The first three weeks of the season were, needless to say, chaotic. Cristiano Ronaldo scored zero goals, Claudio Marchisio signed with Zenit St. Petersburg, and Juventus learned her draws for the Champions League. As ever, the illustrious Chuks recapped the mayhem splendidly.
The topic to which Manu and I now turn is the Champions League — although along the way you’ll discover FIFA ponderings, Manchester United jokes, and other tasty morsels. Onward, as Manu and I talk through each team Juventus have drawn.
Manchester United: A Talented Enigma
Manu C: Hahaha YES! Cue the Gary Neville clip, please.
This is a team that, despite having a lot of talented players, is playing like they hate the manager and each other. Small sample, but their start to the EPL has been absolutely dreadful, and while they finished in second place in the Premier League last year, was anybody really afraid of Manchester United? They got bounced by Sevilla in the knockout rounds in a rather lackluster manner, and they just don’t seem super threatening to me. I like this draw. What do you think, Hunter?
Hunter: Man, this is a funny one. There are the obvious storylines (Paul Pogba back in Turin, Cristiano Ronaldo back at Old Trafford), the hilarious storylines (I feel like Jose Mourinho vs Max Allegri has a chance to be legendarily boring), and the simple epic proportions of these two very historic clubs.
I like Juve’s group as a whole. I think it’s perfect for the team’s mentality and as a test of fortitude. Juve should advance. Juve has got a very strong chance at winning. But neither of those feats is going to be very easy. United is ... whatever. The drama is entertaining. Tactically speaking, though, I’ve got loads of questions about their back four.
MC: Their back four against Paulo Dybala, Douglas Costa, Mario Mandzukic and Cristiano Ronaldo is the key to both of those those matches. And I really like Juve’s odds on that particular matchup. We are talking about the same defense that has allowed six goals in the last couple EPL games and allowed three goals against perennial powerhouse *checks notes* Brighton?
The storylines will be fun, as you mention. I expect flashbacks galore during the pre-match coverage and a warm reception for Pogba and Ronaldo in Turin and Manchester, respectively.
The only caveat I can think of is whether or not Mourinho is still the manager by the time the game rolls around. I don’t see United ,as currently managed, as a huge threat. But if they change managers and get someone to get the club in order? The talent is there.
Hunter: Firing Mourinho — as much as I dislike him — would be a mistake. But I don’t think they’ll do it. If they were going to make that drastic of a change then the summer would’ve been the best time for it.
I think what’s encouraging for Juventus — though potentially for United as well — is that the first game between these two sides doesn’t occur until October. By then, one would imagine that Juve have figured out the best attacking lineup, and maybe the midfield as well. By then, too, United could have figured out what the hell they’re doing wrong. Even if the Red Devils are humming with that talented midfield and very talented attack, I think if Allegri’s boys play well four points out of two matches should be expected.
MC: Agree to disagree on the Mourinho front. I also don’t think they will fire him mid-season, but they should, in my opinion. He has always been a polarizing figure, but it was worth it when the results were there, if they are not then why keep him? Alexis Sanchez has been a shell of himself, he’s openly feuded with Pobga and in general has failed to get the best out of his squad.
Either way, like you mention, October is a long way still. I would be happy with four points, but I don’t think a home and home sweep for Juve is out of the question. They already did it against Manchester City a couple years ago; let’s make it a double.
Valencia: Maybe CR7 Gets Triggered
MC: Considering the only team I wanted avoid on this pot was Liverpool, I’m happy with Valencia.
In my opinion, they are a solid if unimpressive squad. They won’t be an easy out, but I feel Sevilla was more threatening and Juve managed just fine against them. Everything about this team screams to me “Third place in the group with a couple solid outings and a one-way ticket to the Europa League.”
Hunter: The main reason I love the Valencia draw is because it probably scares the heck out of United supporters — or, if it doesn’t, it absolutely should. This is another tie with ex-lover implications, as ex-Juve keeper Neto plays for Valencia and, of course, Joao Cancelo visits his old side.
Sidebar: Maybe playing a Spanish side triggers something in Ronaldo and he scores like 37 goals against his former La Liga goes?
