Juventus’ final game in the month of February has been on our minds for months. Ever since Juve secured the top spot in their Champions League group and then subsequently drew Lyon a couple of weeks later in the round of 16, every single game the Italian champions have played has been in the same thought process of what stands in front of them Wednesday night.
Good performance. Bad performance. Meh performance. It didn’t really matter. The thought was, with every game that went by, what it would mean to Juventus’ first — but hopefully not last — Champions League knockout round opponent this season. Even the thought of how the first couple games of January would impact the final game of February happened. It’s only natural — especially so when your manager has a history of his teams getting better as they get more and more time with his distinct playing style.
Now we’re about see just what might come of it all.
Juventus has serious Champions League aspirations. Maurizio Sarri can call them dreams, the players can call them dreams, but because of how much money the club has invested in the squad and who they have invested so much in financially, simply reaching the round of 16 is supposed to be just the beginning, not the end point. Wednesday night’s trip to France in the first leg of this knockout stage opener is no easy task regardless of what kind of form Lyon is in these days; it’s going to be tricky simply because Juventus, as we all we know, isn’t exactly in the greatest shape, either, even on the back of two straight wins.
Regardless of what kind of form Lyon enters Wednesday night’s game in — and, honestly, it’s not great, but more on that in a bit — this is more about Juventus taking care of its own business rather than all of us being fixated on just how well (or not) the opposition is doing.
It’s true that Lyon hasn’t gotten many wins lately and that the month of February has been about as roller coaster-like as some stretches we’ve seen from Juventus this season. Lyon won all seven of its games in all competitions in January, only to now slump to just two victories in its last six outings. They’ve obviously got talent — especially some incredibly talent youngsters — but they’ve also got injuries, both old ones we knew about on the day of the round of 16 draw as well as relatively new ones.
But we’re smart enough to know that just because a team is struggling doesn’t mean it’s going to be a cakewalk for the boys in bianconero. So many times this season Juve has struggled to truly kick things into gear against squads that are pretty much in the same kind of situation Lyon is in right now.
Maybe Juventus’ last couple of games, regardless of which team has been on the opposing side of the field, is a small sign that things might be getting a little better. We’ve said that before this season, and we’ll probably say that again. But, for now, all we can hope for is that even if Juventus isn’t playing beautiful, easy-on-the-eyes Sarriball, they’re at least getting the kind of results that’s needed.
Winning is rather important in the Champions League, right?
(Don’t answer that. We all know the answer — especially when it comes to the knockout rounds of the competition.)
- SAMI KHEDIRA: BACK.
- Miralem Pjanic is back.
- Douglas Costa is, surprisingly, back.
- Gonzalo Higuain is back.
- Basically, all of the players you expected to be called up for the trip to France — as well as a couple of surprises — were called up by Maurizio Sarri.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
I could go with the guy who has scored a goal in the last 57 league games he’s played in with Juventus. Or, better yet, I could go with the guy who will be starting on the opposite wing of the best goal scorer to ever play in the Champions League. (Because, honestly, you could reserve 300-something words for Cristiano Ronaldo every time Juventus players in Europe.)
Yep ... here’s Johnny!
This would have easily been a spot for Giorgio Chiellini, but since most of the predicted lineups from the Italian press that I’ve seen have Matthijs de Ligt starting, I’ll go with Juan Cuadrado on this one. And it’s not like we’ve been given any kind of indication as to Maurizio Sarri going away from the trident that he’s been using the last couple of games.
What Cuadrado brings to the table as a winger is exactly what Juve was lacking during Sarri’s extended run with the 4-3-1-2 formation: width. It didn’t matter who Sarri trotted out behind the two strikers, they weren’t giving Juventus any kind of consistent threat out wide, and that caused the squad to be way too narrow no matter who was playing.
Sure, Cuadrado was contributing offensively when he was playing as a right back, but that’s obviously limited since his first obligation was to be a defender. Now that he’s been moved back up the field and into a more natural winger position, Cuadrado has gotten involved in the attack in a different way. And, if his crossing resembles anything like it did over the weekend against SPAL, then it gives Juventus a threat in the air that we haven’t really seen much of through the season.
That obviously means that a historically inconsistent player is going to have to be a consistent player against a European opponent after doing so against the worst team in Serie A a few days earlier. But the thing is that Cuadrado can be a very streaky player — just as streaky as he can be inconsistent at times.
As much of possibility there is for Cuadrado to be a bust, there’s also the chance for him to be a total boom and be a consistent threat down the right wing.
And lest we forget what Johnny did the last time he played a Champions League game for Juventus in Lyon ...
When: Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020
Where: Groupama Stadium, Lyon, France
Official kickoff time: 9 p.m. local time in France and across Europe; 8 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 3 p.m. Eastern Time; High noon Pacific Time
HOW TO WATCH
Television: Galavisión (United States); BT Sport 3 (United Kingdom); Sky Sport Uno (Italy)
Online/mobile: B/R Live, Univision NOW (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.