We sat here a few weeks ago when Juventus was heading into the second leg of the Europa League Round of 16 against Freiburg and told you exactly what needed to happen for Max Allegri’s squad to advance. And just because I am a nice person, I will go ahead and remind you of that brief but important statement now:
Just don’t lose.
See? Simple enough, right?
That was the case against Freiburg in the round of 16. And, just like after the first leg against the upstart German side, Juventus holds a 1-0 lead after the opening 90 minutes in Turin as they head to Portugal to face Sporting in a crucial second leg Thursday night. Just like in Germany, Juve are expected to be greeted by one of their more raucous atmospheres they will experience the remainder of the season, and just how they approach things game is something that just about anybody with black-and-white rooting interests are wondering about.
And with certain developments we saw take place earlier in the day on Wednesday, Juventus will certainly have to try like hell to keep focus on what’s going on on the field and not what has happened in the court earlier in the day.
Thursday is suddenly a very important day for multiple reasons. We thought it would be potentially a 1-2 punch on Wednesday and then Thursday, but clearly those in charge of the final points penalty appeal decision had something different in mind.
When it comes to stuff that will happen on the field, Juventus manager Max Allegri was very much up front when it came to his view on things. That involved Allegri saying “It is unthinkable to try defend our 1-0 lead over the 90 minutes” — which, for the guy who said it, is something you would profile file in the “surprising” category. On one hand, Juve have been better in the second leg of their two Europa League knockout ties as compared to the opening 90 minutes. On the other hand, Allegri can say all he wants about how his team can’t just sit back and defend for the entirety of Thursday night’s game, but until we actually see his team in action those are just going to be words on the internet based on his history.
Having a 1-0 lead is obviously better than being in the situation Sporting finds itself in. So at least there’s that. And based on the first leg, things seem relatively even and who really knows much of that same cageyness is going to linger into the second meeting of the two sides.
Neither Juventus nor Sporting fared all that well this past weekend — which could be taken as a pretty big sign that playing in the Europa League three days earlier zapped both of them of their energy reserves. Not what kind of adjustments both managers make will be the thing that either sends Juve through thanks to having the upperhand after the first leg of Sporting because of their comeback victory.
“We have to try to score, although there will be times when we will have to defend as a team,” Allegri said. “We will need to be patient, especially when they’re on the attack because of the support of the home crowd.”
All of that above statement is true. Juventus trying to grind out a scoreless draw just doesn’t seem possible with how we know Sporting is going to be pushing to try and flip the aggregate scoreline in their favor. Juve can’t afford to have it be one-way traffic with Sporting on the ball for much of the night. Remember, this is a Sporting team that ousted the Premier League leaders, Arsenal, in the round of 16, so you know they’re capable of doing some really good things when they’re clicking.
Just how much Juventus can prevent that from happening will go a long way in making what is going to be a very big Thursday in the middle of April for a multitude of reasons either a very good day or the complete opposite of that.
Juve don’t have to win. It would be nice if they did, but they don’t have to win to get to the Europa League semifinals. They just have to avoid a complete disaster — which, as we’ve come to see the last few years in big knockout ties, is quite a tough task.
- Wojciech Szczesny will return to the starting lineup, per Allegri. This comes exactly a week after Szczesny had a brief serious health scare after having to be subbed out late in the first half of the first leg in Turin last Thursday night due to having trouble breathing. Szczesny was called up but was on the bench for Sunday’s loss to Sassuolo.
- Alex Sandro will return to the starting lineup, per Allegri. Sandro has been called up for the games against Sporting and Sassuolo, but hasn’t played a minute since coming back from injury.
- Allegri said he is still deciding on who to start in attack, adding that Federico Chiesa is nowhere close to a lock when it comes to being included in the starting lineup.
- Going off that, Allegri said he has “one doubt in midfield and one in attack” when it comes to his starting lineup choices.
- Mattia De Sciglio is back in the squad after missing the last couple of weeks due to a muscle injury.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
When Juventus needed a win in the second leg of the Europa League playoff round against Nantes, Angel Di Maria was there to deliver arguably the best individual performance of the 2022-23 season.
That was on Feb. 23. Since then, however, Di Maria hasn’t exactly been on fire.
In those eight games following his hat trick in France, Di Maria has scored all of one goal and recorded one assist. On top of that, he’s gone five games without scoring — his last goal coming in the first leg against Freiburg, by the way — and his overall form cooling off from the red-hot streak he had for the better part of January and February.
Not that Juventus should be relying on Di Maria to be a primary goal scorer or anything like that. But when the guy who you thought would be your primary goal-scoring threat and probably far ahead of where his goal tally currently stands is struggling like Dusan Vlahovic is, you need others to try and step up to fill the void.
But as we know, scoring goals has very much been one of Juventus’ biggest issues this season.
Now, that hasn’t necessarily been the case in the second leg of Europa League ties thus far, but you’re not always going to be playing against an opponent that goes down to 10 men with plenty of time to spare. So, unless something happens to a Sporting player Thursday night, then Di Maria will need to be more of the Di Maria we saw from the first couple months of 2023 rather than the one from the last four weeks or so.
He’s shown already during this Europa League run that he can most definitely take it up a few notches knowing that there’s something big on the line. This is very much another one of those cases. So if it’s scoring a goal (or two) (or three) or setting a teammate up, Juve need the January/February version to show its face again if they want to have a good chance of advancing.
It sure would be nice if that happens, you know? We’ve seen it before. Let’s hope that we get to see it again in this do-or-die European night for Juventus in Portugal.
When: Thursday, April 20, 2023.
Where: Estádio José Alvalade, Lisbon, Portugal.
Official kickoff time: 9 p.m. local time in Italy and around Europe, 8 p.m. in Portugal and 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, 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.