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

Leave a comment

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

Timbers send Nagbe to Atlanta for allocation money

Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Leave a comment

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have traded midfielder Darlington Nagbe to Atlanta United in exchange for $1.65 million in allocation money.

Portland is also sending defender Gbenga Arokoyo to Atlanta and receiving a 2018 international spot as part of the trade.

[ RECAP – City hammer Swansea ]

Nagbe, who has become a regular on the U.S. national team, has been with the Timbers since the team joined MLS in 2011. He was selected with the second overall pick in that year’s MLS SuperDraft.

He has 27 goals and 30 assists in 214 matches with the Timbers. His goals are the second-most since the team joined MLS.

“Thank you, Portland, and everyone that supported my family and me the past seven years,” he said in a statement released by the Timbers.

Nagbe, 27, has 24 appearances with the national team and one goal.

Wenger says schedule congestion catching up to Arsenal

Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Much like their 3-1 loss to Manchester United, Arsenal dominated the chances but couldn’t find the back of the net enough to get three points.

Unlike that Red Devils defeat, however, the Gunners were stout at the back against a lively West Ham United and picked up an away point from a nil-nil draw on Wednesday.

[ RECAP: West Ham 0-0 Arsenal ]

Wenger was content enough with the result, as he continued to be in the chorus of managers who lament the congested Premier League schedule around the holidays. From the BBC:

“We had so much of the ball, but it was very frustrating because we could even have lost it at the end. They’re happy to defend, they did that against Chelsea and Manchester City, so we couldn’t find the opening and the few chances we had we missed.

“When you play every three days, you lose your sharpness.”

That’s true, and to his credit Wenger didn’t try to say West Ham had one day’s more rest (which they did). As Man City runs away with the league and Manchester United doesn’t look fit to drop back to the back, the race for the final two Top Four spots is as congested as the schedule. Arsenal needs to turn some of its shot-heavy performances into goal-heavy cruises sometime soon.

Mourinho: Derby defeat didn’t help, but United overcame fatigue

Martin Rickett/PA via AP
Leave a comment

Jose Mourinho said the Manchester Derby nearly caught up to his men in Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Bournemouth at Old Trafford.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 1-0 Bournemouth ]

The Manchester United manager says that’s not on account of emotions or let down, but simply the volume of matches his Red Devils have played and the extra rest afford the visitors.

Romelu Lukaku climbed Nathan Ake to find United its opener, and the hosts were defending plenty in the second half. But United was able to endure on a soggy night at home, and maintain its place second on the Premier League table.

From the BBC:

“Fatigue, yes, but hangover – no. The game was a big one, and a defeat does not help in your recovery – victories help, defeats don’t. They were difficult opponents and difficult conditions. If we had scored the second it would have been a calm night for us.”

That said, this felt like one of the matches United would’ve drawn last season, and Lukaku was a difference maker as were David De Gea and Phil Jones at the back.

And Mourinho would not mail in the title race despite Man City’s 11-point advantage and continued league dominance.

“It is only over in May, if it is over now I go on holiday to Brazil or Los Angeles.”

Guardiola lauds Man City after record 15th straight win

Leave a comment

Pep Guardiola is breaking records pretty much every time Manchester City step onto the pitch right now.

[ RECAP – City hammer Swansea ]

On Wednesday they set a new Premier League and English top-flight record for the most consecutive wins in history, with City winning 4-0 away at Swansea to seal their 15th-straight win and stay 11 points clear of the table.

City beat Arsenal’s previous record of 14-straight wins in the Premier League from February to August 2002, and now they remain unbeaten with 17 games of the season gone.

Guardiola now holds the record for most consecutive wins in the top-flight of Spanish, German and English soccer with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Man City respectively. He’s a machine and he’s turned Man City into one.

Speaking to the BBC after beat Swansea, Guardiola was delighted with the win, especially coming so soon after the energy-sapping Manchester derby win at Manchester United on Sunday.

“Considering we have a lot of games in our legs, a demanding game at Old Trafford three days ago, we were solid, we were serious and we made a good performance,” Guardiola said. “You suffer and enjoy, like a manager you see many things. When the team play good we are happy. Our feeling – we understand what we want to do. We play good inside, outside. I’m so happy for David (Silva), we cannot disguise his quality but in the past he didn’t score too much goals. He’s sharp, he’s in an amazing condition.”

Man City’s manager rightly pointed towards David Silva‘s brilliance as the Spanish playmaker scored twice at Swansea and he’s now scored four times in his last three games, including a late winner against West Ham and setting City on their way to a win at United on Sunday.

With the record now in hand and Man City also stretching their club-record unbeaten run in the top-flight to 25 games, is there a risk his side will be complacent as the bookmakers have slashed their PL title odds to 1/25?

“That is not going to happen. We are so demanding for our players. We can lose, we can drop points but complacency, never happened in the past, the present or the future,” Guardiola said. “Winning 15 games in a row gives us a lot of confidence. If people are happy watching us that is the best gift.”

Ahead of the festive season, Man City are the gift which keep on giving and they have to be up their with the best teams English soccer has ever seen.

Less than halfway through the 2017-18 season they show no signs of slowing down and the Premier League title is simply theirs to lose.

More records will fall this season as an imperious, attacking unit has been fine-tuned by Guardiola. We are watching history being made in beautiful fashion.