Juventus’ first two games of the Champions League group stage have been very different. Not so much in the results because both have been wins, but mainly because we did not expect Juventus to be the lone team in Group H to be sitting there with a perfect six points out of six and sitting in pretty good position in they can make it 3-for-3 to start things out.
We expected Juve to beat Malmö on the first day of group stage action.
Did we expect a shorthanded Juve squad to beat Chelsea and all of its firepower?
See, that’s what has made this group stage already quite the interesting journey even though we’re just one-third of the way through it all.
Juventus enters Wednesday night’s fixture against Zenit St. Petersburg all of 90 minutes form the official midway point of the Champions League group stage. With that, at the very least, comes the chance to head into the second half of the group stage atop the group and have a three-point margin over Chelsea if they do what everybody thinks they will do against Malmö.
The difference between Juventus entering this Champions League game and the other two is that now Max Allegri’s squad has some wind in their sails. We’ve seen this team go from being all over the place when they began the group stage to now showing some consistency after a third straight 1-0 win in all competitions. They’ve gone from being a mess defensively to, somehow and someway, all recording a decent number of clean sheets in consecutive order. That’s not necessarily something we expected when Juve took the field in Sweden when things were looking nowhere near anything positive.
Now, though ...
Well, that’s what you like to call a change for the better.
As Juventus heads to Eastern Europe — a place where things hasn’t always been easy no matter who’s the manager and who the opponent has been — they will be facing a Zenit side that has lost the last two games it has played and looked rather sub-par while doing it. Sure, they hung with Chelsea a few weeks back, but since then things haven’t looked so good as when they were running with the reigning European champions.
Let’s just check on who Zenit’s lost to over the last week:
- PFC Sochi
- Arsenal Tula
Now, it might surprise you that PFC Sochi is currently in second place in the Russian Premier League, but a 2-1 loss to Arsenal Tula this past weekend is not exactly how you want to go into a big Champions League matchup like this one is. Because if Zenit loses this one, then they’re looking at three points through three games and a game still be played in Turin, that’s not exactly a recipe for knockout rounds contention.
But for Juventus, it does seem pretty simple: If Allegri’s squad just keeps doing what they have been doing both of late and in the Champions League so far this season, then first place in Group H will be there at the end of another 90 minutes of game time.
And if they do that, then Allegri will have another game to point toward as a reason why this team is back on the right track after that stupid, stupid start to the season they had.
- Paulo Dybala is still out injured and did not make the trip to Russia. Allegri said Dybala “will almost certainly be available against Inter” on Sunday, so at least there’s that.
- In more positive injury news, Matthijs de Ligt is back in the squad after missing out on the Roma match due to muscle fatigue. Allegri said de Ligt “will play.”
- Allegri said that Alex Sandro “has recovered” from his trip back to Italy following international duty, which should be a pretty good hint that the Brazilian will return to the starting lineup after being on the bench over the weekend.
- Allegri said that Arthur will play against Zenit, but he’s not sure if it will be from the start or coming off the bench. (You know, because Max is never going to full tell you what he wants to do with his starting lineup during a pre-match press conference.)
- Since he is not on the Champions League squad list for the group stage, Kaio Jorge has spent the last couple of days with Juventus’ Under-23 team and will take part in their match against AlbinoLeffe on Wednesday.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
The good news on top of Sunday’s win over Roma was the fact that one of Juve’s two injured strikers actually got back on the field and get a few minutes of run.
Now, it looks as though he’s going to return to the starting lineup.
And because of that, you can probably guess where I am going with this. Y’all so smart.
A lot like the guy who wears No. 10 at Juventus, Alvaro Morata — you know, the guy who wears No. 9 at Juventus — was just starting to play pretty well when he got injured prior to the international break. But unlike Paulo Dybala, Morata is back in the squad and ready to reclaim his spot in the starting lineup.
Now, the return of Morata means a couple of dominoes will potentially fall as a result. For one, there’s the potential of a different formation to be used by Allegri. The rumors as I write this here preview is that Morata will be playing in the middle of a front three, with the Spanish striker being flanked by a Fede on each wing. (Yeah, you know what happens next when that is mentioned.) That would obviously mean Allegri goes away from the 4-4-2 that has worked so well over the course of the last couple of weeks and more toward a 4-3-3 to keep the Fedes in the lineup as well as create space for Morata.
So let’s just assume that Morata is back in the starting lineup and he has at least one Fede either flanking him or playing alongside him up front. As much as Moise Kean is about potential and can grow into this squad if he’s ever given some consistent playing time and not just a start here or there, Morata is probably Allegri’s best choice for the No. 9 spot right now. Sure, there’s always going to be the folks who will complain because Morata is Morata and that sometimes comes with frustrating moments. But there’s also a lot of good, too.
That means it’s Morata’s show more often than not.
At least for right now because Allegri is going with what he knows best right now.
He’s certainly used to seeing Morata score some big goals in the Champions League. And what do you know — Juve’s back in the Champions League on Wednesday night. Magic.
Allegri: "@alvaromorata is fine and recovered. We still have to improve, especially in the last 30 metres, but we began to find continuity in the results. In the beginning we made errors and episodes put us at a disadvantage, but it takes calm."#ZenitJuve #JuveUCL— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) October 19, 2021
Something tells me that if Morata is both recovered and resembling the player that we saw from the couple of weeks before he got hurt, I think Allegri’s desire to see his team improve in the last 30 meters will become a reality. These things tend to be connected — and let’s not forget that the Champions League is, a good portion of the time, where Morata is at his best.
When: Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021.
Where: Gazprom Arena, St. Petersburg, Russia.
Official kickoff time: 11 p.m. local time in Russia; 9 p.m. 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: None in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Italy.
Online/mobile: Paramount+, TUDNxtra, TUDN.com, TUDN app (United States); DAZN (Canada); BT Sport Extra, BTSport.com, BT Sport app (United Kingdom); Amazon Prime Video (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.