Juventus travel to Spain to take on Villarreal tomorrow in their Champions League Round of 16 first leg game, and will be looking to break their recent hex at this stage of the competition against teams that are not traditional European superpowers.
Speaking during his pre-match press conference, coach Massimiliano Allegri talked about who from his injury-struck squad he would be counting on for the game, especially following Luca Pellegrini leaving the derby della Mole at halftime and the news that Adrien Rabiot was injured by an unfortunate tackle from an Under-23 player in training.
“Leonardo Bonucci trained with us and didn’t feel pain. Having him available is already a great achievement. He could be introduced if needed. Surely he will return on Saturday.
“Luca Pellegrini will return, Rabiot is available. Dybala and Rugani remain out.”
Would he describe Villarreal as a cynical team to play against?
“Very. Because the coach is clever and cunning. We need a serious match, a Champions League match to be played with great calmness and focus.”
With Dybala not available, how would Allegri change his side’s approach?
“It’s not a question of the formation, they play a bit differently. We’ll have to be good at managing the ball, which is something we’ll have to improve on. It’s an important absence, Morata and Vlahovic will surely start, then I need to take decisions in midfield, I have some doubts. Arthur or Locatelli, Zakaria, McKennie and Rabiot. I need to decide between them.
“The team has improved mentally. As Morata said, we would have lost against Torino three months ago. Tomorrow we have a nice game to play, we need to do the right things when we have the ball.
“The environment has changed, this team has qualified for the Round of 16 in the last eight years. The first target is to go beyond the group stage. Otherwise, you have no chance to win.
“At this stage, we must be good and lucky. It’s a difficult game tomorrow, despite what many think. Villareal are well-coached, they are an excellent team. We need to play well as a team.”
Allegri received quite a bit of criticism for the draw in the derby on Friday against Torino,
“It was a hard-fought game. During a season, there are some matches where you don’t have many opportunities, but Juventus played a good game.
“We’ve not turned into title contenders in twenty days, but balance is needed. We need to take a step at a time and be calm. Twenty days ago, we were the same team as yesterday.
“It’s a long journey for us, we want to get through this complicated Round of 16, then we have to continue in the league and then the Coppa Italia semi-final. We have three good months to play for.”
New signing Dusan Vlahovic was taken off in the second half of the game on Friday.
“He’s a youngster who has zero international experience, he’s making his debut tomorrow and so we need to help him, he’ll help the team. It’s a path of growth for him and for the whole team.
“Vlahovic makes his Champions League debut tomorrow, we can’t put all the pressure on him. He must be supported and I must protect him until the end, as I protected players with less experience.
“It’s not just a technical question, but also psychological. For the first time, he read an entire page on a newspaper asking why he hadn’t scored. It had never happened before,
“We’ve begun a new year together, there are new players, but we can expect instant results. The path is excellent, clearly, we don’t play to be eliminated, we play to win. I understand that in your job [talking to journalists] you need to give judgements after every game. You may write two opposite things in the space of three days, but I need to give balance and stability.”
How about the other January mercato signing, Denis Zakaria?
“He’s a good and intelligent player, he’s doing well. He has understood where he’s come from and has immediately made himself available.”
Does the removal of the away goal rule change his approach to the Champions League?
“On a mathematical level you have to have a draw away and a win at home or the other way round. We have to think about tomorrow’s game, trying to get a good result.”