When the Champions League group stage schedule was first released, we pretty much knew that there was a very good chance Juve entered its first European match at home this season already looking one loss in the face. And now that Juventus has played that first Champions League fixture, that “very good chance” is very much true.
It’s part of the reason why Max Allegri identified Juve’s second European fixture of the 2022-23 season as one the club has to get and one that could be the determining factor if there’s Champions League football in Turin come the early stages of 2023.
So, about that game against Benfica, huh?
Juventus is very in a myriad of disappointing and/or mixed performances and overall a bunch of disappointing results. As we sit here one month into the new season, Allegri’s second season in his return to Juve has been far from a vast success, with the Bianconeri sitting on two wins in their first seven games in all competitions. Some of those games have seen Allegri’s squad play well for a half, while others have seen Juventus just completely lay an egg and drop points in a very deserved kind of fashion.
But what Juventus hasn’t done this season, regardless of if its domestically or in Europe, has win. And in a season in which there has been plenty of turnover, already plenty of injuries and mounting frustrations from those on the outside watching this team every single game, Juve’s in desperate need of three points and a few things to go their way. (Before fixing it, I originally wrote “three pints” instead of “three points” and I feel like the former is what a lot of us need each time we watch Juve play these days.)
Let’s just check on the form of each team first, shall we?
- Juventus: Two wins in seven games in all competitions this season.
- Benfica: Eleven wins in 11 games in all competitions this season.
So, yeah. It doesn’t matter who is the home team in this game. It doesn’t matter who is perceived as the bigger club or whatever “bigger” bigger means at this point.
Based simply on form, there is one team who should be the favorites — and it’s not Juve.
The situation is as clear as day for Allegri and his squad entering Wednesday night’s season debut at home in the Champions League: You lose, you’re putting your status for the knockout stages at serious risk. That’s not something you want to say all of two games into the Champions League group stage, but it’s also the reality of what’s at stake. Juventus can’t afford to go down six points to one team, let alone two, this early in the group stage.
But because of the loss last week to Paris Saint-Germain and the very real possibility of that kind of result happening again to Benfica this week, it’s not like having back-to-back games against Maccabi Haifa is going to be something that saves things if need be.
This is the second group stage game of the season. And yet, here we are in the middle of September, already talking about a must-win kind of Champions League fixture. As maybe expect as the PSG loss was to many, being backed into this kind of corner now where the second group stage game is this important is something we haven’t seen come Juventus’ way in what feels like quite a good amount of time. (And remember, this is a club in which the group stage has never really been all that routine over the last 5-10 years.)
As I eluded to above, though, Juventus comes into this game far from anything you would consider “good shape” or even “completely average” with its form. Juve has not been very good this season, and that’s even when you include the few good halves of football that they’ve played over the first five weeks of the new campaign. The discourse has gone from what this team will look like to begin this season to whether or not Max Allegri is the guy who can get them out of this mess. There’s plenty to fix and we’re still wondering just how much room there is to go downward before things truly become rock bottom for this current iteration of Juventus.
You know what would contribute to that? Losing your second straight Champions League group stage game to begin the new season. As much as Allegri says Juventus-Benfica isn’t crucial, it most definitely feels that way. Agree to disagree on that one, Mister.
- You know the long-term injuries by now: Federico Chiesa, Paul Pogba and Kaio Jorge.
- Manuel Locatelli is also out injured.
- Adrien Rabiot is also out injured.
- Alex Sandro is also out injured after picking up an injury during Sunday’s game against Salernitana. Allegri hopes to have the Brazilian fullback back in the fold for the weekend’s trip to Monza.
- Wojciech Szczesny “might” be available, according to Allegri.
- Some good news on the injury front: Angel Di Maria is back in the squad after returning to training — at least partially — on Tuesday. His status in terms of being in the starting lineup against Benfica still remains to be seen, according to Allegri.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
Would you like to talk about the usual part of the field — like, you know, the midfield — or should we change it up a little bit and no bash our head into the wall again?
Oh ... you were expecting the midfield again? Sorry, but we’ll take a break for at least one day and talk about somebody different.
There was a lot made when Allegri said he thought Dusan Vlahovic and Arek Milik could play alongside one another up front. While the jury is most definitely still out on that notion, the first returns on Milik at Juventus have been much better than probably a lot of people anticipated they would be.
And that’s even when you consider Milik has had arguably his best moment thus far taken away from him this past weekend because Serie A refs don’t know how to use VAR properly. (That’s also saying something considering the weekend before he almost scored with Little Arek in Florence.)
No matter what formation the Italian press is predicting Allegri will use Wednesday night, Milik is most definitely a part of that starting lineup. If it’s a 3-5-2, Milik’s there. If it’s a 4-4-2, Milik’s there, too.
Basically, it looks as though Milik is as much of a lock to start as Vlahovic is. Is that something I expected to be writing heading into a very important Champions League group stage game in the middle of September? No, not at all. But, kinda like this season (or those before it) as a whole, it’s probably time we start expecting just about the complete opposite of what we originally thought how certain Juve transfers might fit into the puzzle.
Why Milik is going to be on the field is pretty clear, though — he’s a goal scorer and that’s something that Juventus needs outside of Vlahovic. No matter how much service they get as a collective whole, having two pure goal scorers sounds better than having just one — especially if Juve’s going to be using a two-man attack like everybody thinks they will. Milik can, at least, do some of the things a seconda punta is capable of, so they can theoretically work off each other and hopefully combine for some good things if given the chance.
It’s all about those chances, though. And the unfortunate thing is that those chances don’t necessarily come down to what Milik (or Vlahovic) do in the final third of the field. But, at the very least, Milik has shown the ability to capitalize on those chances if given something to work with. Let’s just hope VAR doesn’t come into play this time around, OK?
When: Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022.
Where: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy.
Official kickoff time: 9 p.m. local time in 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: BT Sport 7 (United Kingdom).
Online/Streaming: Paramount+ (United States); DAZN (Canada); BT Sport app, BTSport.com (United Kingdom); Amazon Prime Video (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.