This post was guest-blogged by Vittorio Pazzini. Follow him on Twitter (@vittoriopazzini)
Hello everyone, and welcome back to STTBS, all Champions League, all the time (well, just for today, and technically not for the entire time).
But who can blame us for being single-minded? Tonight’s encounter vs. Shakhtar Donetsk is perhaps the turning point of this season, the acid test for Juventus’ European ambitions and a requisite struggle to reclaim their illustrious history.
To make a long story short (too late): Win or draw, and we’re through to the knockout round, back among the best of Europe, armed to the teeth with world-class players and galvanized by the “real” Antonio Conte back on the sidelines.
Lose, and we’re out.
Time to lock in, friends. On to the news.
Shakthar Donesk Updates
Yesterday, Antonio Conte put the finishing touches on tactical preparations for Shakhtar at Donetsk’s Donbass Arena, also using the opportunity to familiarize the team with the pitch. The customary warm-up was followed by a detailed run-through of certain expected tactical situations.
At the moment, Giorgio Chiellini looks to be fit enough to start tonight, although of course it has yet to be confirmed. In attack, the favored duo looks to be Vucinic and Giovinco, while Lichtsteiner and Asamoah will man the flanks as per usual.
This is a terrible time for Claudio Marchisio to sit out a yellow-card suspension, but hopefully Paul Pogba will continue his superb recent form, allowing Vidal to be himself and keeping Shakhtar honest, or, to translate, off of strict man-to-Pirlo coverage.
“The Miners are the joint-top goalscorers with Paris Saint-Germain in this year’s Champions League with 12 strikes to date. Willian has hit four, Luiz Adriano three, Mkhitaryan and Texeira two apiece, with Fernandinho trailing the pack on one.”
Bet you’re happy Adriano’s sitting this one out, huh? Especially if he tried scoring during halftime while everyone’s in the locker room. Can’t put anything past him now!
Tonight’s crucial match will be governed by Swedish referee Jonas Ericksson. It will be his first Juventus match. No precedents, hopefully no hang-ups, either.
Assisting Ericksson will be Mathias Klasenius and Daniel Wärnmark. Stefan Wittber has been named as the fourth official/first violin/angry customer #2.
Probable Lineup for Juventus (3-5-2): Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pirlo, Pogba, Asamoah; Vucinic, Giovinco.
Bench: Storari, Caceres, Isla, Giaccherini, De Ceglie, Quagliarella, Matri.
Alessio’s Last Stand
While he perhaps struggled to make a bella figura on the sidelines, Angelo Alessio’s stint as Juve’s caretaker cannot be considered anything other than a success.
However, a win in tonight’s match would see him close out his coaching spell by leading Juve into the Champions League knockout stage. Whatever he’s feeling right now, he’s focusing on the task at hand:
“We know we’re up against the toughest team, the current group leaders, but I believe we’ve grown in this competition and are more than capable of getting a result. We can’t think about the two other possibilities, it’s imperative we dictate the game and focus solely on the task in hand. We need to stay alert to every ball and fight all the way.”
As usual, the press dredged up Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu’s comments from months ago claiming Juve were “predictable,” despite his very kind, respectful words this time around. Alessio took the bait:
“He can say we’re predictable, but we create many scoring opportunities. In that case let’s call Barcelona predictable – the same XI play pretty much all the time and everyone knows the style of football they propose, yet they are the best team of recent years.”
Alessio also addressed Juve’s big question mark this past week: Giorgio Chiellini’s status.
“Chiellini trained yesterday and is available to play. Antonio will decide the starting line-up tomorrow.”
Finally, questioned as to what he will do after handing the reins back to Conte, Alessio was pretty straightforward:
“I’ll go back to doing what I’ve always done behind the scenes. We’re happy to have Antonio Conte back with us.”
Bravissimo, Angelo. Now bring it on home!
Buffon Plays it Straight
Ahead of tonight’s clash with Shakhtar, captain San Gigi Buffon acknowledges there’s a whole other level of success at stake, but refuses to believe that his Juventus is anything other than formidable. Speaking to the press yesterday, Buffon exuded his usual air of polite, mild-mannered defiance:
“I think our run so far has shown that we should be feared by everyone we come up against. Of course, the result and qualification are both fundamental, but the impression we’re giving this year is that we’re back to being competitive on a European level.”
Shakhtar’s approach to this game will be interesting to watch, as they have already gone through to the knockouts and are only playing for placement. While Juve are certainly the more desperate team, Buffon believes that Shakhtar will hold nothing back:
“We know the value of our opponents and have great respect for them. They’ve already gone through but we know they have nothing to lose. Having said that, if we play as we’re able to then I believe we have every chance of ending the group unbeaten.”