MC: Lifetime, Ronaldo has scored 15 times against Valencia in 17 appearances, with four assists sprinkled in for good measure. So, I agree, I think he enjoys scoring against this side.
Neto! Completely forgot about that guy. I thought he performed well during his time at Juve and didn’t really get a fair shot. That tends to happen when you’re backing up the GOAT, but still. Agreed on the Manchester United front, though, I know I pegged them as the third place team already, but they could absolutely shock United and beat them for the theoretical second spot on the group, they did finish fourth in La Liga last year, plus; I cannot overstate how low I rate United this season, they have been ghastly so far.
Hunter: How ‘bout this hypothetical: Juventus cruise the group, Valencia earn second and knock out United, and then Pogba joins Juventus in January?
MC: I wouldn’t mind that, Hunter. I wouldn’t mind it one bit.
BSC Young Boys: FIFA Mine
MC: Hopp Schwiiz! I can finally use my expertise of the Swiss league for something other than playing FIFA. In high school I did a year abroad, living in the beautiful town of Lucerne, in middle Switzerland. While there, I became acquainted with Swiss football and the league, so I’m very excited to be able to see Young Boys face off against Juve.
They are coming from a rather impressive season, winning the Swiss Super League for the first time in 32 years and finally ending the hegemony of FC Basel domestically. They had to beat Dynamo Zagreb to get into the group stage of the UCL and from the little I have seen from them they seem like a scrappy club. Recently, Swiss clubs have had some impressive showings, with FC Basel making a couple of runs and hilariously beating Manchester United over and over again.
Young Boys seem to be in the same kind of category, I don’t believe they will be pushovers and they will be tough at home. Even so, Juve should be able to beat them with no problem. It will be nice to see the Stade de Suisse in TV though!
Hunter: I’m not even going to lie: My only experience with Young Boys is from two editions of FIFA ago, when Denis Zakaria was an absolutely fantastic player to buy, loan, and then use like five years into a campaign. That kid is now at Borussia Mönchengladbach where I’ve seen him play a couple times. He’s only 21 — I guess I can still get and store him when the new FIFA comes out.
But glad to see there’s one pushover (relatively speaking) in the group. If these kids can grab a point or three of Valencia or United, that would be fantastic.
MC: They might; they are clearly the weakest side in the group, but they are still the Swiss league champions. I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that they put a scare on one of the big clubs. They score goals, with 84 last season and they are great at home. No doubt they can pull off an upset.
Also, Breel Embolo was another FIFA legend, he was a FC Basel forward who now plays for Schalke 04. He injured his ankle real bad last season, so who knows how his actual career might pan out, but his FIFA career was quite something, I’ll tell you.
Hunter: I remember Embolo well. I watched him a couple times, too, since he paired with old boy Marko Pjaca a couple times.
Odds are that Young Boys won’t go through the group without a single point at least — let’s just hope it doesn’t come at our expense.
Closing Time Is Prediction Time
MC: As I mentioned, I only wanted to avoid Liverpool in the group phase. Matter of fact, add Tottenham to the list. I know we beat them last year, but it was close, and their press gives us real issues. To be the best, you gotta beat the best and blah — blah, I know. But can we beat the best later on?
All things considered I’m quite happy with the draw. It’s a more manageable group then the ones we’ve been having for the last couple of years and they should advance in first place, which we know is important in order to get a more favorable Round of 16 draw. If we are making predictions that will totally pan out, I think we sweep United and Young Boys. And draw one of the Valencia games, because Juve will always have at least one weird, weak showing in the group stage.
Hunter: Oh boy, prediction time. I think Juve will sweep Young Boys, split a win and a loss with United, and split a win and a draw with Valencia. The 13 points will help the lads top the group, and darn it’d be nice to draw some favorable, as you say, for the Round of 16.
There’s a chance Juventus will finish second, and fans will erupt with anger. There’s a tiny, tiny chance Juventus don’t make it out of the group, and although I obviously don’t want that to happen the fallout would nevertheless be entertaining. All the same, things kick off soon: September 19, to be exact.