Name the season and the Champions League group stage has likely had some Juventus-related moment — or two or three — that had us scratching our heads at the very minimum. Juventus and the Champions League group stage is a unique pairing that usually has us saying “Italians never make things easy” or something along those lines more than just a couple of times.
There have been draws against teams Juve have no business drawing against.
There have been frustrating displays with points being left on the table.
You name it and Juventus have done it in the group stage throughout the last few years as they start each and every European campaign.
Juventus have opened the group stage against good teams before. Have they opened up against a team that has the talent or the prestige that Barcelona has in recent years? Heck no. They’ve been in groups with the current crop of big-time teams — Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Manchester City and so on and so on — but not right out of the gate like this in a decent amount of time.
That’s what makes this encounter so interesting.
It’s not just a big game between two really good teams.
It’s on the European stage. It’s the biggest game of the day. And, despite who Juventus is missing due to injury right now, it’s the chance to see where Max Allegri’s squad really lines up against a team some folks think can do big things in the Champions League this season.
@OfficialAllegri: "@FCBarcelona and @realmadriden are the favourites to win this year's @ChampionsLeague." #FCBJuve #UCL— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) September 11, 2017
Both teams have had very interesting summers. And it wasn’t all because of the clubs signing new players that potentially make them better than they were before. There were high-profile departures, with plenty of transfer drama in between.
Now we get to see what all of the fuss was all about. Juventus aren’t close to being 100 percent. (We’ll get there shortly.) There are plenty of starters who played against Barcelona the last time Juventus visited the Camp Nou not even in Spain right now because they’re injured.
The Champions League is back for another season, boys and girls. Here’s to hoping it’s more than just six games.
Paulo Dybala is a Juventus player. Barcelona doesn’t have Paulo Dybala on its roster.
SO TAKE THAT.
Injuries! Here is a list of players who have not made the trip to Barcelona:
- Claudio Marchisio
- Giorgio Chiellini
- Sami Khedira
- Mario Mandzukic
- Benedikt Howedes
- Juan Cuadrado (suspended)
- Stephan Lichtsteiner (not on UCL squad list)
If you didn’t know any better, you’d think that was the beginning of a pretty solid starting lineup that Allegri would trot out most weeks. But hope, those six players will be watching Juventus take on Barcelona from home in Turin. not at the Nou Camp.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1) Who the hell is going to fill in for all the players missing out?
Sooooooooooo ... yeah.
This is going to be interesting. And it could very well mean that, if Max Allegri sticks with his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, that Stefano Sturaro is going to be starting on the right or the left wing against Barcelona on Tuesday night.
That’s not a joke. It’s not a drill.
Juventus are missing four very important players. In the midfield it’s easier to see the holes being plugged. No Khedira? Okay, Blaise Matuidi is there. Same in defense. No Chiellini? Okay, Andrea Barzagli or Medhi Benatia are there to fill in.
And, theoretically, it should work the same way in attack. There’s no Mandzukic? Okay, Douglas Costa is there to fill the void. There’s no Cuadrado? Okay, Federico Bernardeschi is there to fill the void.
But both being new signings, you never can really play the logic game.
That’s what makes it all so difficult, really. We want to see Costa and Bernardeschi play, but there’s nothing we can do if Allegri thinks they’re either not ready tactically for the big stage or haven’t progressed to his liking. I thought Saturday’s game against Chievo was the perfect time to both give players a rest AND give Bernardeschi his first start as a Juventus player, but obviously that didn’t happen.
I know it’s earth-shattering news, but Max makes the calls, not me.
One of Juventus’ main transfer market objectives this summer was to sign wingers that add a new dynamic to the attack. Both Costa and Bernardeschi are wingers. And there’s a need for wingers against Barcelona. Let’s see if 2 + 2 = 4 when the starting lineups are released.
2) Will all these absences force Allegri to change formations?
Honestly, I ask the question, but I really have idea.
With who’s available for selection, it seems like a Christmas Tree 4-3-2-1 or a 4-3-3 would best suit Juventus heading into Tuesday night’s Champions League opener. But I have no kind of insight on that. I’m sitting here thousands of miles away trying to guess what Allegri is going to do with his starting lineup when his options are limited.
Maybe the starting lineup would be harder to fill out if there weren’t so many players missing due to injury. Maybe all of these players missing means the 4-2-3-1 is simple because there aren’t a lot of decisions to be made.
But at the same time, if Juventus have certain options for certain positions in the 4-2-3-1 — which they do — then it’s simple science. Plug one void with another player and move on, right? (And no, I’m not talking about Sturaro playing as a winger against Barcelona again. Leave that for the International Champions Cup when the games don’t mean a damn thing.)
3) Paulo Dybala’s red-hot form.
Watching Paulo Dybala play this football game thing is pretty fun.
Watching Paulo Dybala play football and be in arguably the best form of his young Juventus career at the same time is just magical.
Dybala has been insanely good since the light went on and the games start counting. With his goal against Chievo over the weekend, he now has five goals in three Serie A games. Throw in the Supercoppa loss to Lazio and he’s got seven goals in four games.
I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty good.
Now, a lot of people have commented how it’s not just the goals that have been impressive when it comes to Dybala’s form right now. And that’s absolutely true. He has, with his new uniform number, absolutely taken complete control of things. His game has gone up another level — and it’s not just because he’s scoring goals.
We know what Dybala did in the first leg of the quarterfinals against Barcelona last season. I’m sure every single Barca defender, coach and supporter remembers what Dybala did against them last season. It was one of the biggest reasons why Juve were able to stretch their European campaign beyond being one of the final eight teams left in the Champions League.
Now, we look to see what this incredibly red-hot Dybala can do against a Barcelona defense that is known to not exactly be on top of things from time to time.
Considering the fact that Juventus will be missing about half of the starting lineup that faced Barcelona last season and Allegri wasn’t afraid to acknowledge that his team will need goals, seeing Dybala do Dybala Things Verson 20017 would be quite lovely. But that’s just one man’s opinion.
MY STARTING XI
Juventus XI (4-3-2-1): Gianluigi Buffon; Mattia De Sciglio, Andrea Barzagli, Daniele Rugani, Alex Sandro; Blaise Matuidi, Rodrigo Bentancur, Miralem Pjanic; Federico Bernardeschi, Paulo Dybala; Gonzalo Higuain
Location: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain
Kick-off time: 8:45 p.m. local time in Spain; 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 2, FOX Deportes (United States); TSN4, RDS 2 (Canada); BT Sport Extra (United Kingdom); PremiumSport HD (Italy)
Online/Mobile: FOX Soccer Match Pass, FOX Sports GO, fuboTV (United States: TSN GO, RDS GO (Canada); Premium Play (Italy)
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