After two consecutive defeats in Champions League action, Juventus’ hopes of making the knockout rounds of Europe’s premier competition lie in tatters. Coach Massimiliano Allegri would certainly not have expected to be competing for avoiding the wooden spoon in Group H and possibly dropping to the Europa League, but yet this is where we stand.
In the next fortnight Juve will play Maccabi Haifa home and away and anything less than six points in those two fixtures will almost certainly doom their UCL futures. That said, the Bianconeri will go into the game in a more positive frame of mind after a consoling 3-0 win over Bologna on Sunday.
Speaking at his pre-match press conference today, Allegri was very emphatic about the gravity of tomorrow’s game.
“We must win, but we don’t need anxiety. Games are lengthy and we should not do too much as we did against Bologna. One game does not solve all the problems. Hopefully, we’ll win tomorrow.
“It’s not an easy game. Maccabi played well in Lisbon and played an even match with PSG. They press high and it’s going to be tough, we have to respect them. It’s useless to think about the other teams if we don’t win both games against Maccabi. Tomorrow is our most important Champions League game.”
How much squad rotation will Allegri employ now that he is starting to get some players back?
“Surely we will change something. We have a packed fixture list. Almost everyone is back so I can rotate a bit also during the game.
“I must decide on the line-up, but the most important thing is to do even better than on Sunday, both in attack and defence.”
Arkadiusz Milik has been in sparkling form for Juve but will not start tomorrow, but fellow summer signing Angel di Maria will.
“It’s just muscle fatigue, so he’ll [Milik] go to the bench, hoping that I won’t be forced to use him.
“Di Maria feels much better and trained even more than the others lately. I am convinced that he will put in a great performance tomorrow. Perhaps we could change the system as we’ll have players with different characteristics on the pitch.”
Federico Chiesa has resumed training this week after a long layoff from a knee injury in January, and Allegri said he will be playing it cautiously with the Italy international.
“I am happy with Federico, he is back after nine months and it’s a relief. Surely, it’s hard to train alone. We’ll assess him day by day. We’ll organise a friendly to test him before his definitive return to the squad.”
Talismanic striker Gonzalo Higuain said this week that he will be retiring from the game, and Allegri had some special words for him.
“I spent amazing years with him. It’s a pity when these players retire, it was a pleasure to work with him and I wish him the best for his second life. A footballer lives twice.”
Juventus starting goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny is back and fully fit after an injury earlier in the season, and talked about how Juve can get back on track this season.
“We must have a similar attitude, calm and aware of difficulties in Champions League games. We know we need six points in the next two games.
“Serie A is very balanced, but now we have to focus on the Champions League. It makes no sense to think about the league, we are seven points behind and we must recover. We’ll get there.”
“There are many aspects that affected us at the start of the season. Having many players out due to injuries didn’t help. Now, a few players are back and are ready to help. We must do better also in difficult times. We have an important month ahead, we need points.
“This last month was tough, I felt useless, the team was struggling and I could not help, now I am back with enthusiasm.”
Mattia Perin stepped in for Szczesny in that time and has been stellar in his backup role.
“We are friends, I love Mattia. After a tough moment, he returned here and proved to be a great goalkeeper. I am not surprised by his performances, he is always ready to help.
“It’s crucial not to concede, when we defend as a unit, it’s easier to attack and create trouble.”
Of all the Bianconeri summer additions, striker Milik has had the biggest impact with his goals even as Dusan Vlahovic has struggled at times, and Szczesny was full of praise for his compatriot.
“I’ve known Arek for a long time. He is a strong striker. I am surprised by the quality he puts on the pitch. He has a bit more space playing behind Vlahovic, he can create chances, I am happy with what he’s done. He has the Juventus DNA.”