On Wednesday night a very stern test awaits the home team as Juventus must try to overcome the comfortable 2-0 lead Bayern take with them to Turin after the first quarterfinal encounter in Germany last week. It is not the deficit in itself that will trouble the Bianconeri the most though, as the first leg was something of a footballing lesson for Conte’s men who were outdone in every facet of the game by their in-form adversaries. A splendid Bayern performance combined with a very timid effort from Juventus left the impression that the Germans quite frankly were on a higher level than their Italian opponents.
However, as much as that game was one sided and as much as Bayern is undoubtedly one of the best sides in Europe, it is simply hard to imagine Juventus put in another performance as bad as the one in Munich. There are lessons in defeat, and the Old Lady will have brought home volumes of notes on what went wrong.
With the backing of an enthusiastic home crowd and those notes in the back of their minds, the Juve players will feel obliged to not only put up a fight, but to actually go for the improbable three goal win. Even with a decimated team at his disposal due to the suspensions of Arturo Vidal and Stephan Lichtsteiner, Antonio Conte will undoubtedly seek to rectify the poor impression given in the first match. The fact is that his team contains a lot more quality than what was shown at the Allanz Arena, and if he can get the players to take to the field with the right mentality, it is not a given that this tie is over.
The uncharacteristically poor showing in Munich will have left a dent in the pride of players and manager alike. That might not necessarily only be a bad thing though, for if there’s anything that characterises Juventus under Antonio Conte, it is the enormous determination and will with which the team has fought back at the even the smallest sign of a crisis or poor form. The Mister may talk a lot about the gap between the two sides but few with just a marginal knowledge of the mind-set of the man will believe that he will not demand his team to be at least on a par with the German side going into the game.
The absences of Vidal and Lichtsteiner, arguably Juve’s two best performers in the first leg, will of course be felt and may prove crucial. On the other hand, unlike last Tuesday, the backbone of the starting line-up will have been rested this time with all of Buffon, Barzagli, Chiellini, Pirlo, Marchisio for various reasons not playing in the 2-1 win over Pescara on Saturday.
The defensive trio of Andrea Barzagli, Leo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini are all guaranteed to start, as is Gigi Buffon in goal (that might have been the mildest case of “flu symptoms” in medical history that kept him out of the Pescara game). Central midfield is a given as well, with Paul Pogba slotting in for Vidal alongside Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio.
The wing-backs are more uncertain; Simone Padoin is expected to start on the right as the conditions of neither Isla nor Caceres are not optimal at the time being (one could hope for a surprise here, though). On the left, Federico Peluso has been starting over Kwadwo Asamoah recently, but an encouraging display against Pescara may see the Ghanaian in contention once more – especially seeing that Peluso looked over-matched in Munich (in fairness, most Juve players did, mind you).
Up front, Mirko Vucinic will lead the line with confidence after recovering from illness and celebrating his return with a brace (and a strip show) at the weekend. Giovinco will miss out after being stretchered off on Saturday, leaving Alessandro Matri and Fabio Quagliarella to compete for the final starting berth, with FabQuags the favourite to take it.
Antonio Conte will need to get the balance exactly right for this match; on the one hand going for the goals needed whilst on the other securing a crucial clean sheet with a flawless defensive display. A tough ask against a side of Bayern’s calibre, but nonetheless a necessary one.
The reds underscored their imperious form by winning the Bundesliga crown at the weekend, the earliest title to be secured in the history of German football. However, the noises coming out of Bavaria suggest that all major celebrations will be postponed till after the Juventus game, so the Bianconeri should not get their hopes up that the Germans fly to Turin straight out of the beer halls.
In fact, for a team known as “FC Hollywood”, the Germans have been very eager to play down the talk of the tie being done and dusted after the first leg, perhaps as a consequence of the scare they got when Arsenal traveled to Munich and recorded a shock 2-0 win in the second leg of the last round.
Jupp Heynckes should not have too many doubts over his line-up considering the excellent job his team did in the first leg. The only injury to worry about would be the one suffered by Kroos in that game, however, the introduction of Arjen Robben on the flank, shuffling Thomas Müller to the middle, if anything made the Bavarians look even more threatening with the latter wreaking havoc on the right and the former delivering a MoTM performance centrally.
Mario Mandžukić and Franck Ribéry were rested at the weekend, but with Mario Gomez and Swiss wunderkind Xherdan Shaqiri are ready to fill the gap, the depth of this team is quite simply startling. Javi Martínez’ ban is up, meaning he should replace Luiz Gustavo in midfield although the latter had a great game against Juventus himself.
Bayern is a formidable side, and it’s hard to see the Germans stray from their normal style, playing with incredible intensity with or without the ball. Although they might sit back a bit given their aggregate lead, the directness and tempo with which they counter attack is still a huge threat to the Bianconeri, and one successful such could see the tie truly over well before the 90 minutes.
Juventus have it all to do Wednesday night. They will have to take the game to a team that is one of the two best in the world on the break right now, they will have to try and outfox what is one of the most solid systems around, and they will have to ensnare a team painfully aware of every trap in the game after having been caught in all of them at the final hurdle as late as last season.
It seems unlikely. But football is a strange game sometimes… While Bayern is much further in their development than Juventus currently and boast an overall superior squad, the only thing needed for this tie to be turned on its head is exactly what happened in the first leg: The home side playing to their true potential and the away team playing below par. The suspensions and goal deficit of course makes this seem an insurmountable task for Juventus, but as a large manufacturer of sports gear is known to have put it: Impossible is nothing.
Most Juventini will be aware of the magnitude of the task at hand, and few will be truly surprised to see the Old Lady bow out to one of the real powerhouses of European football. What *will* be expected, nay, demanded, is that Juventus deliver a performance worthy of their name and history – unlike the one in Munich.