At some point in each Champions League season, playing one of Europe’s fellow big boys in the knockout round is just a reality Juventus will have to face. Sometimes it doesn’t happen until you can count the other participants in the competition on one hand, sometimes it happens right off the bat in the Round of 16.
This year, it’s the Champions League quarterfinals.
We sit here on the third day of April maybe still wondering how Juve were able to play 15-20 minutes of good football and advance past Tottenham, the next challenge sits right in front of them. That is Real Madrid, the same club they’ve seen in Champions League at some point in time during three of Max Allegri’s four years in charge as manager.
(Insert “Do you remember last year’s Champions League final?” here.)
Sure, the likely narrative will be Juventus trying to enact revenge for what happened in Cardiff last June. And last season’s Champions League final is something that Mr. Allegri himself addressed at his pre-match press conference on Monday because of course he was going to be asked about it by somebody. That’s the easy way to approach it — and you know there will be people who have done that already and will do that on pre-game shows in the minutes prior to kickoff.
But here are things that will cross my head well before bringing up last season’s Champions League final:
- Cristiano Ronaldo is, again, playing out of his mind in the Champions League this season.
- If Juve’s midfield struggle against Tottenham, how are they going to survive against a much better unit that Real Madrid can throw out there?
- Is this the game where Daniele Rugani gets one of the biggest starts of his young career?
- Is this the game where Rodrigo Bentancur gets THE biggest start of his even younger career?
Some of these things will be address downpage, others will obviously be ones that we won’t know until 45 or even 90 minutes after kickoff happens.
No matter what, though, Real Madrid, one of Juventus’ most frequent European opponents over the last decade, will prove to be one of the biggest tests Allegri’s team will have faced this season. They may have been a relatively hard formula to figure out when it comes to their form in La Liga, but they’ve figured things out ever since they had some hard times against Spurs in the group stage. (Hey, it’s almost like Tottenham is pretty good, too, huh?)
Juventus facing Real Madrid has all the makings of a European classic between two of Europe’s biggest and most-storied clubs.
It doesn’t matter what happened last year. It doesn’t happened what happened a couple of years ago.
Juventus has the chance to extend this wild and sometimes unpredictable European run — and this step of the game begins in front of the hometown crowd that will be packed into Allainz Stadium like there’s nowhere to go once they get to their seats.
Juventus, somehow, got passed Tottenham and is now about to play in the Champions League quarterfinals. That’s good news, right? Right.
- Medhi Benatia suspended.
- Miralem Pjanic suspended.
- Federico Bernardeschi back training, but not called up.
- Cristiano Ronaldo, still a Real Madrid player.
There you go, folks.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1) Okay, so how the hell are Juventus going to stop Cristiano Ronaldo?
Oh, dear god.
First we had to worry about Lionel Messi in the group stage. Now we have to worry about Ronaldo over two legs of a knockout round matchup. This is some kind of sick joke.
But it’s not like the first time we’ve basically had to see two of the best players ever for multiple games in the same season. It’s almost like it happened last year, too. And in 2015 ... in the span of a month.
Look, completely stopping Ronaldo, who again is the Champions League’s top scorer this season, is probably going to take the game of their lives from Giorgio Chiellini and Allegri’s pick between Daniele Rugani or Andrea Barzagli. It will need absolute defensive perfection. And as much as Juve’s defense has rebounded from its early-season struggles, it’s not like they’re playing picture-perfect games these days. There are still mistakes, still moments where things go awry.
Those things happen against Ronaldo, then he’s making you pay and jumping up in the air with his back to the crowd as he makes it all about him.
I really, really don’t want it to happen. That’s mainly because it seems like it’s always happening when Juventus plays Real Madrid in recent years.
2) Paulo Dybala.
Real Madrid’s defense is not perfect. You look at their Champions League record this year, and you notice that the only team they’ve shut out thus far is APOEL Nicosia.
Let me repeat: APOEL freakin’ Nicosia.
On top of that, Real Madrid has allowed 33 goals in 30 league games.
That isn’t a massive change from what the case was last season for Real Madrid, but it’s an important one because it shows how they are susceptible to goals. And, last time I checked, Juventus has a couple of pretty good goal scorers on its roster.
As much as we can talk about Gonzalo Higuain and “the big game” issues he’s had over the years, Dybala is the one that has been the engine of Juve’s attack in recent weeks. We saw it in the 3-1 win over Milan on Saturday night — as dangerous as he is when he’s scoring goals (and the goal he scored was oh-so-pretty), but he can also be the one who makes things happen.
Dybala is truly showing himself to be in great form once again — and what a lovely sign that is knowing Juve’s Champions League and Serie A statuses will be determined over the next couple of weeks.
And against a defense that is far from perfect, an in-form Dybala can do some things. Like, some really good things. That sure would be enjoyable. I mean, it was 12 months ago that Dybala did some really good things against a Spanish side in the Champions League quarterfinals during the first leg in Turin.
3) Who replaces Miralem Pjanic?
There are three legitimate options for this one:
- Claudio Marchisio
- Rodrigo Bentancur
- Nobody — at least positionally.
We’ve seen Allegri use a three-man midfield a lot this season. But we’ve also seen him use a 4-2-3-1 formation at times in recent weeks, thus the chance that Allegri could very well just go with Blaise Matuidi and Sami Khedira in the center of the park and leave us all to pray to the high heavens that Juve don’t get absolutely killed in the process.
The head says Marchisio should play because in a game that is likely going to see some pretty pressure-packed moments, Principino’s attributes are made perfectly for it.
But Bentancur is the wild card. He impressed on international duty last week with Uruguay, with Tuttosport hyping up the possibility of Allegri starting the young midfielder this time last week. It would be the biggest development in a season where Bentancur has mostly played as an option late in games rather than being in the midfield rotation on a consistent basis with the likes of Marchisio and others.
Ah, decisions, decisions. Not many decisions, but extremely important ones.
So, while we count down to when the starting lineups will be announced an hour before kickoff, there’s just one more thing to think about when it comes to this topic...
Who should start in place of Miralem Pjanic?
This poll is closed
MY STARTING XI
Juventus XI (4-3-2-1): Gianluigi Buffon; Mattia De Sciglio, Daniele Rugani, Giorgio Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Sami Khedira, Claudio Marchisio, Blaise Matuidi; Paulo Dybala, Douglas Costa; Gonzalo Higuain
When: Tuesday, April 3, 2018
Where: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy
Kickoff 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
HOW TO WATCH
Television: Fox Sports 1, FOX Deportes (United States); TSN4, RDS 2, beIN Sports Canada (Canada); BT Sport 2 (United Kingdom); PremiumSport HD (Italy)
Online/Mobile: FOX Soccer Match Pass, FOX Sports GO, fuboTV (United States); RDS GO, fuboTV Canada, TSN GO, beIN SPORTS CONNECT Canada, DAZN Canada (Canada); BT Sport Live (United Kingdom); Premium Play (Italy)
Other live viewing options can be found here, and as always, you can also follow along with us live and all the stupid things we say on Twitter. If you haven’t already, join the community on Black & White & Read All Over, and join in the discussion below.
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