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Champions League preview: How can Juventus turn things around against Bayern Munich?

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If you’re looking for reasons why Wednesday’s game in Turin could reverse last Tuesday’s result, start with Serie A, not the Champions League. This Saturday, Antonio Conte picked a second-choice squad as Juve beat last place Pescara, seemingly applying a lesson hard learned from last week’s match in Munich. There, Conte retained 10 players from the team that started the Derby d’Italia, giving Juventus fans cause to lament the flat performance their veteran squad gave on only two full days’ rest.

Juve has as much history as any club in Europe, which makes it easy to forget this team has relatively little Champions League experience. Yes there’s Andrea Pirlo, who has won titles at Milan, and Gianluigi Buffon is among the most accomplished goalkeepers in the world, but when they look around they’re not seeing Cannavaro, Thurman, Nedved, Camoranesi, and Del Piero. Instead the icons are surrounded by a series of talented Champions League neophytes, a description that could also apply to their coach.

“Footballers are not machines and I think they always want to play their best, but in the first leg [Andrea Pirlo] was unable to do it,” Bayern head coach Jupp Heynckes said on Tuesday, reiterating what Juventus fans thought was obvious. You can’t expect the Old Lady’s veterans to perform at their best when they’re playing twice in four days.

As Borussia Dortmund showed on Tuesday, Champions League naiveté can be a costly thing, even for the most talented teams in Europe. Coast through 90 minutes – as Dortmund did on Tuesday and Juventus did last week – and you’ll find yourself on the bring of elimination. While one bad spell doesn’t necessarily ring a death knell, it does kill your margin for error.

“We were not in good form in the first leg, we all know that,” Conte confessed, the sardonic irony of his understatement presumably lost on him. “We want to play a different game. We are up against a very, very strong side and we know we can do a lot better than we did in Germany.”

That’s the mindset Juventus start with on Wednesday. Down 2-0, they know one conceded goal will hand them an impossible task – the need to score four goals against a team that’s only conceded 13 times in their domestic campaign. That’s not going to happen, so any plan that’s predicated on opening up and chasing the game will almost certainly fail. In all likelihood (at least, any likelihood on which Conte can form a reasonable plan), Juve need to keep a clean sheet if they’re going to advance.

What’s more, Juventus probably need to score in the first 45 minutes or their chances of advancing will be debilitatingly reduced. Based on goal rate alone, that should be obvious, but if Bayern can get to halftime up 2-0, Jupp Heynckes will be able to tailor his tactics and substitutions to contain instead of compete. Scoring twice in 45 minutes against Bayern would be hard enough, but if they’re allowed to abandon any pretense of adding to their lead, the task would be nearly impossible.

Then there’s the talent gap, with a strong Juventus team having to compete against arguably the most loaded team in the world.

“If you want to find a skyscraper which is already constructed, then that is Bayern,” Conte conceded on Tuesday. “Let’s say we are a third of the way there. That is the gap between us, but we’re serene because it’s normal.”

Serenity is nice and zen and all, but eventually it’s got to produce to goals. If Juve can score early, they can bridge can rely on bridging the talent gap with the same quality that has made them one of the best teams in Europe.

In any given moment, Juventus can out-execute anybody in the world. Over the first 45 minutes on Wednesday, their first task will be leveraging that trait to make this a one-moment game. Once there, anything can happen.

Notes

  • While Juve changed seven players on Saturday, Bayern returned six of their starters at Eintracht Frankfurt. FCB won, 1-0, clinching their 23rd German crown.
  • Expect two changes for Bayern. An abductors tear for Toni Kroos will see Arjen Robben come in for the playmaker, while Javi Martínez returns from suspension, set to take Luiz Gustavo’s place in Heynckes’s starting XI.
  • For Bayern, that means a different type of 4-4-2 formation. Thomas Müller in the playmaker’s role is more of a supporting striker than a fulcrum. This may allow Juventus’s midfielders to press higher, marking Bastian Schweinsteiger or Martínez.
  • For Juventus, Arturo Vidal is suspended. He’ll be replaced by Paul Pogba. Stephan Lichtsteiner is also suspended, meaning Federico Peluso and Kwadwo Asmoah will start on the wings.
  • The Old Lady will also be without Sebastian Giovinco, who picked up a knee injury against Pescara.
  • Mirko Vucinic returned to the starting lineup to score two goals in Juve’s 3-1 victory against Pescara. Conte may elect to ride that form over 90 minutes on Wednesday.

Possible lineups

Juventus (3-5-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Marzagli; Kwadwo Asamoah, Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba, Federico Peluso; Fabio Quagliarella, Mirko Vucinic

Bayern Munich (4-2-3-1): Manuel Neuer; David Alaba, Dante, Daniel van Buyten, Philipp Lahm; Bastian Schweinsteiger, Javi Martínez; Franck Ríbery, Thomas Müller, Arjen Robben; Mario Mandzukic

Thibaut Courtois committed to Chelsea despite links to PSG

WATFORD, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 03:  Thibaut Courtois of Chelsea in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Watford and Chelsea at Vicarage Road on February 3, 2016 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Thibaut Courtois has denied reports he could leave London for Paris Saint-Germain this summer after a disappointing season at Chelsea.

