Miralem Pjanic kick things into gear?
Short answer: Hopefully.
Longer answer: Pjanic probably hasn’t been as bad as some of us have made him out to be in his first couple months as a Juventus player. But it’s also true that he hasn’t really come close to being the player that was one of the best midfielders in Serie A and Europe over the last couple of years. As much as we say that the return of Marchisio will help Khedira, the same goes for Pjanic. (And probably just about everybody considering that Marchisio is a really, really good player and arguably Juve’s most valuable player.) There’s been times where Pjanic has looked quite good. But there’s other times where he seemingly just disappears from the game entirely even though he’s still technically on the field. With a spot in the knockout round up for grabs, you want your best players to be at their best. Pjanic might not be playing well right now, but a big game from him against his former club will certainly buoy Juve’s chances of achieving that first of many European goals this season.
3. The Claudio Marchisio Effect.
Do you want confirmation that Marchisio will start against Lyon? Well, good thing Allegri is here to comply with all of your demands. (Or at least one of them.)
Thank you, Max. Now my predicted lineup is going to be a little more accurate than it usually is.
If Allegri’s plan, at least in the early stages of Marchisio’s return to the field, is to have him start every other game, it’s understandable so that there’s not a ton of taxing on the surgically-repaired knee. And as we know, the last thing we want to see is Marchisio have an injury-related hiccup in his first couple of games back. That’s mainly because he’s been so good when he’s been on the field. The Marchisio Effect has been in full force. Juventus’ midfield, while the likes of Khedira and Pjanic haven’t truly found form, Marchisio has looked fantastic in his 95 or so minutes on the field so far this season. The sense of calm he has while out there, it’s like he never left. He’s making his presence be known and, considering how somewhat inconsistent the alternatives played were while Marchisio was out to start the year, Marchisio’s impact and consistency is proving to be just that much more vital to this team. Things might not be clicking for the entirety of Juve’s midfield, but Marchisio is looking like his old self even after the ACL injury — and that’s more than just a good thing.
4. Juventus’ defense vs. Alexandre Lacazette
If this portion of the match preview seems familiar to the first Lyon, well, that’s because it is. I was thinking of bringing something different up this time around, but I can’t help but go back to the well of Lacazette. You wanna know what Lacazette has done since the last time Juventus and Lyon played? Well here it is: Two games played, three goals scored. Lyon split those games — which pretty much speaks to how inconsistent their results have been this season — but Lacazette is starting to resemble the form of the player that started the Ligue 1 season absolutely on fire. As much as Nabil Fekir is also a threat for Lyon, Lacazette is the No. 1 person to try and stop when you’re making a power ranking of Lyon players that Juve’s defense needs to pay attention to. Not that it should be any kind of surprise. The boy is quite good.
MY STARTING LINEUP
Juventus XI (3-5-2-ish): Gianluigi Buffon; Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Medhi Benatia; Dani Alves, Sami Khedira, Claudio Marchisio, Miralem Pjanic, Alex Sandro; Gonzalo Higuain, Mario Mandzukic
Location: Juventus Stadium, Turin, Italy
Kick-off time: 8:45 p.m. local time in Italy; 7:45 p.m. in England; 3:45 p.m. on the East Coast; 12:45 p.m. on the West Coast
TV: ESPN2 (United States); TSN1 (Canada); BT Sport Extra (United Kingdom); RSI La 2, PremiumSport HD (Italy)
Online: ESPN3, WatchESPN, Fox Soccer 2GO USA (United States); TSN GO (Canada)
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