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.
- 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.
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