Of course, in a CL scenario like this one, with Chelsea’s fate out of their own hands (and *cough* with an Italian team involved *cough*), no press conference worth its cheap free coffee and pastry would pass up asking Gigi if this game will be an infamous “biscotto” and end in an all-but-on-purpose draw.
“There’s a substantial difference between who finishes top and who finishes second. If we won the group and avoided a handful of potential winners then it wouldn’t be such a bad thing. We’re ready and fully aware we can give as good as we get.”
Gigi’s a man of his word, Chelsea. No funny stuff tonight.
Pirlo’s On the Level
Andrea Pirlo, he of the adorable missed penalties and otherwise irrefutable genius, has joined the chorus of players and coaches on both sides who assure us that there will be no “biscotto” tonight:
“Any talk of playing for a draw is not true of any of the players here at Juventus and I am sure it is not true of the Shakhtar players…we want to win the group and I am sure Shakhtar do as well.”
That’s all fine and good, Andrea, but how about giving Chelsea just a little more anxiety, just for us? Oh, great! We’re listening:
“We have no duty to help Chelsea, but we have a duty to ourselves and to our fans to try and win the group,” Pirlo added. “You will not get two easy games whoever you face in the last 16.”
Nice. Grazie Maestro!
Lucescu Won’t Settle
Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu, who has presided over an impressive group stage campaign in addition to his side’s domestic dominance, is fighting for all the marbles in this match, marbles being points, you see, and there only being three of them. Actually, that’s a bad elision to make. In any event, Lucescu still thinks of his team as the underdog, despite leading Group E over Juve and Chelsea:
“Tomorrow represents a big exam for us, against a team with great tradition, history and players. This is a game that goes beyond normal fixtures. Regardless of our qualification status, football is football, we’re professionals and we’ll take to the field with the desire to win. We’re up against an incredibly strong side, who play a type of football I appreciate. They know our strengths and we know theirs. We’re fully motivated and determined to show our hunger on the pitch.”
If he sounds a bit reverent, don’t be fooled. Lucescu wants Shakhtar to stand tall among the footballing giants:
“I’ve got a lot of trust and belief in my squad’s desire to give a good account of themselves. It’s extraordinary that the European destiny of two great clubs like Chelsea and Juventus depends on us. It’s a real point of pride for my players, the team and the city.”
Lucescu also addressed the suspension of striker Luiz Adriano, who was handed a one-match ban for what in unofficial terms is known as a “dick move”: After Nordsjaelland kicked the ball out of play for an injured player, Adriano ran onto his team’s otherwise-gentlemanly pass to the Danes’ defenders, rounded the keeper and scored. To make things worse, he was initially unrepentant. Lucescu:
“We admit that we made a mistake, we apologised and agreed to accept whichever punishment came our way. It’s a shame we don’t have Luiz Adriano tomorrow, he’s an important player and has a good record in the Champions League.”
Mr. Lucescu also expects the absence of Juve’s Claudio Marchisio to be a big factor in tonight’s match, and he’s hoping it gives his side a tactical edge:
“The loss of Marchisio is a big blow for Juventus. Perhaps his absence will cause Conte to make certain tactical changes, as he did for last Saturday’s game against Torino.”
All in all, Lucescu seems like a class act and a worthy adversary for the Old Lady. And though we may be opponents tonight, it’s great to know we’re partners in keeping Chelsea in panic mode.
To us both going through!
Say What You Will, Biscotti Are Still Delicious
Maybe the season’s making me a bit sentimental, but I think sometimes you have to stop and just, you know, enjoy the moment.
And I’m currently enjoying the Champions League Sword of Damocles hanging over Chelsea’s head.
Don’t get me wrong: I hope Juve wins by several goals, and will be the first to be disappointed morally and ethically if Juve and Shakhtar noticeably appear to walk through this one. But I’m predisposed to a bit of schadenfreude regarding Premier League teams, especially Man U. and Chelsea.
So please indulge me here. From yesterday’s Daily Mail, a portrait of Chelsea’s waking nightmare:
“In Italy, when a sporting outcome is fixed without money because it suits both sides of the contest, they call it a biscotto. That’s a twice-baked biscuit, one hard to swallow for the hapless third party, which here happens to be Chelsea.”
