Through the first two of their six Champions League group stage games, how would we describe Juventus’ European showing so far? Kinda Good? Bad? Something in the middle? Still too early to actually determine something of note? There are probably a few different ways to go about it, but I think there’s at least one description for a performance in which Juventus has yet to come through with so far this season:
You can chalk that up to Juventus being an incomplete product to begin the season, which is not wrong. You can chalk that up to Juventus having plenty of injuries to deal with up and down the roster. You can chalk it up to a lot of things.
But the main thing is that Juventus needs to be better from top to bottom both domestically and in Europe.
Wednesday night brings Juventus its latest Champions League challenge, one that sees the team they’re currently tied with in the Group D standings, Sporting CP, make their way to Turin. Both teams sit on three points through the first two group stage games. And with the rest of the pack chasing Barcelona, the next 180 minutes of European football for Juventus, which both just so happen to be against Sporting, have become all the more important.
@OfficialAllegri: "If we win these two games vs @SportingCP_en, we're through to the #UCL knockout stages. That's our aim." #JuveSCP— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) October 17, 2017
Is it as simple as that? Of course it is.
But, as we know, Juventus and “simple” don’t exactly go together all the time during the Champions League group stage (and probably beyond that, too).
Juventus aren’t playing good ball right now. It’s nothing close to it, really. Max Allegri can point to where his team is in the standings, what time of year it is and how they’re going to be looking to fix the mistakes that have hindered them in recent games — cough cough Atalanta and Lazio cough cough — and that’s all fine and good. But it’s one thing to talk about it, it’s another thing to go out and actually do it.
We want to see Juventus back up it’s talk. Allegri says his team is “working towards being in a strong position on all fronts come the spring” and that’s all good and fine. But the current product, one that has seen it’s €90 million striker struggle in front of goal and a defense that has been the backbone of its success over the last half-decade suddenly become less-than-stellar. That’s not the Juventus we know, it’s not the Juventus that we want to see nor is it the one that needs to show its face if the club wants to even have a chance of competing on all three fronts during the spring.
Sporting’s visit to Turin is important for Europe, but it’s also important for club for this simple fact: They need to get their act together and play to their potential.
Juventus has rarely looked like a finished product at this time of year. Let’s remember, they’ve only played about 15 percent of their league schedule to date. But while we see Napoli score goals in bunches and pick up impressive wins in the process, we’ve rarely seen Juventus leave the field after any given day
We may see Juve with a sense of urgency on Wednesday night. We may see Juve have another frustrating showing. We just don’t know what kind of team is going to show up these days. And maybe that’s the worst part of it all.
Juventus’ injury list is shrinking. I haven’t been able to type that lately.
Have you seen Juventus’ overall product in their last couple of games? Yeah, I’m not much of a fan of all that, either, my friends.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1) Which center back not named Daniele Rugani will play?
If you’re mad about us beating this dead horse, you’re just going to have to keep dealing with it for the foreseeable future.
Out of the the current form of Rugani, Andrea Barzagli and Medhi Benatia, I think it’s safe to say that the first name of the group is the best of the bunch and the most deserving to start alongside Giorgio Chiellini on Wednesday night.
But when it comes to who will actually be playing, Rugani isn’t the one people think will be in the starting lineup.
It’s not because he’s doing poorly, obviously, but Allegri looks set to continue the new series called “Why the hell isn’t Daniele Rugani playing?” that is so popular around these parts these days.
Some predicted lineups say it will be Barzagli next to Chiellini. Others say it will be Benatia. The only thing that isn’t being said is that Rugani will be in the starting lineup — which is becoming a bigger and bigger puzzle to try and solve as the weeks go by.
Juventus’ defense hasn’t been all that great lately, which can be turned into its own kind of debate as to why that’s happening. But even when it seems like some kind of consistency would be at least the start of a step or two in the right direction, that doesn’t seem like the way Allegri wants to go. (Same with playing Rugani, right?)
So now we wait to see who plays alongside who and how Rugani will be sitting on the bench come the opening whistle in a European game once more. It doesn’t make sense, it will continue to not make sense and it’s just head-scratching bad at this point. Not that Barzagli or Benatia playing poorly again on Wednesday night is going to help Allegri’s continued decision to not playing in the Champions League.
2) How Juventus’ midfield plays if Miralem Pjanic can’t go?
It hasn’t taken us many games of Pjanic and his 94 percent pass success rate being out injured to realize the value of the 27-year-old Bosnian to Juventus’ midfield and starting lineup as a whole.
By the way Allegri made things sound on Tuesday, a decision as to whether Pjanic would be available to start is still up in the air. So, that basically means that we won’t know if Pjanic is healthy enough to go from the start until starting lineups are announced an hour before kickoff.
If Pjanic can go, then he should be in there without question.
But if he can’t, which direction should Juventus go in?
There’s still no Claudio Marchisio in the match day squad as he continues to work his way back to full health, so there goes the easiest option to replace Pjanic.
Does this mean it’s basically between Rodrigo Bentancur and Sami Khedira?
If it is, then who ya got?
As Bentancur got more and more playing time in Khedira’s absence, he was at least able to provide a share of the creativity in the midfield that lacked with Pjanic also missing out. You can’t really say that when both Blaise Matuidi and Sami Khedira are playing together, although the latter did look good in his return to the starting lineup over the weekend.
But a Pjanic-Matuidi tandem in the center of the midfield is what we’re looking and hoping for here. Let us have our beloved Mire and all of his creativity back in the starting lineup again, Max.
3) The Stefano Sturaro Extravaganza at right back.
Okay, I’ll make a confession: Stefano Sturaro hasn’t been as bad of a move as it could have been. My initial reactions to it have basically been something the lines of “lol,” but I guess it’s one of the few realistic things that Allegri could have done to try and make up for the fact that Stephan Lichtsteiner is not on the Champions League squad list and Matteo De Sciglio is still out injured.
Now, Sturaro playing right back against Sporting isn’t a certainty. As Allegri outlined at his pre-match press conference on Tuesday, it’s basically Sturaro or Barzagli at right back against the Portuguese side.
But would Allegri really run risk of having just one backup center back on the bench come the start of Wednesday night’s game?
And, on top of that, has his view of Sturaro’s positive performances at right back basically ensured that he will be starting there against Sporting?
We all know how coy Allegri can be when it comes to speaking of his potential starting lineup. There are no natural right backs available to him, so basically throwing out the “Barzagli or Sturaro” line of reasoning surprisingly nobody.
There isn’t really a “right” kind of move here since none of them are really all that great as right backs. But with Sporting featuring a talented attack, maybe having an actual natural defender out there like Barzagli is the way to go. Or maybe having somebody with a little more mobility and pace like Sturaro is the right way to go even though he isn’t a natural right back.
I don’t know. I really have no overlying preference here. Just play somebody who won’t screw up all that much.
MY STARTING XI
Juventus XI (4-2-3-1): Gianluigi Buffon; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Daniele Rugani, Giorgio Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Miralem Pjanic, Blaise Matuidi; Douglas Costa, Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic; Gonzalo Higuain
Location: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy
Kick-off time: 8:45 p.m. local time in Italy; 7:45 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 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/Mobile: FOX Soccer Match Pass (United States); TSN GO (Canada); xx (United Kingdom); Premium Play (Italy)
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