As hard as it has been to figure out why Juventus are the way the are sometimes in the Champions League, the scenario for winning the group is about as easy as it gets. Juventus wins the game Wedesday night, Juventus wins the group. No PHD in quantum physics needed. You don’t need to be somebody with the GPA of a Leonard Hofstadter or Sheldon Cooper to identify what Juve need to do to finish the group stage in first place.
Juventus has a one-point lead over Sevilla thanks to what happened the last time the Serie A leaders played on the European stage. That’s it. That’s their room for error. Any kind of slip up and they’re looking at a situation where they could very well drop down to second place if Sevilla get a positive result against Lyon on Wednesday.
What does all of this mean?
If we want to see Juventus finish atop of Group H, then a win is what is going to have to happen at Juventus Stadium on Wednesday night.
The good in all of this? Well, this is a two-part answer.
- Juventus actually resembled the dominant team we thought they could be over the weekend. They not only beat Atalanta 3-1, but looked as good as they have looked in weeks — or maybe even months — as they built a three-goal lead against the hottest team Serie A had to offer. It was the kind of performance we wanted to see after what was an absolute clunker against Genoa the weekend prior.
- Wednesday’s opposition is about in the exact opposite kind of situation as Atalanta entered with over the weekend. Zagreb have been struggling mightily all season long, especially in the Champions League. They have allowed 13 goals in the five group stage games. They haven’t scored a goal in the five group stage games. There is only one team with a worse off goal differential than Zagreb currently has in the Champions League this season. That’s ... not good.
The bad? Well, Juventus in the Champions League is something that we can’t always seem to figure out. So there’s that. We know that Juventus can look good in a league game over the weekend and then suddenly look completely flat and craptastic when they’ve heard the Champions League anthem just a few minutes earlier. This is how Juventus works in Europe — there’s just as much bad as there is good, sometimes even more.
But if there’s a group of positive signs heading into Wednesday night’s Champions League group stage finale to offer up, let me list them for you below:
- Juventus played like a good team again on Saturday.
- Juventus will be playing a team they’re much better than.
- Juventus will be playing said team they’re much better than at home.
You put all three of those things together and you have the makings for another Juventus win that is in the cards. However, we’ve seen Juventus struggle in games where we’ve expected them to win by a comfortable margin. The hope is that Juve can re-create the kind of performance that they had in Croatia a few months ago and leave absolutely no doubt between them and their opponents.
That sure would be nice. Comfortable wins, just like that one and the last time Juve played on their home field, sure are nice to watch.
Juventus played damn well on Saturday night. That’s a pleasant change from how things had been going for the majority of the season. More Atalanta-like performances, please, friends. I enjoy them greatly.
These players are injured:
- Leonardo Bonucci
- Andrea Barzagli
- Marko Pjaca
- Dani Alves
It’s not a very good sign when two-thirds of your start defense is sitting out injured for an extended period of time, if you ask me. But they’ll be watching from the stands — or the curva — instead of playing on Wednesday night.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Can Juventus build off of Saturday night’s domination of Atalanta?
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE YES.
Much like we were wondering if Juventus could snap out of that funk going into the Atalanta game, this is the game where we wonder what they will do for an encore. That’s just the natural line of thinking and I have absolutely no way of avoiding it. Sorry, but that’s just how things work around here. Juventus’ win over Atalanta was one of the best games of this rather interesting first half of a season. There’s no hesitation from me in saying that. For as inconsistent and frustrating things have been for the majority of the opening four months, there was absolutely the exact opposite of that during Saturday’s demolition derby. Juventus responded how we wanted them to respond. They played well, they played with that pep in their step we so sorely desired and they looked like the team we thought they could be entering the season. Now it’s all about building off what was done on Saturday and making sure it just wasn’t a one-time thing that we won’t see again for another couple of months. I quite liked the Juventus of Saturday night, and the same thing goes for those who played.
I like when Juventus players are celebrating after a game in which they just whooped up on the opponent. I know I sound greedy when I say this, but that should happen more often, IMHO.
2. With no Dani Alves and Stephan Lichtsteiner, what does Max Allegri do?
Here is a list of natural right back available to Allegri on Wednesday night:
There you have it, folks. The only two people who would be logical choices to fill in as a right back are either injured (Andrea BarzaglI) or nowhere near an actual right back (Juan Cuadrado). What this means is that as much as the 4-3-1-2 was a success against Atalanta on Saturday, current player availability might force Allegri to line his team up in some other formation. With no natural right backs available, the line of thinking a lot of people have is that the 3-5-2 will be making its triumphant return on Wednesday night. In this kind of situation, I guess we can’t really be mad about it considering what is available to Max in terms of squad selection on Wednesday. Allegri mentioned at his pre-match press conference that Stefano Sturaro could be used as an emergency right back against Zagreb — which is something that I’m not quite convinced will happen with the top spot in the group still up for grabs. It may just be a 3-5-2 situation waiting to happen. Who knows, though.
4. Miralem Pjanic’s position AND impact.
Was Saturday night Miralem Pjanic’s best game in a Juventus jersey? I ask this because I’m having a hard time thinking of many other performances that were as complete as Pjanic’s showing against Atalanta. The passing was on point. The contributions to goal scoring opportunities were plentiful. It was almost like playing Pjanic in a more advanced role right behind the strikers was a place where he thrives. Funny how that works, doesn’t it? Rumors of the 3-5-2 making its return might kill Pjanic as Juventus’ trequatista for one game at the very least. But the good thing in all of this is that we saw the really, really good side of Pjanic’s game once again. I’ve missed it, and I’m pretty sure that you have, too.
MY STARTING LINEUP
Juventus XI (3-4-1-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Daniele Rugani, Medhi Benatia, Giorgio Chiellini; Juan Cuadrado, Mario Lemina, Hernanes, Patrice Evra; Miralem Pjanic; 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; 2:45 p.m. on the East Coast; 11:45 a.m. on the West Coast
TV: TSN5 (Canada); BT Sport Extra (United Kingdom); PremiumSport HD (Italy)
Online: Fox Soccer 2GO USA, ESPN3 USA, WatchESPN (United States); TSN GO (Canada)
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