As is the case during a good portion of Juventus’ Champions League group stage campaigns, trying to apply logic to a fixture before it actually happens usually doesn’t work out all that well.
Need to look no further than the last time Juve stepped on the field.
Facing the perceived weakest team in the group, Juventus needed a late-game Paulo Dybala double to not just prevent there from being more European shenanigans, but also to make sure that the Italian champions hit the midway point of Group D play still unbeaten. It was a win that allowed Juventus to maintain its slim lead in the group ahead of Atlético Madrid simply based on goal differential, and a victory that could mean that Wednesday’s trip over to Russia is one that pretty much all that wraps up a spot in the Champions League knockout rounds.
Juve just so happen to have to try and do it against a Lokomotiv Moscow team they barely beat two weeks ago.
Of course, it’s not like most of Juventus’ performances lately have been much to write home about. What do all of Juve’s last five wins have in common? They’ve been something that became rather synonymous with many of the final months of Max Allegri’s tenure as manager in Turin — wins with an unimpressive end result being decided by a one-goal margin.
It’s been the constant theme the past couple of weeks, and only a couple of games left until the November international break, it might be what keeps happening until first-year manager Maurizio Sarri has the chance to allow his players to regroup a little bit and try to get back to their early-season form.
But when it comes to this game, a very long trip to Russia isn’t the only thing that awaits Sarri’s squad. Just two weeks ago, it was this same Lokomotiv squad that packed things in so well defensively that Juventus needed that late-game Dybala magic just to salvage a result. It was some of the best collective defending that Juventus has faced in the first 2 1⁄2 months of the 2019-20 season, one that has also seen Juve face the likes of Atlético Madrid — recently one of the best defenses that all of Europe has to offer year after year — to face Champions League group stage play.
Juventus might have had a whole lot of shots that game (28 total) to go with about as much possession (78 percent) as you will see this team have in any single game, but it wasn’t like the Lokomotiv goal was being peppered time after time after time until the minutes before Dybala’s two-goal spurt within two minutes.
Besides stating the obvious in that the goal is to progress in the Champions League, Juventus manager Maurizio Sarri noted at his pre-match press conference that Lokomotiv aren’t going to play as defensive as they did while in Turin a couple of weeks ago. That means, as Sarri said, a game might not need to be determined by an individual moment of quality like Dybala displayed in Juve’s win over Lokomotiv at Allianz Stadium.
But this is the interesting part about the middle part of the group stage schedule. Juventus will go months without seeing Atlético Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen. However, when it comes to facing Lokomotiv Moscow, it’s almost like a two-legged tie where there’s only two weeks between fixtures.
Just how much Juventus has learned from that first tie against Lokomotiv will be on display.
- The big news came hours before Sarri even took the mic for his pre-match press conference: Matthijs de Ligt, the man responsible for Juventus winning the Derby della Mole, was not called up for Wednesday’s match due to an ankle injury. Sarri went on to say that de Ligt’s injury isn’t serious and he doesn’t expect the young Dutchman to miss a bunch of time, but there’s now going to be a spotlight on Daniele Rugani or Merih Demiral come kickoff against Lokomotiv Moscow for obvious reasons.
- The best right back on Juventus’ roster, Juan Cuadrado, is suspended because of yellow card accumulation. It will be interesting to see if Sarri goes with the safe pick (Mattia De Sciglio) or the guy who was expected to be the starter back in late-August (Danilo).
- All of the other non-call-ups for the trip to Russia are who you thought they would be: Giorgio Chiellini (injured), Emre Can (not on UCL list), Mario Mandzukic (not on UCL list, completely frozen out of the squad).
- Sarri said that Douglas Costa “could play tomorrow.” What that means exactly will obviously become a lot clearer when the starting lineups come out an hour before kickoff.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
OK, I’m giving in. Let’s go ahead and discuss this guy’s last couple of games.
Yes, Cristiano Ronaldo has been making those kinds of faces quite a bit in recent weeks. Is it a little harsh to judge Ronaldo on a couple of sub-par games? Maybe, but he’s also the kind of player who has match announcers bending over backwards to remind just how much he works to prevent runs of poor form from happening or how his work rate helps him stay at such a high level.
With all that being said, Mr. Champions League hasn’t been all that great in recent games — which is far from what you want to see from somebody who was purposely not called up for a game so that they can get some much-needed rest.
Ronaldo’s last two games have been rather forgettable. Yes, that includes a game where he scored the game winner at the death to help Juventus beat Genoa.
Of course, this isn’t exactly the stage in the competition where Juventus need Ronaldo to be at his game-changing best. Andrea Agnelli didn’t shell out all of the money he did — or Juve’s holding company did, whatever — so that Ronaldo can win them games against Lokomotiv Moscow in the group stage. The reasoning goes well, well beyond just group stage victories.
But, like we said, Ronaldo hasn’t been great lately.
His game against Genoa, sans that goal, was highlighted by missed scoring chance after missed scoring chance. His game against Torino in the Derby della Mole this past weekend was more about Ronaldo not troubling Salvatore Sirigu at all rather than being an absolute terror in the box like he usually is. (It was the first time in nearly two months that Ronaldo has recorded a WhoScored rating under a 7 — and he has to really struggle to not be rated above that number knowing how their rating system absolutely loves his game.)
I don’t doubt that being back in the Champions League will add a little extra juice to Ronaldo’s game. And, if that means a quick end to this mini-slump, then go do you thing.
When: Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019
Where: Lokomotiv Stadium, Moscow, Russia
Official kickoff time: 8:55 p.m. local time in Russia; 6:55 p.m. in Italy and across Europe; 5:55 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 12:55 p.m. Eastern Time; 9:55 a.m. Pacific Time
HOW TO WATCH
Television: TNT, Univision (United States); BT Sport ESPN (United Kingdom); Sky Sport Uno, NOW TV, Sky Calcio 2 (Italy)
Online/mobile: TUDN en Vivo, B/R Live, Watch TNT (United States); DAZN (Canada); BT Sport Live (United Kingdom); 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.