When Juventus opened the Champions League group stage last season, it had the attached “Champions League finalists” tag from the previous season attached to it on pretty much every single reference there was made. Juve had gotten within reaching distance of the European mountain top, only to have things not go according to plan in Berlin. Even with the flurry of changes we saw in the summer of 2015, there was all the motivation in the world that came with trying to get back to that point. It didn’t happen, obviously, and that was that.
This season, though, Juventus aren’t one part of the Champions League finalists from the season before. But what there is this season consists of plenty of lofty aspirations to not only get back to being on the brink of another European final, but potentially being the ones that are the club everybody is left looking up at. Management has said it, players have said and we’re all thinking it. Juventus want a deep European run this season. That bar, boy, it has been set pretty high.
.@OfficialAllegri: "There's no point thinking about what could happen in March or further down the line. Let's take each game as it comes."— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) September 13, 2016
Fair play, Max. I don’t have any problem with you pouring some water all of the Champions League hype. That final is obviously something that is well, well down the road. For as much as we want Juventus to be partying in Cardiff come the first Saturday in June, there’s a long way to go before that even becomes a remote possibility.
We have the first step come Wednesday night. And, because the Champions League draw is such a lovely thing that we all want to see determine our lives, it’s against one of the same teams Juventus played in last season’s group stage, Sevilla. Yes, the same Sevilla that Juve couldn’t pick up points against on the final day of the group stage that cause the Serie A champions to finish second in the group and subsequently get drawn against Bayern Munich. (Not that I’m bitter about it or anything.)
Sure, this Sevilla is going to be different than that Sevilla. For one, there’s no more Unai Emery roaming up and down the sidelines. Secondly, Fernando Llorente’s lovely face and personality isn’t there to make us remember all of the good times during his days in Turin. Instead, we get Paulo Dybala’s best buddy, Franco Vazquez, sporting the classic red and white of Sevilla.
No matter what the opposition is and who may be playing for said team, this Juventus team enters the Champions League group stage with as much hype and expectations surrounding it in quite some time. Last year, even though the previous season’s squad made it all the way to the final, things were different because of so many changes going down over the summer. This time, with the signings brought in by Beppe Marotta and his team brought in, this Juventus squad is expected to do big things and legitimately challenge for the trophy with big ears.
.@OfficialAllegri: "This season's first hurdle to cross is qualification for the #UCL knockout stages. It's important we start well."— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) September 13, 2016
Keep things grounded as much as you can, Max. You’ve shown that it works before.
While the two aren’t necessarily directly connected, Juventus entered last season’s Champions League opener with all of one point through three Serie A games. This season, Juventus is a perfect 3 for 3 in terms of league wins and are two points clear atop the Serie A table. So yeah, they’re playing well.
Juventus’ history of doing things logically in the Champions League group stage the last few years is basically non-existent. So, if you’re in for a little more stress and some grumpy moments, buckle up because Juve’s about to open up the Champions League group stage in less than 24 hours.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Can Gonzalo Higuain translate his early-season Serie A success to the Champions League?
Short answer: It sure would be nice.
Short answer, Part II: We’ll see. (Sorry.)
Longer answer: If there is ever a way you want you star striker to go into such a big European opener with his new club, it’s how Higuain played on Saturday against Sassuolo. That was, for all intent and purposes, exactly why Juventus paid €90 million to bring the 28-year-old from Naples to Turin. If there was ever a case of Higuain picking up where he left off during his record-breaking 2015-16 campaign, it was in Saturday’s win, a game in which he had a brace within the first 10 minutes. Now, there’s the whole European stage to try and conquer. It’s one thing that some folks are still somewhat leery about when it comes to Higuain’s game. And until he sheds that big-game flopper tag, it’s always going to be attached to him no matter what he does in Serie A each season. Sure, if we had to choose between Higuain getting the game-winning goal in a Champions League game in September or one in June, I think we all know the answer to that one. But, having quite a night against Sevilla would be a good jumping off point.
2. Where will Max Allegri play Miralem Pjanic?
It took a few weeks longer than a lot of us hoped for, but Saturday’s win over Sassuolo provided us with the first official Juventus start of a certain Bosnian midfielder who signed for €32 million from Roma over the summer. Besides the goal that capped Juventus’ early-game rampage to a 3-0 lead after 30 minutes, Pjanic’s debut was quite a good one. And, above all else, we got to see what Allegri potentially had in mind when it comes to utilizing Pjanic’s multifaceted game.
So what does all of this mean? We could think of it as Allegri seeing that Pjanic playing as a holding midfielder maybe wasn’t all that he envisioned. Or maybe it was just a by-product of Juve’s dominating possession numbers against Sassuolo. Deep-lying playmaker or a mezzala-ish kind of role, Pjanic playing like he did against Sassuolo is going to be a huge boost to a Juventus midfield that has looked pretty damn good so far. With the way Mario Lemina and Sami Khedira playing right now, giving Pjanic a little more free reign and having hi play higher up the field is certainly not the worst thing in the world to have happen.
3. Dani Alves on the defensive side of things.
We knew coming in that Alves’ attack-first mindset is something that was never going to change even with him arriving in Italy. Throw in the system and team he played in for years with Barcelona, and the results are what they are. Alves will never be the defensive stalwart that Stephan Lichtsteiner is. And because Lichtsteiner isn’t on the Champions League squad list for the group stage, it’s certainly the Dani Alves show on the right wing for the time being. As Vazquez said on Tuesday, “We’re here to attack.” Well, let’s just hope Alves is around to do some defending, too.
4. Patrice Evra’s first start of the season.
As is usually the case, I assume that Allegri won’t really reveal anything about his starting lineup. Therefore, this was originally a “Patrice Evra or Alex Sandro” kind of discussion. Then Mr. Allegri, for as much as I like him and sometimes appreciate his relative coyness when it comes to his starting lineup talking points, had to go and do this during his pre-match press conference.
.@OfficialAllegri: "@Evra will start tomorrow night." #JuveSFC #UCL— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) September 13, 2016
Okay, so thanks for again making me re-write things when I wasn’t expecting to, Max.
There is no doubting that Evra not only loves this game, but was going to get playing time soon considering he has played all of about five minutes so far this season. It had been the Alex Sandro show on the left wing so far — something that a lot of people probably didn’t mind at all — during the first three Serie A games of the season. Now, we get Uncle Pat and his truckloads of Champions League experience taking a place in the starting lineup for the first time this year. What should we expect? Well, logic tells you that it should be smooth and steady Evra because that’s usually what he does. But, like I said, he’s also played all of about five minutes this season. Against a Sevilla team under Jorge Sampaoli that are going to attack and attack and attack, Juve’s defense is certainly going to be challenged and put under fire. So, in that case, maybe Evra, more of a defensive fullback than Sandro, is the right choice.
MY STARTING LINEUP
Juventus XI (3-4-1-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini; Dani Alves, Sami Khedira, Mario Lemina, Patrice Evra; Miralem Pjanic; Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain
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: ESPN2 (United States); TSN4 (Canada); BT Sport Extra (United KIngdom); PremiumSport HD (Italy)
Online: WatchESPN (mobile app), ESPN3 USA, Fox Soccer 2GO USA (United States)
Other live viewing options can be found here, and as always, you can also follow along with us live and all the stupid things we say on Twitter. If you haven't already, join the community on Black & White & Read All Over, and join in the discussion below.
And don't forget to like our new page on Facebook, either!