There have been so many twists and turns between the last time Juventus played in a Champions League game until now that it’s hard to keep track of them all. There has been some good, there has been some not very good at all — which, if you’re a Juventus team trying to shake the inconsistency of the first three months of the 2020-21 season, isn’t always the way to go about things.
But here we are again.
The Champions League is back, and Juventus has gotten on a plane, amid a pandemic, and headed over to Portugal where they will face Porto team that itself is dealing with its own issues entering Wednesday night’s first leg of the round of 16. It comes just days after Juventus struggled to break through against a Napoli side that didn’t create much at all yet claimed a 1-0 win over the visiting Bianconeri over the weekend — which, if Andrea Pirlo’s squad had won, would have gotten them even closer to the two Milan clubs at the top of the table based on what happened later in the day Saturday.
Instead, Juventus watched AC Milan fall to Spezia and then Inter Milan jump over their city rivals and take control of first place in Serie A. And just for kicks, Roma’s win on Sunday sent Juve back down to fourth place all of a week after the two clubs flipped spots in the standings.
So, yeah. As much as Juventus’ seven-game unbeaten run through much of the new year was nice, the loss to Napoli has hedged — or maybe even full-on slammed the brakes on — some of the optimism that came with Pirlo going on his best run of results as a manager despite the fact it lasted all of about 3 1⁄2 weeks.
Porto’s run of four straight draws after opening the month of February with a win obviously won’t get as much attention here as what Juventus does because that’s just the unwritten rules. But, when you see what so many has said about Juventus playing Porto, the general opinion is that the nine-time defending Italian champions are the favorites and that it would be a somewhat major upset if they don’t go through to the Champions League quarterfinals. And, while they might be right, we’ve seen Juventus’ up-and-down form this season turn a lot of games — especially the ones with a whole lot of magnitude to them — into a complete guessing game.
Basically what I’m trying to say here is that just as Juve looks to be settling into a nice groove under Pirlo, Saturday’s performance against Napoli happens.
Twists and turns. They shall never end, it seems.
For all we know, what happened against Napoli on Saturday night was just a weird blip in what has been a relatively solid 2021 so far following the loss to Inter on Jan. 17. Juventus could very well get up off the mat and play well in Portugal on Wednesday and take a nice aggregate lead into the second leg at home in a couple of weeks. As we’ve come to see, some of Juve’s best games this season have come in one-off situations like the Coppa Italia or the Supercoppa against Napoli last month. And while this trip to Portugal isn’t technically a one-off, it’s the kind of situation where Juventus has played some of its better ball this season.
Of course, there’s a catch in all of this, and that’s who won’t be making in the starting lineup come kickoff at the Estádio do Dragão on Wednesday night. Juventus will be without the services of their assist leader, Juan Cuadrado; they will be without Arthur, who has become arguably their most important midfielder over the course of the last four or six weeks. They will be without Leonardo Bonucci and Paulo Dybala, too. That’s a lot of offensive creativity not even available to play against Porto.
So while Porto’s form is less than stellar entering this game, Juventus comes in far from a full-strength side. Maybe their struggles from over the weekend stay there. Maybe they don’t. But if those struggles do continue, then the Champions League struggles and frustration of the last few years will only continue on despite there being another different guy on the sidelines.
- No Juan Cuadrado due to injury.
- No Arthur due to injury.
- As Andrea Pirlo said at his pre-match press conference, Leonardo Bonucci and Paulo Dybala will make the trip to Portugal but will not be available to play against Porto on Wednesday night. (Interesting choice during a pandemic, but I’m not the guy making the calls.)
- One player who has been injured is back in the team squad AND available to play, and that is Aaron Ramsey, who had previously been out since Juve’s win over Sampdoria on Jan. 30.
- Here is the complete squad list that has made the trip to Portugal:
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
There’s no one singular reason as to why Juve’s attack hasn’t been firing on all cylinders as of late. And because of that, it’s hard to fault one person when looking at what could be improved upon going forward these next couple of weeks.
So while it might be the easy pick to single out the guy who has scored more Champions League goals than anybody else in the history of the competition, let’s go with the guy who will be starting alongside him, shall we?
I don’t think Alvaro Morata has been terrible of late. He has obviously contributed some pretty important assists the last couple of weeks and helped Juventus win games over that time.
But, can you remember the last time Morata scored a Serie A goal? Not his last goal, which came against Serie B side SPAL in the Coppa Italia quarterfinals two weeks ago. I’m talking about against somebody from Italy’s top flight and not in a one-off type of situation like when he scored in the dying moments of the Supercoppa against Napoli last month.
It was in December. Against a Parma team that is now looking more and more like a team that is bound for Serie B in a few months.
That’s not great!
But, like I said, it’s not like Morata is out here and basically being a ghost for however long he is on the field. He’s got a pair of assists in his last four appearances. He’s doing a lot of the dirty work that made him such a smart signing this past “summer” transfer window. Still no goals, though. Or, at least goals in Serie A in two months now.
The thing we can hang our hat on with Morata is that the Champions League has brought out a different animal in this very mild-mannered Spaniard over the years. When you’ve got as many memorable moments in the Champions League while playing for Juventus despite it being just a couple of seasons, then you’re obviously doing something right.
Morata has six goals in the Champions League this season. Those six goals came at a time when he was absolutely on fire to begin his second stint at Juventus. A few more goals and he’s starting to get into Alex Del Piero single-season club record in the Champions League territory.
Hopefully being back in the Champions League is what kicks things back into gear for Juve’s No. 9. Lord knows that the team needs a second consistent goal-scoring threat on the team right now no matter how good Cristiano Ronaldo still is. And if that happens and Morata starts to get back to looking like the Morata from October and November, then Juve’s chances of getting into the Champions League quarterfinals increase that much more.
When: Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021
Where: Estádio do Dragão, Porto, Portugal
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 (United States); BT Sport 2 (United Kingdom); Sky Sport Uno, Sky Sport 252 (Italy)
Online/mobile: CBS All Access, Univision NOW, TUDNApp, UniMás, TUDN.com, TUDNxtra (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.