Later in the article, the London paper aims to keep Juve sleepless, intimating plans of a giallo-alert-level sub-biscotto (that’s a biscotto within a biscotto!) between Chelsea and Shakhtar! Here’s the scheme in all its mixed-up glory:
“Here, for some, lies the conspiracy within a conspiracy—the idea has been aired in Italy that the friendship between (Shakhtar owner Rinat) Akhmetov and Roman Abramovich may have had a role in the outcome of Group E. The billionaire oligarchs shared an executive box at the Donbass Arena in June when Ukraine lost to England in Euro 2012, and the Italian media have scrutinised the games between Shakhtar and Chelsea, especially that in London, when Victor Moses scored a winner in the fourth minute of stoppage time.”
The prospect of our rivals conspiring for tonight’s match seems unlikely—even by Italian paranoia standards. Basically, Shakhtar have a secret agreement with Chelsea to give their all and try and beat us, even though Lucescu has already stated that they’re aiming for all three points anyway. A fine plan, although a bit of a soft biscotto, Daily Mail.
Unless Chelsea are planning on getting in deeper (i.e. criminally), it seems like Juve still control their own destiny tonight.
Juve Fined for Torino Banner
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the occasional blemish on our Old Lady, and this latest one from the Torino derby was an ugly one.
Juve were fined the equivalent of $13,000 after a group of degenerate fans sullied Gaetano Scirea’s good name with a banner hanging from his curva. The banner taunted Torino with memories of the tragic Superga plane crash of 1949 which wiped out the best players in a generation.
I’m not typically a fan of surveillance in these paranoid times, but it sure would be nice to use stadium cameras to find these cretins. If there’s technology available to see if a ball has crossed a line, then surely we can find out who put up a ridiculously long, ridiculously offensive banner on the second tier of Juventus Stadium. [Editor's note: thankfully, at Juventus Stadium there is the technology and Juventus have already stated they are looking into it]
On the lighter side (and that’s a very relative term here), Torino was fined $32,500 when their fans took part in the now traditional ceremony of trashing Juventus Stadium’s bathrooms and seats.
Agnelli Wants 11 Leoni
Big boss man Andrea Agnelli wants a hostile Juve at Shakhtar tonight, knowing how the evening could potentially end with extremely opposite results for the Bianconeri:
“We’ll need to face it with determination, anger and ruthlessness because two completely opposite outcomes could occur, from topping the group, to complete elimination. So we’ll have to be fully focused, because we want to keep our European dream alive.”
While that aggressive attitude fits on the pitch, Andrea rightly condemns the hostility (not to mention ignorance and bad taste unbecoming of the Curva Scirea) that certain bad elements in Juve’s fanbase showed our crosstown rivals in Saturday’s Torino derby:
“It happened during our game, something that unfortunately happens in every Italian stadium. Gratuitous insults must always be condemned and it’s sad they’ve come from the area that houses the most active part of our fanbase who bring personality to the stadium. Fan supremacy does not come across by remembering the tragedies of others.”
Well said, Signore. But despite the ugliness on display, no one would deny Agnelli the chance to quietly get in a harmless dig at some of his Torino-supporting friends.
“On Saturday night, after 10.30pm, I didn’t hear anything from almost half of my friends, even from those who are usually very active on social networks – they obviously must have lost their internet connections.”
I hope you all have enjoyed that particular sporting silence at least once in your lives. I know I have.
Just stay classy, Juventini.
You Only Play Once…in Donetsk
The Bianconeri have been only played once in Donetsk, during the second leg of the third round of the UEFA Cup on December 8th, 1976.
Juve wound up losing the contest 1-0, but sailed through to the quarter-finals on a 3-1 aggregate score. They would, of course, go on to beat Atletico Bilbao to win the Cup.
The starting lineup that day: Zoff, Cuccureddu, Spinosi, Furino, Morini, Scirea, Causio, Tardelli, Boninsegna, Benetti, Bettega.
Maybe someday we’ll look at tonight’s lineup with the same reverance.
Vote 4 Times (Repeatedly!)
And finally, we end with yet another competition involving Juve, only this time, we tifosi can actually affect its outcome.
Every year, users of UEFA.com are asked to choose the site’s Team of the Year. You can choose the best starting 11 from a 40-man shortlist including Buffon, Barzagli, Pirlo and Marchisio.
Voting closes at midnight on Friday, January 4th, 2013 (I assume they’re in a European time zone, if not Italian time). The final lineup will be announced on January 16th.
Andiamo tifosi! Let’s avenge Pirlo’s snubbing by Sepp Blatter and his cronies!
That’s all for today. See you next time—hopefully in the Champions League knockout stage. Ciao!
[STTBS]: Juventus News is a daily feature where the JuventiKnows editorial team discusses the JuveNews stories you need to read, without the “Messi signs for Juve on loan thanks to Nike” kind of nonsense. What does [STTBS] mean? You’ll have to guess that for yourself. We wouldn’t tell you even under pain of torture… (though we do take bribes)