Because of the nature of the Champions League group stage, we are pretty much forced to monitor the scores of the other game and the standings from the first game onward. While we can kinda sit back and not totally stress about the Serie A table the first handful of games, that’s nowhere near the case in the Champions League group stage. One or two missteps and you’re fighting an uphill battle without any kind of certainty that you’ll still be playing in Europe’s premier club competition come the turn of the calendar.
Juventus enters the second-to-last group stage game two points behind first-place Sevilla. And what do you know? Sevilla just so happens to be Juventus’ next Champions League opponent. I’m sure the headline gave it away. Or maybe you’re just super smart and remember Juve’s schedule like it’s no big deal at all.
Through four Champions League games, this is how the table looks:
1. Sevilla - 10 points
2. Juventus - 8 points
3. Lyon - 4 points
4. Dinamo Zagreb - 0 points
It doesn’t take a mathematic wizard to figure out that a win over Sevilla would give Juventus a slight edge over its closest competition entering the final group stage game of the season. And when you remember that Juventus’ final group stage game is against a Dinamo Zagreb team that is getting beaten by everybody, the odds would certainly be in Juve’s favor if they were to beat Sevilla on Tuesday night.
However, there’s the whole matter of Sevilla.
Juventus’ injury list is getting lengthy again, with the latest punch to the gut that has us going “WHAT THE HELL?” being Gonzalo Higuain getting ruled out with a thigh injury after not training on Monday. That means both of Juve’s starting strikers, Higuain and Paulo Dybala, are not available. One of Juve’s best defenders, Andrea Barzagli, is not available. One of Juventus’ top defensive backups available to Max Allegri, Medhi Benatia, is also out injured and will be watching the game from his couch back in Turin.
So, yeah, things are great! (Injuries are so stupid. Seriously, so stupid.)
For all we know Juventus could surpass our wildest expectations in their visit to the Sánchez Pizjuán on Tuesday night. I wouldn’t put it past them.
Juventus knows exactly what needs to be done to leapfrog Sevilla and not only lock up their spot in the Champions League knockout round but also go into first place with one game remaining. It’s simple. Playing the game won’t be because Sevilla are good, but drawing up all of the situations are.
I want you guys to win, too, Max. Go out and do the damn thing.
Juventus still has destiny in their hands — which is something that is good news to some, probably completely nerve-wrecking to others.
Well, let’s see here, Higuain will not play after reports came out Monday that he picked up a knock in Saturday’s win over Pescara. So, because of it, Juventus are down to all of one healthy senior squad striker. Fun!
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Spotlight on Mario Mandzukic up front.
This wouldn’t be such a huge talking point if not for the development that Higuain is out for Tuesday night’s game. But, because he is after not training Monday morning due to a reported thigh injury, the onus on Mandzukic as Juve’s best goal-scoring threat became that just more of a big deal. I guess the good thing in all of this is that Mandzukic is finding some solid form in recent weeks. Obviously Sevilla are going to be a much better opponent than the likes of Chievo, Pescara and who he faced over the international break, but the goals are there. But the fact still remains that Mandzukic has found a bit of goal-scoring form. And with Higuain out for hopefully just one game, then Mandzukic’s importance to the team has been raised up a couple of notches.
2. Where does Alex Sandro factor into the starting lineup?
I pose this question because there are actually options here. He can play as his usual wingback self in a 3-5-2. He can play as a regular fullback in a four-man defense. Or, as is now being talked about in wake of Higuain’s injury situation, Sandro could very well be used as a left winger in a trident that would also include Mandzukic and Juan Cuadrado (and his afro). All things considered, what’s the best spot for him? This has to be the inner dilemma going through Allegri’s head right about now. With Patrice Evra — a player that Allegri has shown no problem using in big Champions League matches — available, I’m going to put my money on Sandro playing as a left winger in a front three. And if that’s true, I’m going to be looking forward to it because seeing Alex Sandro run absolutely wild on the wing is one of my favorite Juventus-related things going these days. Plus, when you’ve got a guy who can spin a cross into the box like Sandro can and Mandzukic will be the main target of said crosses, that could be a good thing to happen, too.
3. How Juventus handles Sevilla’s high-pressure game.
Sevilla played quite well in their visit to Juventus Stadium a couple of months ago. And, in typical fashion of a Jorge Sampaoli-coached team, it’s pretty much the norm to see them pressing the living hell out of their opponent no matter who that is. It’s not exactly earth-shattering news to say that Sevilla were the better of the two teams when they played in Turin back in September, a scoreless draw to open the group stage festivities. There’s a reason why Sevilla is currently sitting third in La Liga, and Sampaoli’s leadership is certainly up there. They’re playing well, they’re playing consistent. And maybe most impressively of them all outside of where they’re sitting in the league table as December gets closer and closer, Seville has yet to allow a goal in Europe so far this season. Juventus has quite the challenge in front of them — and that was before the latest wave of injuries rolled through Vinovo this past weekend.
4. Daniele Rugani in the heart of Juventus’ defense.
Andrea Barzagli is out for at least another six weeks. Giorgio Chiellini is just back from his own injury issues (again) and will start on the bench. Like Higuain, Medhi Benatia was ruled out on Monday after not training with the team. That means Juventus has just two healthy center backs available to play a full 90 minutes — Leonardo Bonucci and Daniele Rugani. That’s not necessarily Ideal, and it may cause some of us to say a prayer or two before bed on Monday so that nobody else has to be an injury-related post on this here website.
The question I have is this: Is the trip to Sevilla the biggest game Rugani has started since returning to Juventus 18 months ago? If it’s not in the No. 1 spot, it’s definitely up there. The good thing in all of this is that, even at his very young age, Rugani seems to get rattled by absolutely nothing. That’s a pretty good trait to have when going up against an opponent like Sevilla that will not only have a lively crowd supporting it but will also look to hit Juventus on the counter time and time again. I, for one, will look forward to seeing how Rugani does against Sevilla mainly because I hope it’s the first of about 100 Champions League starts he makes in a Juventus jersey.
MY STARTING LINEUP
Juventus XI (4-3-3): Gianluigi Buffon; Dani Alves, Daniele Rugani, Leonardo Bonucci, Patrice Evra; Sami Khedira, Claudio Marchisio, Miralem Pjanic; Juan Cuadrado, Mario Mandzukic, Alex Sandro
Location: Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium, Seville, Spain
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: ESPN Deportes USA (United States); TSN1 (Canada); BT Sport Extra (United Kingdom); PremiumSport HD, RSI La 2 (Italy)
Online: ESPN3 USA, WatchESPN, Fox Soccer 2GO USA (United States); TSN GO (Canada); BT Sport Live Streaming (United Kingdom)
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