When Juventus lifted their 31st (33rd to some) league title by beating Sampdoria 1-0 in Genoa last Saturday night, the celebrations were shortlived. It is not that the Old Lady has become entirely blasé about winning a fourth consecutive title, it is much more that Juventus have arguably more serious business on hand when meeting Real Madrid in Turin on Tuesday night for the first leg of their Champions League semi-final tie.
Coach Massimiliano Allegri set the tone when saying: “We’ve got a very important game on Tuesday night. There will be plenty of other days when we can celebrate this…”
Let there be no doubt about it, tomorrow night’s game offers Juventus a chance to climb back to where the club feels it belongs, namely at the top table of European football. Captain Gigi Buffon makes no secret of just how much he would like to win one of the few trophies that has thus far escaped him, saying:
“I’m glad we have wrapped up the league title so early (with four games still to play), now we can concentrate exclusively on our Champions League semi-final. That is one area where I don’t want to have any regrets…”
Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal, scorer of the winning goal against Sampdoria, joined in with the “minds-concentrated-on-Real” refrain when saying after Saturday’s game:
“We’re not going to be celebrating much because on Tuesday we have a very, very important game. The Champions League is a dream for us…but if we win it, then we can have a party for the next year…”
With regard to Tuesday night’s game, there appear to be few question marks about the Juventus line-up. Argentine Roberto Pereyra, who has had an excellent second half of season, is expected to play “in the box” behind compatriot Carlos Tevez and Spaniard Alvaro Morata, facing his old club.
In recent times, the Tevez-Morata partnership has looked like Juve’s strongest attack and it seems unlikely that Allegri will opt for anything else. This means that Spaniard Fernando Llorente, who started against Sampdoria and who has also come off the bench to make a significant impact in recent Serie A and Champions League ties, will almost certainly start on the bench again.
With Paul Pogba not yet match fit following injury, the midfield will comprise the familiar trio of Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio, whilst Allegri may opt for a four man defence which features Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini in central defence with Switzeland’s Stephan Lichtsteiner and Frenchman Patrice Evra in the full back berths. Incidentally, the above mentioned 35-year-old Pirlo has struck terror amidst Juve fans by suggesting that if Juventus were to go all the way and win the Champions League, then that could be the perfect moment for him to either retire or leave the club.
As for Real, they may be without one of their many “galaticos” since French striker Karim Benzema has not yet recovered from a knee problem picked up during Real’s quarter final clash with city cousins, Atletico Madrid, two weeks ago. In his absence, however, the Real front line of Colombian James Rodriguez, Welshman Gareth Bale and Player of The Year, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, still looks very potent.
One person in the Real camp who knows all about big matches like this one is the side’s 33-year-old goalkeeper Iker Casillas. In an interview with Gazzetta Dello Sport, he predicted that the Juve-Real tie will be very “tight”, saying:
“In big games in Serie A and in the Champions, Juve often like to dictate matters. This, however, is a Champions League semi-final and both teams will be trying to dictate the result. I don’t think we will see many goals and this will be a tie full of tension right to the very end…”
JUVENTUS (4-3-1-2) Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Bonucci, Chiellini, Evra; Vidal, Pirlo, Marchisio; Pereyra; Morata, Tevez
REAL MADRID: (4-3-3) Casillas; Carvajal, Pepe, Varane, Marcelo; Sergio Ramos, Kroos, Isco; James Rodriguez, Bale, Ronaldo.