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Champions League Preview: Juventus vs. Bayer Leverkusen

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It’s a game that means not a whole hell of a lot ... at least for the team that we root for here.

Juventus v Bayer Leverkusen: Group D - UEFA Champions League Photo by Matteo Bottanelli/NurPhoto via Getty Images

There have been very few years in recent memory where the final game of the Champions League group stage has meant next to nothing for Juventus. There’s usually some kind of positioning to be had, or even just the simple notion of trying to qualify for the knockout rounds That comes with stress — lots and lots of Juventus-related stress because group stage finales have rarely had absolutely no kind of stipulation attached to it.

Wednesday night’s group stage finale has absolutely nothing on the line.

At least for Juventus.

With their 1-0 win over Atlético Madrid two weeks ago, all the business that Juventus needed to take care of in the group stage was checked off. The Bianconeri had already secured qualification to the knockout stage, so all that was left to make sure the top spot in Group D was secured. Juve did that by being Atleti. Thus, this trip to Germany that Maurizio Sarri and his walking wounded kind of squad is the complete opposite of what group stage finales of yesteryear have been — basically not all that important.

Of course, that’s about as far from the truth for Wednesday night’s opposition, Bayer Leverkusen, which enters the group stage finale needing to win to have any kind of chance of advancing to the knockout round. That might seem odd considering the German side began the group stage by losing to everybody else in the group by a combined score of 6-1.

But, because Juventus beat Atlético Madrid two weeks ago and Bayer Leverkusen has won its last two group stage games — including a 2-1 victory over Atleti — the second spot is wide open entering the group’s final matchday.

Not exactly what we thought would happen when this group was drawn up and Juve and Atleti were basically declared the best two teams in it.

For Juventus, though, this game doesn’t mean all that much when it comes to the Champions League itself — at all. Maurizio Sarri, as you could have probably predicted, said in his pre-match press conference on Tuesday that the group stage finale matters and that playing in the Champions League is “an honor” and Juve have the “privilege” to be taking part in it again this season.

But, with all of that being said, there is also this: Juventus played like absolute crap — again — on Saturday in the 3-1 loss to Lazio. It was the latest sub-par performance in a string of bad showings despite the fact that they hadn’t lost before this past weekend. Because of that, you might think that this is important just to see what kind of immediate response Juventus has the next time the players take the field in a competitive match. And, yeah, you can throw me into that line even though there isn’t really much attached to this game in terms of stakes for Sarri’s squad. Sarri said it himself that his squad needs to improve, and I’m guessing that’s not just because implementing his system takes time and a lot of effort.

Maybe there being no pressure in terms of qualifying for the knockout round or trying to secure the top spot in the group means that Juventus plays footloose and fancy free. Or, maybe like we saw against Lazio a few days earlier, the number of bad performances continues on from a European matchup into another weekend Serie A fixture.

At this point, it’s a guessing game with Juventus — and that’s even before you consider the fact that Sarri’s squad will be without a good chunk of the starting lineup you’d typically expect him to run out there on a regular basis.

TEAM NEWS

Currently injured:

  • Rodrigo Bentancur
  • Aaron Ramsey
  • Douglas Costa
  • Sami Khedira
  • Giorgio Chiellini

Also unavailable: Emre Can since he wasn’t called up for the Champions League group stage. You knew that already, but with the injuries in midfield it bears repeating.

Also unavailable: Matthijs de Ligt has not been called up by Sarri. This seems like a simple rest situation, which makes sense considering de Ligt has been playing a lot of football this season.

And guess what? The list of players that aren’t available for this weekend’s game against Udinese is going to even longer than what we see above.

JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH

If he was called up for the Champions League group stage, this place would probably be reserved for Can today. However, since there’s no German midfielders available for Maurizio Sarri to run out there against Leverkusen on Wednesday, we must go in a different direction.

A French direction.

Juventus v Lokomotiv Moskva: Group D - UEFA Champions League Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images

If I told you that Adrien Rabiot has played over 300 minutes in Serie A this season, would that be a surprising number to you? It most certainly is to me, and I’ve watched every game this team has played this season and clearly spent hundreds of hours dissecting every statistic the footballing world currently has to offer all of us. (At least that first part is true.)

Throw in his Champions League minutes — which aren’t much — and you’ve got about 450 minutes of game time for Rabiot as he approaches the completion of the first half of his first season with Juventus.

That’s more than Douglas Costa has played this season.

That’s more than Emre Can and Mattia De Sciglio, too.

Hell, that’s probably the kind of game time Merih Demiral wishes he had compared to what he’s actually gotten as the middle of December quickly approaches.

But with all of that being said, it just feels like we haven’t seen Rabiot much at all this season. Maybe that’s the fact that he’s missed the last couple of weeks due to an injury he picked up coming out of the international break. (We can’t blame it on international duty, though, so there’s that.) Or maybe it’s just because his playing has in fact been as sporadic as it seems.

Either way, with Juventus’ midfield suddenly hard hit with injuries (and soon-to-be suspensions) — please get well, Rodrigo, because I miss my son already — playing time has to be coming Rabiot’s way in one form or another ... right?! I mean, it has to ... RIGHT?!

Rabiot’s season to date has been highlighted with very little playing time for weeks and then, a lot like the team as a whole, small flashes of potential mixed with inconsistent play. The second part is probably something we could have expected when it comes to a player who hadn’t played at all in over half a season since things fell apart at Paris Saint-Germain, so Rabiot getting his footing and truly showing signs of progression toward his best football again was always going to be a process that was never going to be done at the snap of one’s fingers.

With nothing truly to play for on Juventus’ end of things, the hope is that Sarri goes out and selects a side that is full of rotation and opportunity for some of the lesser-used players to finally get their chance to get a nice chunk of minutes. Rabiot surely falls into that group — and that’s even before you throw into the mix that Juve’s midfield is getting more and more shorthanded as the games go by in December.

MATCH INFO

When: Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019

Where: BayArena, Leverkusen, Germany

Official kickoff time: 9 p.m. local time in Germany, Italy and across Europe; 8 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 3 p.m. Eastern Time; 12 p.m. Pacific Time

HOW TO WATCH

Television: TNT, Galavision (United States); Sky Sport Uno, Sky Calcio 2, NOW TV (Italy)

Online/mobile: Watch TNT, B/R Live, Univision NOW (United States); DAZN (Canada); BT Sport Extra (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.