Wednesday was a monumental day for Juventus. Their goalless draw in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League quarterfinal tie against Barcelona sent them to the semifinal draw, and could serve as a launching point for something very special.
Of course, in order to make that special something happen, there are still two more rounds of competition to get through. With the draw set for Friday, Juve don’t have anything to fear. They are fully capable of beating any of the other three teams left in the competition, but there are still best- and worst-case scenarios for the Bianconeri — especially with the home leg of the Derby della Mole and a road game against Roma sandwiched around the dates for the tie.
Here, we take a closer look at all three teams Massimiliano Allegri’s men could be facing, in order from least desirable matchup to most desirable.
A tie with Atleti is just going to be a pain in the rear.
Diego Simeone’s men are easily the most balanced team left in the competition. After Juve they are absolutely the toughest defense in the draw. Anchored by Diego Godin — who seems like he’s always around when a big moment happens — and backed by a fine goalkeeper in Jan Oblak, this is a seriously difficult team to score against.
Up front, the BBC defense and Gigi Buffon will have to contend with Antoine Griezmann, who has scored 24 times between La Liga, the Champions League and the Copa del Rey. He’s backed up by two forwards with plenty of experience in the late rounds of European competition: Fernando Torres, who won both the Champions League and Europa League with Chelsea, and Kevin Gameiro, who won the Europa League three straight times with Sevilla. Yannick Carrasco, usually deployed on the left of a 4-4-2, is another attacking threat, while the midfield trio of Koke, Saul Niguez and Gabi operate the supply lines.
Atleti are one of the only teams that can match Juve in terms of tenacity and tactics, and they are one of the most experienced sides in Europe when it comes to the late stages of the Champions League, having finished as runner-up in two of the last three seasons. Their quest to shake off the bridesmaid label will give them much the same motivation as the 21-year quest for their third European crown does for Juve.
On paper, Juve has what is needed to beat this team, but this is easily the most difficult potential tie in the draw. It could be a grind-it-out affair, which, given the magnitude of Juve’s league games before and during the tie, would be a nasty thing to have to deal with. Given how far out of the title race in Spain Atleti are, they would be able to rest key players before each leg, another thing that would make this tie rough.
The last time these two teams met was in the group stage two years ago. Atleti won at home in the first fixture, and the teams played to a goalless draw in the second, knowing that a point would give them each a spot in the knockout stage.
Don’t let the final result fool you. Real Madrid were in serious danger of getting dumped out of the competition by Bayern Munich before a farcical call by Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai saw Arturo Vidal see his second yellow card, allowing Los blancos to take command of the game in extra time.
That game was totally ruined by Kassai’s inability to keep control of it, and the tie itself was shaped by red cards in both legs — Vidal’s on Tuesday and one earned by Javi Martinez in the first leg — this one entirely deserved after committing two bookable offenses in three minutes. Facing Real a man down is always a daunting task, regardless of how good a team is, and it may not have helped that center-backs Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels may have been less that 100 percent fit.
Real are defined, of course, by Cristiano Ronaldo. Their front line as a whole — the other BBC — can be lethal, although Karim Benzema only has nine league goals this year as opposed to 24 a year ago.
As good as the attack has been, the defense...has had its moments.
In the Round of 16 Napoli managed to slice through them on several occasions, and Bayern had periods in both legs where they utterly dominated Real in each leg before the red cards changed things. For all of Sergio Ramos’ game-saving goals from set pieces, he can be beaten in the back, and the entire unit doesn’t seem as cohesive as others in the competition, especially with Raphael Varane and Pepe out injured.
Real’s M.O. in the knockout round has been to start slow before coming on strong late and overwhelming opponents with the surge. It will be far more difficult to do that playing Juventus. Give Juve early leads they way Napoli (in both legs) and Bayern (in the first leg) received and you could find yourself hammering uselessly at the goal and watching the minutes on the clock bleed by. If that trend continues, Juve could build a lead and make it unassailable before Real can take control.
Real are in a moderately tight race for the La Liga, one that could get a good deal tighter over the weekend if Barcelona manages to win the Classico at the Bernabeu.
Real last played Juventus in the semifinal two years ago, won by the Bianconeri 3-2 on aggregate after Alvaro Morata — now back with Real after a buyback clause ended his two-year stint with Juve — scored the winner late in the second leg.
The surprise team left in the competition, Monaco has ridden a young, dynamic attack to their first semifinal since they lost the final to Porto in the 2003-04 season.
It’s a far cry from the team that Juve beat in the quarterfinals on their way to the final two years ago. That team was borderline incompetent on offense, scoring only seven times throughout the competition. Their biggest threat was Dimitar Berbatov.
Now the attack is lead by a revitalized Radamel Falcao and teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe, who has exploded for 14 goals in all competitions since the beginning of February. Monaco has scored 21 times in this year’s Champions League, including 12 in knockout stage ties against Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund.
Conversely, Monaco’s defense, the great strength of the 2014-15 season, is now a potential vulnerability. The center-back pairing, led by a familiar face in former Torino captain Kamil Glik, is the most ordinary in the competition, and fullbacks Benjamin Mendy and Djibril Sidibe sometimes overcommit to the attack, leaving big holes — the kind someone like Juan Cuadrado could exploit.
The key in this tie would be to use the defense to blunt Monaco’s attack. The BBC will easily be the best defense the principality side has come across, and they may prove a bit too much for a team that has no experience at this level of the competition. If they do turn the tie into a shootout, all best could be off, but it’s likely that Leo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini will be able to keep the games at a reasonable pace.
That quarterfinal two years ago finished 1-0 on aggregate, the difference being a first-leg penalty by Arturo Vidal.
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