There were a handful of occasions last season where we wondered whether it would end up being the final time we would hear the Champions League anthem for a decent amount of months. Some of them forced us to stress a little more than others, but all of them had the same kind of end-game thought: Juventus not in the Champions League anymore.
Here comes the first — and maybe last — of those during this current season.
Juventus heads to Germany even on aggregate with Bayern Munich. However, with the aggregate scoreline being 2-2. there is no option other than Juventus winning the game outright if they want to make the Champions League quarterfinals once again. They're going to be in an intimidating German fortress with a wall of sound patiently waiting for their arrival just like this time last season in Dortmund.
And they're also going to be without three of their most important players, which is something you never want to hear before the biggest game of the season.
Giorgio Chiellini is hurt. Claudio Marchisio is hurt. Paulo Dybala is hurt. Martin Cáceres, don't forget, is hurt. Mario Mandzukic, although part of the 21-man traveling squad, is also a question mark for the second leg. It's certainly a who's-who of players that are missing out on this all-important second leg due to injury.
The injuries are massive, no doubt. Juventus need goals and will be without its top goal scorer this season. Juventus will need to try and slow down Bayern's potent attack and will be without its most physical defender. And then there's the loss of Marchisio, who is the straw that stirs the whole damn drink.
These are what we like the call massive obstacles, my friends. Juventus were the underdogs before, and it's even more of the case now. It's one thing to be the underdog and you know you will have Dybala trying to shred the Bayern defense, but he won't be there. It's one thing to be the underdog and you know Chiellini will be there trying to bulldoze through Arjen Robben on the left wing, but at least there's still Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci.
All of this will have everybody and their mother picking Bayern to advance. And that may very well happen.
But if Juve shows glimpses of that team we saw in the final 30-35 minutes of the first leg, then there's a chance. It may be with different players, but there's still a chance. And if you're saying there's a chance...
I know it's hard to believe, but Juventus will actually be able to field a team Wednesday night.
Ummmm, have you checked Juventus' injury list?
No Chiellini. No Marchisio. No Dybala. No Cáceres.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. How much will Juve's new crop of injuries impact Max Allegri's plans?
Here's the biggest shocker from Allegri's pre-match press conference:
Yeah, not a shocker — at all. But we obviously know that without Chiellini, then a four-man backline is likely happening. It's one thing to trot out Daniele Rugani against Sassuolo, but it's another to put him in the starting lineup against Bayern Munich and all of the different attacking options that come with that. It may be a 4-4-2, it may be a 4-3-3, but everybody in the Italian press is thinking that it's a four-man defense and then build off of that. That's fine with me given what the current injury situation is. There's only so much Allegri can do with three central defenders and three strikers available to him entering Wednesday night's game. And even though he said he hasn't made up his mind when it comes to the starting lineup, you gotta think he has a pretty good idea at the very least. It's Max being Max at press conferences, after all. We should be used to this by now.
2. Can Juventus' defense contain Thomas Muller? Even a little bit?
It seems like there's no better player going these days that can find empty pockets of space like Muller can. He's awkward, he's gangly, he seems like a total weirdo in a good way, but he's damn good at this whole football thing. Bayern Munich are obviously more than just Muller when they attack. Robert Lewandowski is one of the best strikers going. Douglas Costa and Arjen Robben seem like they're shot out of a cannon sometimes. But Muller is at the center of all of this — and he just continues to produce. Juve did a good job on Lewandowski in the first leg, they really did. Yet, when you look at how Bayern scored it's opening goal, look at who was wide open and eagerly awaiting the pass from one of his teammates. It was Muller, and that's just the definition of his game. He's always in the right place in the right time. You can't teach that, you really can't.
3. Álvaro Morata on the big stage again.
Morata earned the 'Mr. Champions League' nickname around here for good reason last season. He was money in Europe. His goals came at incredibly important times, knocked out big-time European clubs and helped Juventus get to the Champions League final last season. (A game he also scored in, by the way.) Come Wednesday night, Juventus will be playing an incredibly important game against a big-time European opponent and looking to keep its Champions League campaign alive. So, will we see the Morata of last season? If Juventus wants to advance, it better hope so. Bayern's defense is still far from at full strength, which could be the one thing going for Juve entering Wednesday's second leg. And if Morata can take advantage of a chance or two, then it's a vastly different game than what most people are thinking now that Juve has close to half of its usual starting lineup back home in Turin.
4. What role will Alex Sandro play?
We've discussed this already, but with all of the injury news that has come out over the last 12 hours, it's worth paying attention to even more. If you were to name Juve's best 11 players available to Allegri, Sandro is certainly in that group. So, when your European campaign is on the line, wouldn't you want to play the best 11 that are available? I think I would, but that's just me.
My starting lineup
Juventus XI (4-4-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli, Patrice Evra; Juan Cuadrado, Sami Khedira, Paul Pogba, Alex Sandro; Mario Mandzukic, Álvaro Morata
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