The 23-year-old goalkeeper missed a large portion of the season through injury and failed to regain his top form when healthy as the Blues struggled throughout the year.

With a new manager in Antonio Conte taking over in June, some believed Courtois would be sold to allow the Italian to bring in a goalkeeper of his choice.

[ MORE: Atletico Madrid reach UCL final ]

Despite recent reports linking Courtois with a transfer to PSG that would make him the most expensive goalkeeper in the world, the Belgian international does not fancy a move to France.

Speaking to French newspaper Le Parisien, Courtois said he is happy at Chelsea and will “100-percent” be back at Stamford Bridge next season.

I have never had any contact with PSG. I have played a lot against PSG recently – twice last season, again this season in a friendly and twice more in the Champions League this year.

They are a good club who win their league easily. Me, I like playing in England. Paris is a very good club but I am happy at Chelsea.

I have a contract for three years, so I will say 100 per cent [be staying at Chelsea]. Rumours affect any club where things are going badly. People think the top players want to leave because they are not in the Champions League.

Those words show quite a change from Courtois’ opinion a few months ago, when he cast doubt over his Chelsea future.

At just 23, Courtois has already made more than 200 appearances in his career for Atletico Madrid and Chelsea. Although he did not have a standout season this year, Courtois has shown his talent as a potential top-five goalkeeper in the world and Conte would be wise to keep him.

Former CONMEBOL president has petition to stop extradition rejected

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ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) Paraguay’s top court has rejected a petition by Nicolas Leoz, the former head of the South American football confederation, to halt his extradition to the United States.

Leoz is being held under house arrest in Paraguay. He is accused of receiving millions in bribes and kickbacks and was among dozens of top officials indicted in the FIFA corruption scandal.

[ FOLLOW: Leicester City’s miracle ]

Leoz’s lawyer Ricardo Preda told The Associated Press that his petition was turned down, but that he would continue to appeal against the extradition.

Leoz was the head of CONMEBOL from 1986 until 2013 when he resigned, and was replaced by Eugenio Figueredo of Uruguay.

Figueredo is under house arrest in Uruguay on similar charges. Figueredo was replaced by Juan Angel Napoul of Paraguay, who is under house arrest in Miami.

Cristiano Ronaldo back healthy for Real Madrid; will play vs. Man City

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 03:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid warms up during a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Semi Final Second Leg between Real Madrid and Manchester City at Valdebebas training ground on May 3, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane has confirmed that Cristiano Ronaldo is “100-percent” for Wednesday’s Champions League semifinal match against Manchester City.

Ronaldo missed the first leg at the Etihad while recovering from a thigh injury, which ended a scoreless draw.

[ MORE: UCL semifinal preview ]

The Champions League’s all-time leading scorer with 93 goals, Ronaldo has not featured for Real since suffering the injury in a La Liga match against Villarreal on April 20.

Real Madrid had the better of chances in the first leg in Manchester, but Joe Hart’s heroics stopped Zidane’s side from grabbing an all-important away goal. However, Ronaldo’s absence was clearly visible and his return is a massive boost for Real.

[ RELATED: Atletico Madrid eliminate Bayern Munich, advance to UCL final ]

Even if Ronaldo is not 100-percent fit as Zidane claims, his inclusion in the lineup is still vital for Real’s success. A threat in so many different aspects of the game, his presence alone can throw off opposing defenses, leaving more time and space for his teammates to expose a City back-line that has its flaws.

Premier League chairman: Leicester City made mugs of all of us

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 03:  Leicester reacts to Leicester City's Premier League Title Success on May 03, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore has been around football for a long time, but even he can’t explain Leicester City’s miraculous title run.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Leicester coverage ]

With the Foxes now officially champions of England, Scudamore hailed the achievement as “the biggest sporting story ever.”

Speaking to BBC Sport, the Premier League’s top exec said Leicester’s run has silenced all the bookmakers and critics who said it could never happen, but that he wouldn’t want it any other way.

It’s probably the biggest sporting story ever and the biggest sporting achievement ever.

Nobody saw it coming and even when it was halfway through the season nobody said it could be sustained.

We don’t know what the future holds because we’ve all become completely hopeless at predicting anything, including the bookmakers and everybody else – because this one nobody saw coming.

It’s made mugs of all of us and that is just the most fantastic feeling.

If the bookmakers had it as a 5,000-1 event, you would imagine you should achieve these type of things once every 5,000 years. It gives us 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years of being able to say: ‘Leicester 2016. Just remember Leicester 2016.’

Pegged as pre-season favorites for relegation, Leicester defied the odds (5,000-1 odds) and claimed the most unlikely of championships. A top executive with the Premier League since 1999, even Scudamore had to admit he had a bit of egg on his face.

[ VOTE: What is the top moment from Leicester’s fairytale run? ]

Scudamore may not have believed in the Foxes, but few outside the city really did. One thing the chairman did have right though, is that we will all remember ‘Leicester 2016.’