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Champions League Preview: Juventus vs. Lokomotiv Moscow

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Juventus v Bayer Leverkusen: Group D - UEFA Champions League Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images

The midway point of the Champions League group stage seems to always sneak up on me. I don’t know why, but it happens each and every year. I don’t really know why I haven’t learned my lesson by now seeing as this is far from Juve’s first rodeo in Europe’s premier club competition, but so be it.

By the time Juventus finishes off the second game of this seven-games-in-22-days stretch, the midway point of the Champions League group stage will be upon all four teams in Group D.

And, quite possibly, Juventus could hit the midway point in really, really good shape, too.

The relative crowded top of the Group D standings could shake out a little bit come the end of Lokomotiv Moscow’s visit to Turin to face the Italian champions Tuesday night, with Juventus only holding onto the top spot right now thanks to a better goal differential. Perceived as the worst side in the group, Lokomotiv made some noise on the first day of the group stage when they handed Bayer Leverkusen a 1-0 loss, the same German side that Juventus handled with relative ease the last time that the Champions League anthem was coming over the public address system at Allianz Stadium.

Juventus manager Maurizio Sarri, who has seen his side get better and better as they’ve become more and more comfortable in his complex system, has every right to call this a trap game. It’s more of a trap game than Juve’s trip to Russia in a couple of weeks, even though that long haul across Europe will have its own unique challenges. Juve are obviously playing well right now, be it coming off a dominant performance over Bologna over the weekend or the fact the last European opponent to come into Turin left with its tail between its leg after getting thoroughly handled by Juve’s impressive early-October form.

But this is a trap game because of where each of the two clubs were projected to finish before the Champions League group stage began.

It’s a trap game because Juventus are playing at Allianz Stadium, where the bianconeri have failed to drop points through the first two months of the 2019-20 season in all competitions.

And it’s a trap game because Juve players are probably feeling pretty good about how they’re playing these days, which might cause them to feel a little too comfortable against an opponent they are obviously much better than.

But, as Lokomotiv Moscow proved on the very first day of the group stage, even a team that is projected to be the better side can get caught napping if they aren’t ready to play.

Juventus don’t have a big game over the weekend to potentially look ahead to the last time it had a European fixture midweek. Juve handled business that time before the Derby d’Italia at the San Siro, beating Bayer Leverkusen. This weekend is another game away from Turin, sure, but it’s not like there’s going to be anything close to the same amount of hype surrounding a trip to Lecce as there was with the short voyage over to Milan.

That means all eyes should be on Lokomotiv Moscow.

And the end result could very well be first place in Group D belonging solely to Juventus if business is once again taken care of on the European stage at Allianz Stadium.

TEAM NEWS

  • As opposed to over the weekend when Maurizio Sarri said that Aaron Ramsey was going to be back in the squad for the Bologna match, Juve’s first-year manager said he “doesn’t think” Ramsey will be included in Tuesday night’s match day squad. So there’s that, which means this muscle injury that he picked up before the international break is proving to be something that lingers and subsequently annoys the hell out of us.
  • Also from Sarri’s press conference: Danilo is healthy, but doesn’t have 90 minutes in his legs yet. That was no indication given as to whether that means Juan Cuadrado will keep his starting spot at right back or not, but it could be a decent enough hint.
  • Also from Sarri’s press conference: He’s happy to have Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain around. (Funny, so are we!)
  • Also from Sarri’s press conference: He’s happy with the development of Adrien Rabiot and has always believed in the Frenchman’s qualities. (But you’re probably thinking what I’m thinking, too: Blaise Matuidi will be back in the starting lineup on Tuesday night.)
  • One last thing from Sarri’s press conference: “I think that we’re on the right path.” He also noted how many more scoring opportunities the squad is creating as opposed to the beginning of the season, which is true and obviously a good sign going forward.

JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH

I feel like, at the current stages of the Champions League and the development under Sarri, it’s hard to avoid going back to the well. And, in this case, the Argentinian well.

So, a player to watch? One of these two fellas...

Atletico Madrid v Juventus - UEFA Champions League Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

Is taking both Dybala and Higuain a cop out when we pretty much know that only one of them is going to be starting on Tuesday night? Yeah, sure, go ahead and say that if you must.

But that’s the thing. As we sit here hours before a game on Oct. 22, we still are taking it on a game-by-game basis as to who’s going to start between Dybala and Higuain alongside of Cristiano Ronaldo. Higuain might keep his place from over the weekend against Bolgona, and that would be perfectly OK with the way he has been playing lately. Or Dybala might make his return to the starting lineup after an impressive showing in the Derby d’Italia on the eve of the international break, and that would be perfectly OK, too, with the way he has played pretty much all season.

So, basically, this player is known as The Guy Who Starts Next To Ronaldo.

Got a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

The predicted strike partner to Ronaldo is Dybala, according to Tuesday morning’s edition of La Gazzetta dello Sport. If Dybala was resting over the weekend because Sarri plans on playing against Lokomotiv Moscow, then I guess we can say that was a pretty simple hint in hindsight.

If it is Dybala that gets the nod over Higuain in Tuesday night’s tie, then it will be La Joya’s latest chance to show just how much different this season is from last. Playing closer to goal has helped. Playing a more central role has also helped. (Although he will always drift wide and drop back deep some of the time because that’s just who Dybala is.) Simply playing with a chip on his shoulder and a ruthlessness we haven’t seen in a while has helped, too.

Either way, with the way Sarri’s attack is creating chances in the past few games, Dybala or Higuain are bound to get scoring opportunities. Juve’s attack obviously looks different with Higuain on the field than it does with Dybala, with there being an actual target man up front when it comes to the former rather than somebody like the latter who will be floating all over the place.

The good thing is this: Higuain’s in good form, Dybala is in good form and either one of the two Argentinian forwards Sarri has at his disposal are good choices to start these days.

And then the other one is about as good of an option off the bench as there can be — which is a pretty nice luxury to have come any part of the second half, I’d say.

MATCH INFO

When: Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019

Where: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy

Official kickoff time: 9 p.m. local time in Italy and across Europe; 8 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 3 p.m. Eastern Time; High Noon Pacific Time

HOW TO WATCH

Television: Galavision (UnitedStates); BT Sport Extra (United Kingdom); Sky Sport Uno, Sky Calcio 2 (Italy)

Online/mobile: B/R Live, Univision NOW (United States); DAZN (Canada); Sky GO Italia (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.