No matter if it’s been in the Europa League or the Coppa Italia, there’s been one common thread to the first leg of each of the three knockout ties Juventus has played over the last six weeks.
You think you know?
Let’s just say this: It’s involves Allianz Stadium.
Yes, for yet another first leg of a knockout tie, Juve will be at home for the opening 90 minutes. It happened against Nantes. It happened against Freiburg. It happened against Inter last week. And now it’s about to happen again when Sporting makes to trip to Turin for the first leg of the Europa League quarterfinals on Thursday night. It is no secret that this is the latest matchup in a string of big April fixtures in which Juventus’ fate for this season and hopes of winning silverware will either be kept alive or be completely dashed. And while we await the second leg of the Coppa Italia semifinals against Inter to arrive later this month, Juve’s status in the Europa League will be determined over the next eight days.
It is very much another increase in difficulty of opponent as one would expect as you move on in the competition. There was Nantes to start out. Then there was a team that was better than Nantes in Freiburg. And now there’s Sporting, which hasn’t faced Juventus since the Champions League group stage in 2017.
Sporting is very much the club responsible for the most notable aggregate win in the round of 16 after they dispatched of Premier League leaders Arsenal. At this point, everybody is well aware of the fact that the Portuguese side has the capability of beating anybody and what feels like everybody who has come their way over the last few months.
Overall, Sporting hasn’t lost a game since Feb. 12 against arch-rival Porto.
“Sporting beat Arsenal,” Juve manager Max Allegri said at his pre-match press conference on Wednesday. “They are a strong team. We have to be at the top of our game.”
See? Max knows it. You know it. I know it. We all know. Sporting’s win over Arsenal simply confirmed the notion that they are probably just as capable of any of the eight teams remaining of winning the Europa League.
The question remains, though: Which Juventus will show up at the Allianz on Thursday night?
It could be the Juventus side that didn’t really muster much offense at all over the course of the first 65 or 70 minutes against Lazio. Or it could be the Juventus side that looked pretty good in the final 20 minutes of that same game against Lazio on Saturday night. Those two options are very much the opposite of one another and the kind of situations that could see Juve either in a whole lot of trouble going into the second leg next week or ahead on the aggregate like they were back in the round of 16 against Freiburg.
Maybe most important of all is how Juventus respond after a tough week that saw a could-be win over Inter suddenly snatched away in the final moments and then a tough loss to Lazio further slow down the momentum they had going into the international break.
This is the fourth game in a grueling April schedule for Allegri’s squad. So far, the overall product has left a lot to be desired both results-wise and in terms of overall performance. Thursday night is the chance to change things for the better — whether that actually happens remains to be seen.
- The good news when it comes to Juve’s squad availability: Paul Pogba will be called up for Thursday night’s game against Sporting after missing the last month with his latest injury, this one being a muscle injury in his abductor.
- More good news when it comes to Juve’s squad availability: Dusan Vlahovic will also be called up for Sporting’s visit to Turin despite rumors that he would miss out due to an ankle injury he picked up over the weekend against Lazio. Allegri said at his pre-match press conference that Vlahovic is capable of playing 90 minutes on Thursday.
- Mattia De Sciglio will again miss out due to a muscle injury. Allegri said Juve hope to have the veteran fullback for Sunday’s game against Sassuolo.
- Allegri said Federico Chiesa’s involvement in the starting lineup will not be dependent on what formation Juventus end up using.
- Allegri stated, for the record, that he is not surprised by what Italian teams are doing in the Champions League this season. Please note that his team is the only Italian team no longer in the Champions League and one that did not qualify for the knockout rounds.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
Raise your hand if you’re being rumored to be in line for your first start Juventus played one of those opening-leg ties in the Europa League two months ago.
Hey, Freddy! Looks like you are most definitely being rumored to get a start Thursday night.
As we sit here now very much in mid-April territory, I feel safe in saying that I expect Chiesa to have started more than four games when we hit this point on the calendar even with the anticipated slow build to reincorporation into the starting lineup.
But things haven’t really gone as I’m sure those at Juventus hoped and probably planned.
Chiesa has been limited to substitute appearances of 20 or 30 minutes pretty much ever since he came back from injury during the Champions League group stage. (Hey, how Juve did there is why they’re in the Europa League! Imagine that!) Some of those performances — like this past weekend against Lazio — have been positive, but others have not exactly seen Chiesa buzzing all over the place like when things are gong well.
The thought against Sporting is that Max Allegri will roll out the same three-headed attack monster that he did in that last start Chiesa registered back in the first leg against Nantes in mid-February. The difference, besides Chiesa being limited to coming off the bench ever since then, is that Arek Milik will be starting rather than Vlahovic, whose status when it comes to starting is a little up in the air entering Thursday night’s game.
Nobody is expecting Chiesa to play a full 90 or anything close to it. But if this does indeed become the game in which he’s back in the starting lineup, then one can only hope that he is spreading his wings in full and flying around the field like only Fede can. Because, as we know, Juventus are a better team with Chiesa on the field rather than off it, and seeing him on the field — especially after all he’s dealt with of late and the last 16 months — is just the good stuff.
When: Thursday, April 13, 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 3 (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, SKY Go Italia, NOW TV (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.