Even with all that I’ve said about him this season and last, there are still times when Max Allegri surprises me with a nugget of info or statistic that slips my mind.
His pre-match press conference on Wednesday was one of those times.
“We have to get back to winning at home,” said Allegri, giving me a little bit of a feeling of simple agreement based solely on what happened not very long ago against Nantes.
But there’s more to it than just wanting to win at home — which, unsurprisingly, is a pretty good idea if you want to continue to advance in the Europa League (or any other competition for that matter).
“ ... between the Champions League and Europa League, we’ve only managed one win.”
OK, who else was just reminded that Juventus has only one won game in Europe so far this season? Because I most definitely was just reminded that Juve has only won one game in Europe so far this season. So that meant I made a list in my head to think it out ...
- Lost to Paris Saint-Germain
- Lost to Benfica
- Beat Maccabi Haifa
- Drew with Nantes
See? That’s one win, one draw and two losses in Europe this season.
So now with a very solid opponent in Bundesliga title challenger Freiburg coming to Turin for the first leg of the Europa League Round of 16, Allegri’s desire to get back on track at home is something that will go a long way in determining what his team’s chances are of getting into the quarterfinals. As we saw with Juventus in the first leg against Nantes, a draw is not the end of the world (especially with the away goals rule not being a thing to worry about anymore), but with Sunday’s loss to Roma the emphasis on the Europa League is just that much more important.
Same goes for how Juve responds after such a loss and the manner in which it happened.
That’s the thing with this two-week stretch that Juve currently finds themselves in — it’s one big game after another. (Yes, even you count there, Sampdoria.) There is no respite until the international break arrives, and even then it’s not like all of Juve’s big-name players are going to be getting much of a rest those two weeks.
Freiburg are no slouch and very much the formidable opponent. This won’t be easy and we certainly can’t think of Freiburg of the same as we spoke of Nantes. Unlike Juventus, their European campaign this season has been an impressive one. And unlike Juventus, Freiburg has yet to suffer defeat in Europe — which is something that Allegri certainly made note of during his press conference.
So, yeah, this will be a challenge. Juventus are getting healthy, sure, but what kind of team we get is definitely a day-by-day thing. For as good as they were in fighting back against Torino that same performance level wasn’t there against Roma five days later. The performance level is still very much a mixed bag, and that is most definitely a worrying aspect when you know you can seriously hurt your chances of advancing with one poor showing over the course of 90 minutes.
Can Juventus do what it did against Nantes once again and get away with a tough showing in the first leg? Who knows.
That’s to be seen. But the easiest thing to do is to not let another opening leg potentially come back to bite you. That’s something we said before Nantes, and that’s something we will continue to say as long as Juventus is taking part in the Europa League this season.
- The current list of injured players is unchanged from the weekend: Arek Milik, Mattia De Sciglio and Kaio Jorge.
- After he had to come out injured at halftime against Roma, Alex Sandro was declared “99 percent OK” by Allegri at his pre-match press conference.
- Allegri added that he hasn’t decided if it will be Sandro or Leonardo Bonucci — who came on for the Brazilian against Roma — getting the start against Freiburg.
- Paul Pogba has come off the bench in Juve’s last two games and Allegri said the Frenchman “is available, but I still need to decide how to get the best out of him.” That sounds like Pogba will once again start on the bench Thursday night.
- To the surprise of nobody, Allegri said Angel Di Maria will play from the start against Freiburg.
- That being said, Allegri said he is considering how he manages his squad following Sunday’s game against Roma and what his team has ahead of them this weekend with Sampdoria’s trip to Turin.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
OK, fine. I’ll bite.
Everybody else is talking about him, so let’s just jump into the fray.
There’s been a whole lot of talk over the last couple of days about Dusan Vlahovic and what has gone right or wrong following his 18-touch game against Roma. There have been a whole lot of opinions about it — just how much is Vlahovic’s fault, why things have gotten to where they are right now, what has caused the talented Serbian to not replicate his Fiorentina form, and so on and so on and so on.
But, here’s the thing about going from big game to another big game: This is a chance to, after a few days of hearing a whole bunch of criticism, basically go back to hearing the praise about what a good striker he can be when he gets the chance.
For a good portion of the last 14 months since coming to Juventus, Vlahovic has been feasting on scraps. He’s attempting fewer shots than he did last season — and even then it’s not like he was getting great service following his move from Fiorentina.
So what’s got to change for Vlahovic to be effective again? Well, it starts with him actually getting the ball more than he did Sunday night. That, at the very least, can go toward solving some of the problem because you have to think that the more Vlahovic sees of the ball then the more he can either try and score or make good things happen. (Remember, it wasn’t that many days ago that we were praising Vlahovic for his hold up play as much as for the goals he scored against Salernitana. Yes, it was Salernitana, but the fact still remains, people.)
No matter how talented Vlahovic is, it’s tough to do much of anything when the ball isn’t finding you. At the very least we can say that things have to improve on that front for the tide to turn and for the tune about Vlahovic’s season to change. If not, then ... I don’t even want to think about all that right now.
When: Thursday, March 9, 2023.
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 4 (United Kingdom); Sky Sport Uno, Sky Sport 252, Sky Sport 4K (Italy).
Online/Streaming: Paramount+ (United States); DAZN (Canada); BTSport.com, BT Sport App (United Kingdom); DAZN, NOW TV, 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.