It seems a little odd considering it’s game two of six in the Champions League group stage, but I can’t help but think one thing and one thing only: Must-win. It could be a short-sighted kind of view, but that’s the only way this rare trip to Croatia should be approached. Greedy? Yes. Necessary? Yes, that, too.
That’s mainly because of how Juventus played in its first Champions League group stage game. Sorry, folks, it actually happened.
Juventus heads to Croatia in need of points. That’s always the case when Juventus plays, of course, but considering how things went in the first game of this here group stage, the need for points is just that much greater. The scoreless draw against Sevilla was not only something that nobody wanted to see happen in the first European game of the season, but also the kind of performance that put Juve down the 8-ball a little bit.
Don’t believe me? That’s basically what Miralem Pjanic had to say about things in an interview with Sky Italia on Sunday.
“This week we spoke about last weekend’s disappointing loss at Inter. (Massimiliano) Allegri explained to us the areas we needed to work on and our reaction has yielded two victories. We’re now focused on Dinamo Zagreb.
“We both want and need to win, playing well and imposing our style of play on the match because it will be difficult, but our objective remains that of finishing top of the group.”
If those aren’t direction intentions being declared, then I don’t know what is.
Juventus has had its customary Champions League clunker where we are all left with a higher blood pressure than we probably planned on having. There was no jubilation like there was in last season’s opener against Manchester City. None of that. Juventus’ showing against Sevilla simply rehashed the issues that this team has had in Europe over the past few seasons.
At least for one night, Tuesday is the chance to squash those fears.
Juventus are the favorites in the group, favorites in this game, favorites in a lot of our hearts. Okay, so that last part is a given because why else would you be here, right? We may not know much about Dinamo Zagreb because of where they play, but we do know plenty about Juventus already this season. The biggest one is easy to figure out, too.
Sometimes it’s tough with this team in Europe. Sometimes that’s because they make it hard on themselves more than anything. Sometimes I wish that wasn’t the case.
Thank you, Giorgio. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Now go out and do it.
We get to hear the Champions League anthem again. I guess that’s cool.
Juventus’ performances lately haven’t exactly been consistent. Unless you’re talking about “consistently inconsistent,” then you’re pretty much right on point. And considering that Juventus could be running the risk of seeing the margin between the top of the table and themselves get even bigger if they don’t want against Dinamo Zagreb, well, I think we all know what needs to happen.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Does having only three healthy central defenders force Max Allegri to change his formation?
Probably not, but considering what injury news we just heard about on Sunday, there’s always going to be that lingering thought in the back of my head that something just might happen. Allegri has three healthy center backs. He could have a fourth and a guy who’s capable as playing in a 3-5-2 if need be, but he’s going to be sitting back in Turin because he wasn’t even included in the Champions League group stage squad list. So basically injuries to Daniele Rugani and Medhi Benatia may force Allegri to use a back four in due time, but we just don’t know when. I don’t know if such an incredibly important game would be Allegri’s best spot to rock the boat a little bit and shift from 3-5-2 to 4-3-whatever. So if we do see a 3-5-2, I’m not going to be mad. They need a spark, sure, but they also don’t need to be taking huge risks that will cause this team to struggle even more than it has already. Juventus need points, and if it’s a 3-5-2 that Allegri feels will be the best way to go about it, then that’s fine with me.
2. Can Paulo Dybala break his duck for the season?
Regardless of the formation, Dybala is going to be a key man for Juventus come Tuesday night. That’s not breaking news to anybody. But Dybala, before his day off over the weekend against his former side in Palermo, had not exactly been playing up to the level that we have seen him at so many times in his short yet impressive Juventus career. The idea is, now that he’s gotten his first game off of the season, that he will come back fresh and ready to lead the Juventus attack in a game they really do need to get all three points in. The explosiveness will return and the extremely high potential that the Dybala-Gonzalo Higuain partnership, one dubbed ‘HD’ in the Italian press, can start to produce goals in a regular basis — both for themselves and for the team as a whole. We know it’s been a struggle for Dybala recently because he told us so. We know it’s a struggle that has caused Dybala’s confidence to dip a little bit because he told us so. But you gotta know that once Dybala gets a goal or two, the confidence will return — and so will that lovely smile of his.
Do those awesome things you do on the field, Paulo. We miss seeing you celebrate.
3. Hernanes in the center of Juventus’ midfield.
I ask this question because I saw this floating around the internet on Sunday:
Okay, so, if you notice, that’s Hernanes’ Twitter handle being included in the starting midfield. If Allegri used their actual Twitter handles when talking, that would have been wonderful, but I don’t think he did that. There’s no Claudio Marchisio (obviously) and there’s no Mario Lemina, the guy who has been playing in Marchisio’s place for pretty much the entire season thus far. It’s going to be Hernanes’ show tomorrow night because when you consider the other two players included, there’s no question who will be playing as Juve’s holding midfielder. And I’ll be more than okay with saying that the last time Hernanes played, he was pretty dang good. That’s something we haven’t exactly said often since he became a Juventus player, that’s for sure. So if that happens again, it will certainly be a welcome addition to a Juventus midfield that certainly looked more than a little disjointed during the trip to Sicily over the weekend.
4. What, exactly, Dinamo Zagreb are all about?
Here’s how the last few major Dinamo Zagreb pieces of news we know about have gone:
- They have just seen two of their best players, Marko Pjaca and Marko Rog, leave the club and head to Juventus and Napoli, respectively, during the summer transfer window.
- They qualified for the Champions League group stage despite those two players ultimately leaving the club this summer.
- Their first Champions League group stage was a 3-0 loss at the hands of Lyon even though the French side was playing without star striker Alexandre Lacazette.
So that’s been Dinamo Zagreb’s world the last, oh, six or eight weeks.
Does all of this mean Juventus are just going to stroll into town, cruise for 90 minutes and still win by a couple of goals? Of course not. We’ve learned enough times already this season that the potentially perceived as easy isn’t exactly what we want it to be. Palermo struggling to do much of anything right? Ha! Got em! No, not quite like we thought. Zagreb could be the team that got thumped 3-0 in France a couple of weeks ago. Or they could prove to be a pain in our collective asses and make Juventus’ trip to Croatia a complete 90-minute ride full of frustration and all of those wonderful feelings. (Feelings not actually wonderful.) That’s almost as interesting as which Juventus team is going to show up, I guess. We know what Juve is all about. This Zagreb team? Not so much.
MY STARTING LINEUP
Juventus XI (3-5-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini; Dani Alves, Sami Khedira, Hernanes, Miralem Pjanic, Alex Sandro; Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala
Location: Stadion Maksimir, Zagreb, Croatia
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
Online: ESPN3 USA, Fox Soccer 2GO USA, WatchESPN (United State); BT Sport Extra (United Kingdom); RSI La 2 (Italy)
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