Juventus has been in this kind of situation before. And they’ve been in this situation for what feels like the last decade in the Champions League even though that’s not actually the case. It’s just what it feels like even though it’s not the actual reality. But, no matter the feelings, we can say that this situation has happened the last two seasons, and that’s not a trend that we want to see happen come 2022, 2023, 2024 and onward.
Through one paragraph, you can probably guess what I’m talking about.
Juventus. In the Champions League Round of 16. Down on aggregate after the first leg.
Ding, ding, ding. There you go.
Just like we saw against Atletico Madrid in 2019 and Lyon last summer, Juventus has a deficit to overcome as they get ready to play Porto in the second leg of the Champions League Round of 16 in Turin on Tuesday night. It is a tune that is all too familiar to us now — watching Juventus struggle to do much of anything right in the first leg and then have to pull off a little bit of magic to make sure that their Champions League campaign doesn’t end short of the quarterfinals.
They were able to do that in 2019, albeit getting bounced in the quarterfinals by Ajax.
The complete opposite happened in the summer of 2020 against Lyon, a capper and what is viewed by many as the thing that was the final straw of Maurizio Sarri’s one season in charge in Turin.
Now, Juventus is on the wrong side of the aggregate scoreline again after the first leg of a round of 16 tie. Porto comes to Turin up 2-1, with Juventus’ only real hope coming via Federico Chiesa’s late goal in the first leg that is the thing that makes this mountain to climb a little easier than it could have been. It’s that goal, one that pretty much had everybody screaming “HOPE!” as it crossed the goal line, as to why this isn’t all doom-and-gloom like it could be because Juve’s first-leg performance was far from a good thing.
Let’s be clear: If Juventus play anywhere close to the way they did in the first leg, then this Champions League run is going to end in the same kind of fashion as last season’s did.
But Andrea Pirlo has this going for him: Juventus is coming off a big domestic win all of three days ago, one where his team responded quite well to falling behind 1-0. His biggest start got most of the game to rest, his No. 9 has scored in his last two appearances and was the leading man in the Lazio win, his most important midfielder is back and, maybe most important of all, some of the other injury issues that have truly ravaged the team in recent weeks are starting to ease up a little bit.
Those things, ones that are trending toward the better, are still to be determined as to whether or not they will be enough to turn this in Juventus’ favor.
Pirlo says that his team will need to be patient against Porto on Tuesday night, and that’s true seeing as Porto is more of a team that relies on its defense and and high-pressure game — like we saw in the first leg — more than being an high-flying offensive team. The mistakes Juve made that led to both goals in the first leg can’t happen again. The performance offensively where Juve struggled to put much of anything on goal until the latter stages of the game can’t happen again. Basically, anything that Juve did outside of scoring a goal can’t be replicated.
The first leg is the past, but it’s also a blueprint of how not to play and expect positive results.
Now, with their backs up against the wall in the Champions League and potentially down to 90 or so minutes left to play in the competition this season, it’s put up or shut up time for Pirlo, for his squad and for an organization that has put so much emphasis on Europe’s premier club competition.
In a season of ups and downs and so many starts and stops, it’s about as crystal clear as ever when it comes to what Juventus need to do to keep their Champions League status alive this season. They need to to win, and they need to do so by a certain scoreline or else we’ll be left right where we were when Juventus lost to Lyon last August.
Nobody wants a repeat of history. Even though there’s a new coach, the goal is still the same — and it’s definitely not to be bounced from the Champions League in the round of 16 two years in a row.
- Juventus’ new option in the midfield, Danilo, is suspended for this second leg against Porto.
- Rodrigo Bentancur is out due to testing positive for COVID-19 last week.
- Paulo Dybala is still out injured. (And, really, we don’t have any idea when he’s coming back, which is somewhat depressing knowing it’s been two months now.)
- Giorgio Chiellini returned to training with the group on Monday. It is unsure as of this writing if he will be starting in defense, though, with Merih Demiral also in contention to start.
- Matthijs de Ligt returned to training with the group on Monday. It seems unlikely as of this writing that he will be starting in defense, though.
- You want a pretty good sign that Leonardo Bonucci is starting against Porto? He was the player talking to the media alongside Andrea Pirlo during Monday’s pre-match press conference.
- Pirlo described Weston McKennie’s current injury situation as “(he) is doing well enough, but he has been having a little problem for some time and can only play in parts of the game.”
- While we’re still not sure if he’s got 90 minutes in his legs just yet, Pirlo described Arthur — who made his return from injury on Saturday night against Lazio —as “not 100% but he could still play from the start, hoping that he will last.”
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
Two years ago, Cristiano Ronaldo’s impact was a point of emphasis when I wrote the match preview as Juventus was about to face Atletico Madrid in the second leg of the round of 16.
Last summer, Ronaldo’s impact was also a point of emphasis when I wrote the match preview as Juventus was about to face Lyon in the second leg of the round of 16.
You can see where the line of thinking is going here.
Tic, tac, toe — three in a row!
Yes, I know. Saying Ronaldo is Juventus’ most important player — especially in the Champions League — is easy. It’s the simple one rather than breaking down how important the return to the starting lineup of Leonardo Bonucci or Arthur may be if Pirlo deems them fit enough to play from the start Tuesday night.
But look at who’s scored the four goals the club has recorded in the knockout rounds since he joined the club: Ronaldo vs. Atletico, Ronaldo vs. Atletico, Ronaldo vs. Atletico, Ronaldo vs. Lyon, Federico Chiesa vs. Porto.
As much as we talk about the midfield or the defense or anything else that doesn’t involve the guy who wears No. 7, so much of Juventus’ success still is attached to No. 7. Again, we’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: Juve didn’t bring him in to continue to win Serie A; it was all about the Champions League. And when you’ve got situations like these where you need to flip the aggregate scoreline in your favor, having the dude who’s scored more goals than anybody else in Champions League history is always a nice thing to have.
Sure, knowing that the aggregate scoreline is 2-1 thanks to Chiesa’s late goal in the first leg means that Juve don’t need the superhero kind of effort from Ronaldo in this leg. That is if Juventus keep Porto off the scoreboard and 2-1 doesn’t turn into 3-1 and obviously drastically changing the scope of the tie.
Either way, Pirlo’s line of thinking over the weekend was to have Ronaldo prepared for Porto’s trip to Turin this Tuesday night. Sure, he played 30 or so minutes against Lazio, but resting him was the sign of just how much Pirlo knows this Champions League fixture is a defining moment of the season.
Ronaldo coming off a game where he was mostly rested and his coach is describing him as “fired up and well-rested” ... yeah, that sounds good when Juventus NEEDS to win.
When: Tuesday, March 9, 2021
Where: Juventus 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: CBS Sports Network, TUDN USA, UniMás (United States); BT Sport 2 (United Kingdom); Sky Sport Uno, Sky Sport 252, Canale 5 (Italy)
Online/mobile: Paramount+, Univision NOW, TUDNApp, TUDN.com, TUDNxtra (United States); DAZN (Canada); BTSport.com, BT Sport app (United Kingdom); DAZN, 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.