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

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”