It has been quite a few years since Juventus faced Manchester United in something other than a meaningless friendly. Even though they’ve been two of the biggest names in European football for decades on decades now, the amount of history the two have together in recent years has more to do with transfer market dealings rather than on-field happenings.
That ends Tuesday night.
Juventus’ winning streak in all competitions is now going to be referred to as an unbeaten streak in all competitions thanks to the 1-1 draw with Genoa over the weekend. Those are mere technicalities because I think we can all agree that it’s a fact that Juventus wouldn’t have lost the game if they didn’t serve as their own worst enemy. Juventus often battles Juventus and the unfortunate things that come along with that.
We don’t exactly know what state of mind that this edition of Manchester United is in. But I feel pretty safe in saying that if Juventus does those Juventus-like shenanigans that we saw Saturday night, then it might not be just a second straight game where a possible Juve wins turns into a Juve draw.
I guess what I’m trying to say is this:
- If the Juventus we saw in the last couple of games before the international break shows itself, then things will go according a lot of our respective plans. But...
- If the Juventus we saw against Genoa that can’t get a second goal and then shoots itself in the foot with some boneheaded mistakes, then Group H is about to get that much more interesting at the midway point of the group stage.
No matter what kind of form Manchester United enters this game in — and it’s not like their 2-2 draw against Chelsea over the weekend gave us a lot of hints as to where they currently stand — a win at Old Trafford could go a long way in making the next three group stage games that much more of an advantage for Max Allegri. He will know that his team will have two of the return group fixtures played in Turin, with the possibility of nine points out of a full nine potentially being in the squad’s back pocket as well.
That’s why this game is such a big one.
There’s the storylines of Cristiano Ronaldo returning to his old home where he made his name. There’s Paul Pogba facing the club where he burst onto the scene for the first time. There’s the fact that more than just a couple of people are now talking about Juventus as the favorites to win the whole damn Champions League rather than a sleeper that could do damage if they get into the knockout round.
Another storyline that I’d love to be talking about come a couple of hours after kickoff?
How Juventus is nearly in the knockout phase with three group stage games left to go.
If that doesn’t sound like something that’s appealing, then you can go back to talking about Paul Pogba-to-Juventus transfer rumors if you’d like. I’ve got a couple of Twitter feeds who will eat that kind of stuff up for you.
Juventus top of the group with six points out of a possible six.
That’s good news.
The big injury news on Monday was that Mario Mandzukic was suddenly unavailable due to an injury he suffered in training.
Juventus also are down to zero healthy German midfielders.
Let’s just hope those tests that Emre Can will be undergoing soon come back with some good news because the lack of midfield depth will come back to bite soon, I’m sure.
1) Cristiano Ronaldo on his return to Old Trafford
Just as it does at a lot of big clubs, the No. 7 is one of the kit numbers that has special meaning. At both Juventus and Manchester United, that’s exactly the case.
There will be plenty of nostalgia in the air when Ronaldo takes the Old Trafford field prior to the Champions League anthem blaring over the stadium PA system. And I would like to think that there will still be a few of the Ronaldo No. 7 United jerseys being worn knowing that their former young star is now back after he left for Spain a decade ago.
No matter what the feelings and memories running through the 40,000-something fans Tuesday night, this is going to be true: This is exactly the kind of European game that Juventus brought Ronaldo in for this summer.
Of course, facing big clubs in Europe — yeah, yeah, I know United a struggling again this season but they’ve still got massive cache — is something we also want to still be talking about come March, April and May. But, along the same lines of the trip to Valencia last month, is a big test away from home against a solid opponent where Juve’s lofty European aspirations will be put to the test.
And as long as Ronaldo doesn’t get any unwarranted red cards...
OK, so I won’t go there again.
But when you think about what Juventus want to do in the Champions League this season, it is obviously going to start with their new No. 7 that has been one of the best players ever in this same competition. And, honestly, what better place for him to show just how dangerous his new club can be than where he established himself as one of the best in the world during his time in England?
2) Tinkering in a no Mandzukic world
Dybala will likely make his return to Juventus’ starting lineup Tuesday night.
What kind of formation Allegri will end up using is still to be seen.
In his press conference Monday night, Allegri said that he will be using a back four and try to match United’s numbers in the midfield even though he has just three central midfielders — Miralem Pjanic, Blaise Matuidi and Rodrigo Bentancur — available to him. But, as we know, sometimes what Max says at his press conference doesn’t always turn out to be what happens when the starting lineup is announced an hour before kickoff.
Sky Sport Italia floated out the idea of a three-man defense with Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli as well as Juan Cuadrado in a central midfield role. That’s ... interesting to say the least and maybe a little nerve-wrecking since the big match with talented attacking players isn’t necessarily where you want to see Barzagli appearing in these days.
Other Italian media outlets have gone with the four-man backline, leading to a 4-4-2 setup — which makes sense based on the lack of option in the center of the park.
No matter what, though, Allegri still has options even though there is no Mandzukic due to injury. Don’t worry, though, you know damn well Mr. No Good will be screaming at his television back in Turin the second that ball is kicked off at Old Trafford.
3) Just what side of Manchester United will show up
For the sake of the argument, here is Juventus’ form in all competitions the past six games:
And, to get to the argument, here is United’s form in all competitions the past six gsmes:
United’s season has been full of drama. Lots and lots and lots of drama. Some of it has to do with what they’ve been unable to do on the field. Maybe just as much of it has to do with the guy who’s filling out the team sheet before every game and the attention that he brings to everything he does.
No matter what, though, this United, no matter how many big transfer moves they’ve made and who Jose Mourinho has available to him, has come nowhere close to the potential it has on paper.
That’s the thing about this team these days. You see the names they have, the talent on their roster — at least in midfield, in attack and who they have starting for them between the sticks — and think about just how good they could be. But they aren’t. United, on top of their recent form the last few weeks, have just been a mess from the start of the season. And it’s not like there are signs that things are getting better.
There are probably people who are surprised that Mourinho made it to the first group stage meeting with Juventus. Based on how United started the season, I’m probably going to fall in that camp. But he’s still around, still getting in sideline dust-ups, still being ... Mourinho.
And, for all we know, that could work out perfectly for Juventus come Tuesday night.
When: Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018
Where: Old Trafford, Manchester, England
Official kickoff time: 8 p.m. local time in England and the United Kingdom; 9 p.m. in Italy and across Europe; 3 p.m. Eastern Time; 12 noon Pacific Time
HOW TO WATCH
Television: TNT USA, Univision Deportes, Univision Deportes En Vivo, Watch TNT, Univision NOW, Univision (United States); Eleven Sports 2 UK (United Kingdom); Sky Calcio 2, Sky Sport Uno (Italy)
Online/mobile: B/R Live, Univision Deportes En Vivo (United States); DAZN (Canada); SKY Go Italia (Italy)
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