With this Juventus team, with who they signed over the summer for a club-record fee and with the expectations and aspirations they have pinned to his shoulders, making it to the Champions League Round of 16 is just another step in the journey. This is the expected, not the accomplishment that we want Max Allegri’s side to achieve. This is a piece of the puzzle, one that will hopefully be a fully-completed masterpiece come the first weekend of June.
Between the time of this match preview being written and the Champions League final, there are another six European fixtures that Juventus will have to not completely screw up in. (OK, I’ll try to be as positive as possible going forward, you guys.) There is the chance for a whole lot of things to go down, including Juventus participating in more than just one or two more draws where Pavel Nedved is seen in the crowd looking quite handsome.
But, for now, our mind is not on the next draw. Instead, it’s on how to get to the next draw.
Juventus and Atlético Madrid have known for the last two months that each other will be their next European opponents. It’s one of those classic “It coulda been better, but it probably also coulda been worse” kinds of draws where Juve will obviously be tested quite a bit but is also the favorite in the eyes of many based on one guy who they signed over the summer.
And did we mention that Juve’s got a whole bunch of expectations strapped to No. 7’s back?
The thing is as we see Juventus — hopefully — work its way out of its January slump is that, as the Champions League returns, some of its best work this season has come in Europe. Remember that trip to Old Trafford in late-October where it pretty much dominated host Man United? And remember United’s return visit to Turin where, outside of a catastrophic 10-minute span late in the game where Juve coughed up a 1-0 lead, Allegri’s boys were once again dominating a Jose Mourinho-coached squad? Or maybe you would like to recall its Champions League group stage opener where, despite Cristiano Ronaldo getting questionably sent off, 10-man Juventus squad beat Valencia in Spain?
For every terrible performance against Young Boys, there’s at least one or two positive performances to say that maybe this Juve team is a liiiiiiiiiittle bit different than years prior when it comes to European competition.
This is also with Ronaldo not exactly being the dominant force of nature that he has been in every Champions League round he’s played in for the last, oh, 75 years (give or take).
But, of course, this is different because the bar is raised. Atlético Madrid was most definitely one of the toughest teams Juve could have been drawn against no matter what the current form guide may suggest. And, as a result, we aren’t talking about Juve’s advancement as anything close to a sure thing simply because of who the opposition is. (There’s also that whole “Juventus in the Champions League” thing where nothing is totally routine, so there’s that.)
The bar is set high. We know that. We’ve known that for quite a bit of time now.
So to get to where that bar is located, you must go step by step. And that first step is in just a matter of hours at the same arena where Juventus wants to end its season.
If Juventus wants to grab an away goal or two, I personally feel like that would be a great thing to do against Atlético Madrid.
Just go on and get better as soon as possible, Sami. We can make Mallorca jokes later.
1) Cristiano Ronaldo against his old city rivals
Let’s just check in on how Ronaldo has faired against the team that played on the other side of Madrid, shall we?
- 31 matches
- 22 goals
That’s good, right?
Most of those goals came in La Liga, but there’s definitely a few Champions League goals against Atlético Madrid sprinkled in there as well. And this is obviously the point in the competition each year where Ronaldo starts to truly be Ronaldo.
It’s not like Ronaldo was bad in the group stage. He wasn’t great, either, with his WhoScored rating from his five group stage starts — although one of those was hindered by a red card against Valencia — nearly a full point lower than what he’s averaging in Serie A this season.
With all of that being said, here’s what Ronaldo has done in his last 10 appearances:
- 9 goals
- 3 assists
So, yeah, I think it’s safe to say Ronaldo is much more in-form when it comes to scoring goals than the last time Juventus made their way to Spain for a Champions League game. Back in September, the talk surrounding Ronaldo was all about his inability to get his first Juventus goal. Now, it’s about leading Juventus through a deep run into the Champions League. I think I can take a guess as to which one he prefers.
Just go out and do your usual Champions League there, Ron.
2) Paulo Dybala coming off his Friday night return to form
A whole bunch of our post-match coverage from Friday night’s 3-0 win over Frosinone surrounded around a certain Mr. Dybala — and for good reason. Because when you go over three months without a league goal, then there’s a reason for somebody like Dybala getting a whole bunch of attention when that streak gets snapped.
Now, as we probably thought after Dybala’s short yet pretty good spell off the bench against Sassuolo a week and a half ago, we ask this question: What’s next, Paulito?
To compare Atlético Madrid’s defense — injuries and all — to that of Frosinone is pretty much like putting the latter in the former’s class simply based on them being included in the same sentence. One is one of Europe’s premier units. The other? Well, you can probably guess that it resembles their placement in the Serie A table.
So, with Dybala now looking to have at least a little bit of his groove back, Juve enter the point in the season where they’ll become just that much more of a dynamic team with its No. 10 clicking.
If Allegri chooses to play Dybala behind Mario Mandzukic and Ronaldo, then so be it. If Dybala is technically out on the right wing, don’t expect him to spend every living breath there since Allegri loves to give his forwards as much freedom as anybody.
Either way, Dybala will be playing and, as we are starting to see, playing pretty well, too.
Maybe, just maybe, we won’t have to go so long between Dybala Mask appearances again. Wouldn’t that be nice, everybody? (I think so, too.)
3) Juventus’ defense against Antoine Griezmann, Alvaro Morata and maybe even Diego Costa
This would be a much more stress-filled section of the match preview if Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci had not played last Friday against Frosinone. It was to the point where, when Into the Calderon sent me some questions for their end of the Q&A for Wednesday’s first leg, I pretty much answered them with the assumption that Chiellini and Bonucci weren’t going to play and that it was going to be a complete race to full fitness for both of Juve’s starting center backs.
I am happy that is not the case.
There is, however, the task of trying to contain an Atlético Madrid attack that has one of the best strikers in the world (Griezmann) and the Ex Factor (Morata) hanging over all of our heads as Juve take the field Wednesday night.
We know about Griezmann. We know about Morata — and this won’t be the first time that one of Juventus’ old Champions League heroes from earlier in the Allegri era has played against his former team.
But, as we’ve also seen throughout Juve’s Champions League campaign this season, things aren’t exactly so routine despite the fact that announcers will tell you they’re so incredible at the back.
The good part in all of this is that we don’t have to worry about this being either of Chiellini or Bonucci’s first game back from injury. They got that out of the way against Frosinone, looked good along the way and now have their legs back under them after combining to miss about a month’s worth of time.
As much as Allegri says that Juventus will need to score in Madrid to have a chance, the second leg will matter so much more if Juve head back to Turin knowing that Atlético Madrid has a zero on its end of the aggregate scoreline. I know I would like Juve’s chances just that much more if it ends up being the case.
When: Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019
Where: Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid, Spain
Official kickoff time: 9 p.m. local time in Spain and around Europe; 8 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 3 p.m. Eastern Time; 12 noon Pacific Time
HOW TO WATCH
Television: TNT USA, UniMás, Univision Deportes (United States); BT Sport 3 (United Kingdom); Sky Sport Uno, RAI Uno, Sky Calcio 2 (Italy)
Online/mobile: Watch TNT, B/R Live, Univision Deportes En Vivo (United States); DAZN (Canada); BT Sport Live (United Kingdom); RAI Play, 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.