After Juventus’ 2-0 win over Pescara on Sunday afternoon, the message from Max Allegri was the same as it was the weekend before. “Now we can think of Barcelona.” The mindset from Allegri was exactly the same, the message to his players and to the media was the same as it was seven days earlier. As much as we thought Pescara could be a slip-up game because of what’s next on the schedule, the cliché but effective one-game-at-a-time approach has been clearing working with the fixtures so jam-packed.
The one main difference going into the second leg is the obvious one.
Last Tuesday night it was about potentially getting a lead against Barcelona with the second leg being in Spain. This Wednesday night, it’s going to be about making sure Barcelona doesn’t pull a rabbit out of their hat for the second straight knockout round and flip the script on an aggregate scoreline. That means defending a lead, not trying to simply acquire it.
Juventus controls its own destiny to reach the Champions League semifinals for the second time in three seasons under Allegri’s watch. There’s no denying that. When you’re 3-0 heading into the second leg, no matter who you are playing, you have to feel pretty good about your chances about advancing to the next round.
And for Juventus, that next round is the Champions League semifinals.
It’s something we thought was possible entering the first leg against Barcelona. Maybe a 3-0 scoreline in Juve’s back pocket wasn’t something that many people were considering entering last Tuesday’s quarterfinal opener at Juventus Stadium. I know I would have been happy with a win. But a 3-0 win? Well, hell, that sure is somethin’!
Now Juventus head to Spain with the chance to get to the Champions League semifinals for the second time in Max Allegri’s three seasons in charge. The odds have changed drastically over the past week, both for Barcelona and for Juventus. One team is in the driver’s seat, the other one is going to try and pull a rabbit out of its hat for the second straight knockout round in Europe.
“The picture tomorrow is very simple for us. To get past Barcelona — a side for whom we have great respect — we need to defend well and attack well. If we do that, we can take a small step towards the final in Cardiff, no more and no less.”
One small step for Max Allegri, one giant step for Juventus? Okay, that’s just me trying to be funny, but there’s a little more on the line Wednesday night at Camp Nou than just a “small step” in the Champions League.
Juventus is up 3-0 on aggregate. That’s good!
The last time Barcelona played a second leg in the Champions League knockout rounds, they completed a historic comeback. So, basically, they’re capable of scoring a lot of goals in any single game, but you probably knew that already based on who’s playing.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1) How does Max Allegri play it?
We’ve already discussed this in the actual article and comment section in CH’s breakdown of the first game as well as what could come in the second leg earlier in the week. Like I said, though, that was Juventus trying to get the lead against Barcelona. This time around, it’s Juventus trying to defend the lead.
Allegri’s words sound simple: “We need to defend well and attack well.” That makes me think that Juventus won’t completely park the bus from the get-go and have Barcelona end up with 85 percent of the possession.
That’s the way it should be, too.
You will hear a lot of the typical analysis entering the game — namely “Italians know how to defend so watch Juventus defend as much as possible” — because that’s the easy way to do it. It will probably be more about Barcelona than it is Juventus. But what Juventus need to do is not just defend. They can go ahead and defend like they did last week, that would be fine. But an all-defense mindset could very well put Juventus in trouble. Why? Because there won’t be many games this season — or, hell, the next few seasons — in which Leo Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar will be off like they were in the first leg. (Scroll down for more on them, by the way.)
2) Gonzalo Higuain’s continued in-form play.
How does six goals in his last four appearances sound? Good, right?
It’s funny to think that the one game over the last two weeks where Higuain didn’t score a brace was the biggest game of them all against Barcelona last week. That caused the usual narrative that he’s a big-game no-show and that it was just the same old Gonzalo who doesn’t score the big goals. Sure, he had chances. Not just one scoring chance, but a couple of really good ones where we’ve seen him find the back of the net time and time again whether he was wearing a Real Madrid, Napoli or even a Juventus jersey.
Now we look to see what Higuain can do in his second chance against Barcelona.
Like I said in the preview for the first leg, this is the kind of form that you want Higuain playing in going into such a huge game. You don’t do what he’s done over the past couple of weeks and not have your confidence keep going up and up and up.
We’ve seen Higuain carry the offense with his goals. We saw Paulo Dybala carry the offense against Barcelona in the first leg with his pair of goals. Together? We haven’t had a lot of games where they’re both on the scoresheet. That sure would be nice, wouldn’t it...
Speaking of Dybala...
3) Paulo Dybala’s health and effectiveness.
Dybala trained on Tuesday afternoon. Dybala was on Allegri’s team sheet on Tuesday afternoon. Dybala made the flight to Barcelona on Tuesday afternoon. All of these things are good things. And that probably means that Dybala, the man who scored two brilliant goals against Barcelona in the first leg, will be in the starting lineup on Wednesday night.
I don’t want to speculate, but I’m going to speculate on this one.
Dybala’s status for the second leg against Barcelona wasn’t really known when he had to be subbed off against Pescara over the weekend. We didn’t know if he would miss just a couple of days or a couple of weeks. There were reports that Dybala trained away from the group on Monday, which could have meant that he was just starting to get back to normal or that Juve were just being cautious. But once he stepped out onto the Vinovo training field 24 hours later for training before Juventus left for Spain, it seemed like all those fears went floating up into the sky and disappeared.
Dybala training with the full team once again was quite a good sign. Heck, much of anything Dybala does that shows us the ankle injury he suffered in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Pescara is a thing of the past is going to be a good thing.
If Dybala is anywhere close to being on fire as he was against Barcelona in the first leg, then Allegri’s desire to attack on top of defend will be that much closer to being achieved. And if Dybala wants to spin in another goal or two with that magical left foot of his, that would certainly be okay with a lot of people, too.
4) Juventus’ defense vs. MSN: Part Deux.
Just because this isn’t the No. 1 talking point like it was before the first leg doesn’t mean that it’s any less important. So much of Barca’s offense comes from these three bad, bad dudes. And knowing how off they were in the first leg in Turin, you have to think that they will be out to prove a point in front of their home fans on Wednesday.
That’s why Juventus’ play on defense may well prove to be in more important than last Tuesday night.
Barcelona had chances to get on the scoreboard in the first leg. But to see Messi, Suarez and Neymar misfire the way they did in Turin was certainly more of the exception rather than the rule. They’re three of the best around, three of the most dangerous players at their respective positions in the business. They’re going to miss some of the scoring chances they had at Juventus Stadium a good portion of the time going forward.
Of course, this doesn’t simply boil down to Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. This is about Dani Alves and Alex Sandro, Mario Mandzukic and Juan Cuadrado, too. Just pencil everybody in because that’s pretty much how Juventus were able to do such a good job in the first leg.
The good thing is that Juventus have a bit of wiggle room heading into the second leg. But what you don’t want to see is said wiggle room suddenly disappear and this to start looking like what happened to Paris Saint-Germain a few weeks back.
MY STARTING XI
Juventus XI (4-2-3-1): Gianluigi Buffon; Dani Alves, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Sami Khedira, Miralem Pjanic; Juan Cuadrado, Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic; Gonzalo Higuain
Location: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain
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: Fox Sports 1, ESPN Deportes USA (United States); TSN1, TSN4 (Canada); BT Sport 2 (United Kingdom); Canale 5, PremiumSport HD, RSI La 2 (Italy)
Online: Fox Sports GO, WatchESPN, Fox Soccer 2GO USA (United States); TSN GO (Canada); BT Sport Live Streaming (United Kingdom); Premium Play (Italy)
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