Now things get serious. And nervy. And serious.
Just how serious is still something that fully depends on just how Juventus does in what could end up being the final game of the 2019-20 season as we currently know it.
The nine-time defending Italian champions enter Friday night’s second leg of the Champions League Round of 16 tie with Lyon down 1-0 after the first leg in France. The catch, of course, is that the first leg that was played in France took part in — wait for it — late February. You remember those days, right? Long time ago, that. Since that game, we’ve seen a pandemic completely take Italy by storm and shut down Serie A for three-plus months, force the league to play an insane amount of games in a short period of time and, as a result, have Juventus enter the second leg have just played a quarter of their schedule in less than two months.
Oh, and did we mention that, as we’ve known for months now, this game will be played behind closed doors? So much for that Allianz Stadium home field advantage.
That is basically the opposite of what Lyon has done ever since the first leg was played.
Since all of European shut down and then started back up again, the two clubs have basically been in the complete opposite of situations. Juventus spent the vast majority of the last two months playing Serie A fixtures every three or four days. As we noted in our trusty recap for the month of July, Juve played an eight-game stretch in an absolutely absurd 25 days, an average of just a little over three days and change. While Lyon has played, well, essentially what amounts to four competitive games ... since March. They played five friendlies before the Coupe de la Ligue against Paris Saint-Germain last week — a game in which they lost on penalty kicks — but having any idea where they match fitness really is might be only reserved for our old buddy Rudi Garcia.
You can probably guess where I’m going with this.
We know what Juventus is, and we know how much the last two months coming out of the lockdown have been a tough go of it. It’s been more relying on the brilliance of individuals rather than the team showing a whole lot of cohesiveness. We don’t know what to expect from Lyon other than the fact that they’re much more healthy than they were if the second leg was actually played in March like we originally thought it would be. They haven’t had to play the same kind of truncated schedule that Juve has over the last two months to finish up league play, but they also might not have the kind of match fitness that they normally would if they were playing a “regular” schedule.
Like we were saying, two teams coming from two very different situations.
Regardless, the end game is still the same for Maurizio Sarri: get Juventus out of the round of 16 and into the final eight in Portugal. The opposition will be much tougher there, but Juventus won’t even have a chance to catch lightning in a bottle if they fail to reverse the current 1-0 aggregate scoreline in favor of Lyon.
For all we know, Sarri will have his team charging right out of the gates and they will flip the script on this two-legged tie pretty quickly after kickoff in Turin. Or, as we’ve seen a lot from this team over the course of both the restart and the months before the coronavirus shutdown, it is basically anybody’s guess as to what version will actually show up.
We know which version will have to be the one that allows Juventus to advance to the quarterfinals in Portugal. But if the Juve we’ve seen in recent weeks — you know, the unimpressive one that limped to the finish line and clinched the Scudetto in totally unspectacular fashion — shows up at Allianz Stadium on Friday night, it’s going to be a long 90 minutes and quite possibly the official end of the 2019-20 season.
A recap of Maurizio Sarri’s pre-game press conference on Thursday ...
- Regarding Paulo Dybala’s health status, Sarri said: “We will try to recover Dybala up until (Friday) morning, at the moment he’s still training with the medical staff.”
- Juan Cuadrado could start as a right winger or he could start as a right back. Where, exactly, is something Sarri seems to still be thinking over. (To Danilo or not Danilo ...)
- Sarri described Gonzalo Higuain and Miralem Pjanic as “two players on the rise.”
- On Lyon, Sarri said: “The result of the first-leg allows them to set the game according to their characteristics. It will be a very difficult game, but not an impossible one.”
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
It’s the Champions League. Juventus needs goals. This is too easy.
These are the kinds of games where Juventus need Cristiano Ronaldo to be at his most prolific. These are the kinds of games where Juventus need goals, and Ronaldo is the best at doing just that in the history of the Champions League.
One of the narratives being kicked around the Italian media over the last couple of days was that Ronaldo was disappointed about missing out on the Serie A Player of the Year award to teammate Paulo Dybala. And because of it, Ronaldo will now be extra motivated to prove that, in a season where he scored 31 goals, he deserved the award more than Dybala or even Ciro Immobile.
Hey, whatever works, right?
Chip on his shoulder or no chip on his shoulder, Juventus needs the Ronaldo that has taken over so many Champions League games over in the past to show his face once more Friday night. With the status of Paulo Dybala still a relative question mark and Gonzalo Higuain far from the same player who was firing on all cylinders earlier in the season, an attack that is already somewhat dependent on Ronaldo will probably even be more of that leaning now.
Just like another star player like Matthijs de Ligt, Ronaldo was able to take the whole night off this past weekend during the loss to Roma. That means he’s gotten nearly a week and a half worth of rest from the last time he played in a game. The only thing Ronaldo has had to do since last appearing in a game is to go to training and lift the Scudetto while posing for pictures.
As much as we say that Juventus needs the likes of de Ligt and Leonardo Bonucci and whoever the hell ends up playing as the two starting fullbacks to deliver defensively, Juve won’t have any chance if they don’t find the back of the net at once or twice. And if Juventus’ defense doesn’t get the job done, then there’s going to be even more of a need for some goals to be scored.
Juventus just so happens to have the guy who’s scored more goals in the Champions League than anybody else in the history of the storied competition.
That’s good seeing as they need to score goals Friday night. Hopefully plenty of them, too.
Sarri: "@Cristiano is training in the right manner, yesterday he scored an excellent goal in training. He played many games in a short time, he rested a little and now he has trained with intensity and strength."#JuveOL #JuveUCL— JuventusFC (#Stron9er ) (@juventusfcen) August 6, 2020
When: Friday, Aug. 7, 2020
Where: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy
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: Galavision (United States); BT Sport 2 (United Kingdom); Sky Sport Uno (Italy)
Online/mobile: fuboTV, CBS All Access, TUDN.com, Univision NOW, TUDNxtra, TUDN App (United States); DAZN (Canada)’ BTSport.com (United Kingdom); Sky Go Italia, NOW TV (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.