It couldn’t be more simple for Juventus on Thursday night. At least on paper, that is.
What happens on the field is, as we’ve come to know with Juve, a completely different matter entirely.
With the 1-1 draw last Thursday in Turin, Juventus’ Europa League situation is simple — you beat Nantes in France and you’re into the round of 16. But if Juventus does what its done pretty much every time it has faced a do-or-die situation the last few years in Europe, well, then it’s going to be another disappointing end to what has already been a disappointing European campaign under Max Allegri.
See? Simple is as simple does.
But there’s also that simple matter of Juventus’ play on the field and how Nantes is still very much in this tie after a first leg in which the French side probably shouldn’t have been.
That means another mistake, another mishit clearance that doesn’t hit its intended target, another misplaced pass that goes to somebody in the opposition’s jersey, could very much come back and haunt Juventus. And this time it might not just cause some frustration after the first 90 minutes of the two-legged tie, it will see Juve’s Europa League campaign end all of two games after it started following the Champions League failures.
Juventus manager Max Allegri has said what you would expect him to say — his team is approaching it like a final, they know it’s a one-off match and therefore they have to get everything right, it will be tough against Nantes on its home turf. All of that kind of stuff that Allegri said before facing Villarreal last season.
The first leg against Nantes was frustrating both for how Juve played, how ineffective in front of goal Allegri’s team ended up being and how the visitors scored their only goal of the night on their only shot on goal in the entire game. Whether it was seeing a Juve player blast a shot high or wide or seeing Federico Chiesa’s tight-angle attempt go off the crossbar and then the far post, it was very much a frustrating night in front of goal for Juve and arguably the biggest reason why this tie is 1-1 heading into the second leg.
On paper, Juventus should beat Nantes despite the absence of Chiesa, Paul Pogba and the steady-as-he-goes Arek Milik. But this is reality and not a computer simulation — crazy things can happen and that is even more of a risk now considering Juventus’ situation is a 1-1 aggregate scoreline and not something that favors the Bianconeri by a goal or two.
For as much as Nantes lost 3-1 over the weekend to Lens, the fact that Juventus couldn’t win the first leg in the kind of way it should have means the team that currently sits in 13th in Ligue 1 enters the second leg with something that can always benefit the underdog — some hope. Nantes has hope, and that’s because Juve couldn’t put them away in Turin.
So now, on paper, it becomes very simple for Juventus — get a win and you’re part of Friday’s Round of 16 draw.
But this season — and especially these winter months — has not been anything close to simple. I don’t know if that’s some sort of eluding to a bad omen, but it is definitely the notion of having a feeling in which Juventus making this a routine and drama-free trip to France doesn’t exist.
- Federico Chiesa, who was held out of Juve’s visit to Spezia over the weekend, was not called up for the second leg against Nantes due to injury. The hope was that it would be just a one-game deal, but Chiesa’s minor injury has obviously not responded that way Juventus’ medical team had hoped.
- With no Chiesa available, Allegri ruled out the use of a three-man front line, which means it’s almost certainly a 3-5-2 with Dusan Vlahovic and Angel Di Maria up front.
- Despite some rumblings that he could be called up to the traveling squad, Paul Pogba is still out injured. He did, however, train with the group on Wednesday prior to them departing for France.
- Arek Milik is still out injured.
- Fabio Miretti is still out injured.
- Enzo Barrenechea is the lone Juventus Next Gen player called up for the trip to France.
- Allegri said Juan Cuadrado “is better off than he was for the Spezia game” but has yet to decide if it will be the Colombian or Mattia De Sciglio starting on the right against Nantes.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
This past Sunday saw some of the worst midfield play that we’ve seen from Juventus in a good amount of time. The pass success numbers were bad. Like, really bad.
So you can probably guess where we are going to put are concentration over the next couple hundred words.
We talked about Manuel Locatelli in this here section a few games ago. And, ever since then, the resounding theme of said discussion has proven out to be true — Locatelli, for all the skills that he has and all the tools in his toolbox, is still searching for the consistency that will allow him to take that next step as a player. It’s been up and down for Locatelli, with this past weekend’s win over Spezia very much the example of the side of things when things aren’t going very well.
You can say that about pretty much every Juve midfielder who played, but it might have been especially true about Locatelli. (Maybe not to the same extent as Leandro Pardes, but it was close!) He completed just 76 percent of his passes. He was shown a yellow card after all of 20 seconds and that pretty much showed the rest of the way. It was an overall pretty meh at best performance from a guy who Juventus need a lot better from.
Here’s some in-depth analysis for you all: Locatelli and the rest of the Juventus midfield will have to be a whooooooole lot better if they want to have any chance of beating Nantes.
And again, it comes down to the consistency aspect of things for Locatelli. Not just consistency, but the good kind of consistency, one where he’s able to shed a bad performance like he had on Sunday and then turn it into a positive. Knowing that he will be missing out on the Turin derby because of said yellow card he picked up against Spezia, maybe there is a little extra juice for this game. Or maybe just what’s at stake is what will help turn Locatelli for the good.
Either way, Juventus need Locatelli’s good side to show itself again. Just in the same way that Good Bremer, Good Dusan and Good Di Maria need to be present in France if Juventus want to have any chance of advancing in the Europa League.
When: Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023.
Where: Beaujoire Stadium, Nantes, France.
Official kickoff time: 6:45 p.m. local time in France and around Europe, 5:45 p.m. in the United Kingdom, 12:45 p.m. Eastern time, 9:45 a.m. Pacific time.
HOW TO WATCH
Television: TUDN USA (United States); BT Sport 3 (United Kingdom); Sky Sport Uno, Sky Sport 253, Sky Sport 4K (Italy).
Online/Streaming: Paramount+, TUDN.com, TUDN App (United States); DAZN (Canada); BTSport.com, BT Sport App (United Kingdom); DAZN, 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.