The odds of Juventus finishing atop Group G are very slim.
That’s not anything new to anybody here. Ever since Barcelona rolled into Turin and handed Juventus their worst loss of the early season, it was always going to be that way. It was going to be an uphill battle to finish first in the group knowing full well there was so much separation between the top two teams and the bottom two teams.
Juventus will need to put together one of its best performances of the season on Tuesday night at the Camp Nou to even be able to come close to winning a game that they need to win by a 3-1 scoreline at the very least. That is the situation that Andrea Pirlo’s club finds itself in as it makes the trip to Spain. Anything less than that — even a, say, 1-0 or 2-1 win — won’t be enough, and subsequently mean that Juve will go into next Monday’s Champions League Round of 16 draw as a potential opponent for some of the true titans of the game.
The thing with this game, besides the fact that it’s Cristiano Ronaldo facing Lionel Messi for the first time in over 2 1⁄2 years, is that Juventus and Barcelona are far from the impressive forces that some might expect them to be. Even though they both qualified for the round of 16 a couple of weeks ago, neither team enters this game playing all that great. Neither team has impressed a whole lot outside of a few games through the first 2 1⁄2 months of the 2020-21 season.
Juventus needs to win this game by two goals and score at least three times. That is the bare minimum — which, with the way that Pirlo’s squad has played for much of this season, seems like a pretty large (and potentially unrealistic) task to try and achieve.
But, there’s a catch: Juve’s opposition has been equally unimpressive this season.
Barcelona are atop of Group G. They’re 5 for 5 in the group stage. They’re the favorite to finish atop the group with one game to go, and only a major meltdown will prevent that from happening. But Barca are far from something folks would consider “in form.” They’ve been inconsistent just like Juventus. And, with their loss to newly-promoted (and incredibly surprising) Cadiz this past weekend, Barcelona officially has more points in five Champions League group stage games (15) than they do through their first 10 La Liga fixtures (14).
If (big if, obvs) Barça keep picking up points at their current rate, they'd finish the season on 53 points. Last year, that was enough to finish 9th.— The Spanish Football Podcast (@tsf_podcast) December 5, 2020
That’s ... not good.
Even in a totally weird and unpredictable season like this one, that isn’t exactly setting a good precedent for what could come down the road. What Barcelona, a squad clearly in transition and with a new coach trying to lead said changes, has done in Europe is something that they haven’t been able to replicate against domestic opposition.
Sound a little familiar, doesn’t it?
Juventus has only lost one game in all competitions this season — that aforementioned 2-0 loss to Barcelona at the end of October. But, as we know, the way in which Juve has gotten those mostly victorious results has been far from impressive more often than not. Pirlo’s squad is still very much a work in progress even as we hit the second half of the 10-game stretch that closes out the calendar year. Juventus has won back-to-back games coming into Tuesday night’s group stage finale. That’s not all that impressive when you know full well that Juventus needs a big-time performance if they want to both beat Barcelona AND do it by enough room to spare to leapfrog them in the Group G standings.
Pirlo said during his pre-match press conference on Monday that his team doesn’t have anything to lose. And, honestly, that’s true. They know they’re already in the knockout round and this isn’t the do-or-die kind of game on the final day of the group stage that we’ve seen Juventus be a part of some years in the not-so-distant past.
So maybe the pressure won’t be on them and they’ll be able to suffer in a productive and good kind of way. We said it before the first group stage game against Barca and we can say it again now six weeks later: This Barcelona side is far from a classic Barcelona team and they’re most certainly beatable if Juventus show up.
It’s just a matter of Juve showing up — which is something they definitely failed to do the first time around in October.
- Gianluigi Buffon is back in the squad and has made the flight to Spain. Pirlo said at his pre-match press conference that Buffon “could play” and “deserves a match like this,” and that has led the Italian press to predict that the 42-year-old Italian will start in goal against Barcelona on Tuesday night.
- Giorgio Chiellini is still out with a thigh injury.
- Merih Demiral is still out with a thigh injury.
- Outside of those two guys, Pirlo has about as full strength of a squad as he’s had lately.
- With Matthijs de Ligt having started five straight games after coming back from his three-month injury absence, Pirlo hinted that the young Dutchman could be rested against Barcelona. “There is a bit of tiredness, despite being very young,” Pirlo said of de Ligt, who has played a full 90 minutes in each of those five starts since returning from injury. (Sky Italia and La Gazzetta dello Sport, for what it’s worth, thinks de Ligt will be rested, with Alex Sandro starting in the back three along with Leonardo Bonucci and Danilo.)
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
As much as the pre-game build-up will be about Ronaldo vs. Messi, the players trying to stop them will be under just as much of a spotlight. That means Juventus’ sometimes-inconsistent defense will be tested just as much as it was in Turin a month and a half ago.
So, we’ll go for the man who’s going to be at the center of it all.
And, no. We’re not talking about a certain Dutchman again.
As Matthijs de Ligt has returned and really not missed a beat at all, Leonardo Bonucci’s performances this season continue to be a little bit like the team as a whole — some hit, some miss and some go completely unmarked in the box and Tek is left picking the ball out of the back of his net.
(Oops, I went there. Oh well.)
Trying to stop Messi, Antoine Griezmann and the like will obviously be something that the entire defense and midfield will need to do rather than the brunt being placed on one player. But when it comes to some of the goals that Juventus have allowed in recent games and for a large part of the season, you can point to individual players not getting it done and then the end result being something that was relatively preventable.
Bonucci, as we know, as very much a main protagonist in those types of mistakes. And against individual brilliance like Messi, those types of mistakes are where these big-time games can be won or lost — which, if Juventus want to have any chance of returning to Italy with the kind of win they need can’t happen.
Bonucci’s performance in the Turin derby over the weekend is pretty much the complete package of the good and the bad of what he can bring to the table. He is obviously the difference maker in the dying moments of the game with goal off a Juan Cuadrado cross, but he struggled mightily in the first half on the defensive end. It wasn’t just on Torino’s goal, but the scoring chances that Toro had in the opening 45 minutes as well. It was vintage Bonucci — and not the good kind.
And if Pirlo does decide to give de Ligt the night off, then Bonucci’s performance becomes even that much more important to Juventus having any chance of winning this game by a comfortable margin both on the field and the scoreboard.
When: Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020
Where: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain
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; 12 p.m. Pacific Time
HOW TO WATCH
Television: TUDN USA, Univision (United States); BT Sport ESPN (United Kingdom); Sky Sport Uno, Sky Sport 252 (Italy)
Online/mobile: CBS All Access, TUDN.com, TUDNxtra, TUDN App, Univision NOW (United States); DAZN (Canada); BTSport.com, BT Sport app (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.