As the prospect of Juventus heading to Lisbon for a must-win game against Benfica draws near, I can’t help but feel a bit like King Theoden in The Lord of the Rings, arming himself as he waits on the besieging army of Uruk’Hai to arrive at Helm’s Deep thinking, “How did it come to this?”
The events that led Juve to this moment are there in history for everyone to see. They’re less stunning from the inside than they are from without, especially considering the usual British commentators who only look at anything outside of the Premier League at a skin-deep level.
In reality, Juventus have been on the road here for a while now, and just as Rohan was left at the brink while the bewitching of Theoden left them bereft of leadership, Juve‘s own mismanagement now sees them facing a similar last stand.
The situation facing Juventus is indeed stark.
Anything less than six points from their last two games against Benfica and Paris Saint-Germain will see the team crash out of the Champions League for the first time since the 2013-14 season. Even then, it’s not a guarantee that they’ll advance. Benfica would have to drop points in their final game against Maccabi Haifa, and even then Juve might falter if they fail to turn around their head-to-head goal difference with the Portuguese side.
That makes Tuesday night’s game at the Estadio da Luz incredibly important, and the job that must be done there clear. Juventus must not only win, but win big. Anything less than a two-goal victory would be insufficient to turn the tiebreaker in Juve’s favor and give them any sort of chance to advance.
Simple enough task in one of the toughest places in Europe to play against a team that you’ve only ever beaten once in continental competition.
Has it happened before? Sure.
Has Massimiliano Allegri done it before? Sure.
We all remember the Atletico Madrid tie, or the second leg at the Bernabeu that could have been legendary had Michael Oliver not spent the second half being very bad at his job. But those were different Juventus teams, and Allegri was a different coach playing in different times.
At this moment, as much as you want to believe in Juve as a fan, it’s difficult to see a way out of this. A strong second half against Empoli has provided some hope, but hope has often been fleeting under Max 2.0. The team is still missing its three best players. The new injury to Leandro Paredes means some other midfielders will again be playing in positions that don’t get the best of their talents. And to top it all off, there’s the opposition they’re actually facing: a Benfica team that hasn’t lost this season and that played Juventus off their own field last month.
Things certainly do look bleak. Despite his protestations to the contrary, Allegri’s men are one foot into the Europa League (or, all holiness forbid, worse).
But you’re not beaten until you’re dead. And you never know — the Rohirrim may yet crest the hill and charge to your aid.
- Here is the squad that has been called up for the game and made the trip to Portugal:
- Obviously absent that list are Federico Chiesa and Paul Pogba, both of whom are now training in some capacity but are being slow-walked to fitness to avoid any dangerous relapses.
- Also out are Angel Di Maria, Gleison Bremer, and Leandro Paredes. Add in Pogba from the above bullet point, and that’s four of your five summer acquisitions out of the lineup for one of the most important games of the season to date.
- Also out is Mattia De Sciglio. That’s maybe not the biggest loss, but knowing Allegri you know he’d find a way to put him into there if he were fit.
- Allegri gave absolutely no hints as to who might play tomorrow or how he will line them up.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
Don’t look now, but Moise Kean’s form is ticking up.
The 22-year-old striker has been rightly maligned for some really bad play since he returned to the team in the wake of that Portuguese dude’s departure last summer. He’s picked up the odd goal here and there, even an important one against Sassuolo in April, but all in all he’s been entirely too poor.
But his last two games he’s started to show a few signs of life. He did well in the Derby della Mole against Torino, although that was marred by a really awful miss that monopolized most of the post-game conversation about him. But Friday’s win over Empoli saw a Kean that was a lot more like the player we saw as a kid making his debut in the last season of Allegri’s first tenure than what we’ve seen from him so far. The goal he scored came, ironically, from a chance that was almost a carbon copy of his big miss against Torino, and he could have had one or even two more over the course of the match. He was confident, he was lively, he was getting into the right positions, and he was creating a lot of danger with the service he was getting.
If Kean suddenly hits a run of form, the effect on the front line would be huge. With Arkadiusz Milik on a great run and Dusan Vlahovic being Dusan Vlahovic, adding in a third in-form striker gives Juventus a boost from the bench, allows for some rotation, and gives Allegri the ability to throw in some tactical wrinkles based on who he wants to play that day.
It’s only two games, but it’s a start, and if it can be built upon, it could be a big boon for the team.
When: Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022.
Where: Estadio da Luz, Lisbon, Portugal.
Official kickoff time: 9 p.m. local time and around Europe, 8 p.m. UK time, 3 p.m. Eastern time, 12 p.m. Pacific time.
HOW TO WATCH
Television: BT Sport 8 (United Kingdom); Sky Sport Football, Sky Sport 252 (Italy).
Online/Streaming: Paramount+ (United States); DAZN (Canada); BT Sport app, BTSport.com (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.