It can’t happen again, can it?
After two years of being bounced from the Champions League in the round of 16 by opponents that, on paper, were eminently beatable, Juventus were once again treated well enough by the draw when they were, finally, paired with Spanish side Villarreal.
At the time, the impending tie was considered something of a toss-up. When Juventus had one of the craziest January transfer windows in the history of January transfer windows and picked up a serious reinforcement in Dusan Vlahovic, Juve began to be considered by many — including myself — as a clearer favorite than they’d been before.
But over the last two weeks the pendulum has started to swing back the other way. For one thing, the team hasn’t looked good in its last two games, spurning a real chance to put some distance between themselves and Atalanta in the race for the top four with poor performances in a head-to-head six-pointer with La Dea, followed by an abjectly awful one against Torino in the Derby della Mole.
For another, this Juventus team is decimated right now. Paulo Dybala, who by now must believe he’s cursed when it comes to Champions League knockout games, will miss the game after pulling up with a muscle injury during the Turin derby on Friday, although the injury is minor enough that he’s likely to be ready in the second leg barring any relapse. Perhaps most importantly, three of Juventus’ four center-backs are either out altogether (Giorgio Chiellini, Daniele Rugani) or likely only fit enough to start on the bench (Leonardo Bonucci). That means Matthijs de Ligt is probably going to go into the game another emergency center-back. That will most likely be Danilo, who was suspended on Friday, as opposed to Alex Sandro, who held his own for most of the game against Torino, save for its most critical moment.
So, to sum up, the back line will be tenuous at best, and the forward line will be without its most creative player.
Not the place most would want to be as they approach the biggest game of the year.
Of course, Juve could still pick themselves up off the mat and get a result here. Massimiliano Allegri has done crazier things, and Villarreal aren’t at their absolute healthiest either, with top scorer Gerardio Moreno missing at least this game. But with a short bench and limited options, he might just take advantage of the fact that the away goals rule no longer applies and clam up in the hopes of being healthier in the second leg at home in three weeks’ time. The main thing, though, is to come out of this game in position to be able to win the tie three weeks from now, however that can be achieved.
- Dybala and Rugani, who pulled out of Friday’s match in warmups, will both miss 10 days, putting them on track to next be available for the first leg ofthe Coppa Italia semifinals against Fiorentina.
- Chiellini is still out with a muscle injury but could return sometime next week.
- Bonucci trained with the team on Monday morning and will be available off the bench, but hasn’t been deemed fit enough to start.
- Federico Bernardeschi’s mysterious muscle injury continues to drag on, leaving both WINGS OF FEDE on the bench for another game.
- Here’s the full squad called up for the game:
Champions, si (ri)parte!— JuventusFC (@juventusfc) February 21, 2022
Ecco i convocati per #VillarrealJuve! #JuveUCL pic.twitter.com/npMjHe7hFP
- Juventus and Villarreal have never face each other in a competitive game.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
It’s never ideal to line a player up as an emergency anything, particularly when that anything is a center-back. That was proven quite definitively when Alex Sandro lost Andera Belotti in the box on the hour mark on Friday and allowed him to equalize.
It’s all the more unfortunate that Danilo had been suspended for the Derby due to yellow card accumulation. Had he been available, he probably would’ve gotten the nod in the middle, and it’s entirely possible that the results would have been different.
Last year, Andrea Pirlo often deployed Danilo as part of a back three. That he acquitted himself in that role so well was, frankly, a little bit shocking, given that he’d never played as a center-half before. But that experience served him well, and he did a good job against Atalanta when Bonucci was removed for Juan Cuadrado and he was shifted inside.
It is still very much an emergency situation—one that brings up legitimate questions about squad building and depth for the front office—but given Danilo’s form the last two years and his experience as a center-back a year ago, albeit in a back three, he’s about as safe a bet in this situation as you could hope to find.
Hopefully, I haven’t just tempted the Wrath of the Whatever from high atop the Thing.
When: Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022.
Where: Estadio de la Ceramica (formerly El Madrigal), Villarreal, Spain.
Official kickoff time: 9 p.m. local time in Spain, Italy and around 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, Spanish language); BT Sport 3 (United Kingdom); Sky Sport Uno, Sky Sport 252, Sky Sport 4K, Canale 5 (Italy).
Streaming: Paramount+ (United States); DAZN (Canada); BTSport.com, BT Sport app (United Kingdom); SKY Go Italia, NOW TV, Mediaset Infinity (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.