Juventus v Tottenham Hotspur
Champions League – Tuesday, 13th February – 19:45 GMT – Juventus Stadium
Juventus took a while to get going in Florence, but they saw out the win in good style against their rivals and came away unscathed in the process. The impressive defensive record remains intact with Gigi and Co notching up a remarkable fifteen clean sheets in their last sixteen matches, the only goal conceded being Martin Caceres’ effort in the 3-1 victory over Hellas Verona. The midfield looked slow and laboured for most of the opening half with Claudio Marchisio and Miralem Pjanic struggling against the Fiorentina pressure while Sami Khedira followed a strong display against Sassuolo with a dismal 90 minutes against Fiorentina where he barely strung together two passes and his tackling was non-existent.
The forwards fared far better as Federico Bernardeschi turned in a superb display against his former teammates while Gonazalo Higuain scored his sixth goal in four games – A good return to form for Pipa. It’s worth noting that the absence of Blaise Matuidi was really felt, especially with Principino not being 100% and Khedira alternating between the divine and the dreadful each weekend – The midfield has really come to rely on the Frenchman’s energy and he’ll be a big loss heading into a game of this importance.
Given the success of the 4-3-3 in recent months, it would be surprising to see Allegri ditch it for the 4-2-3-1, even if we are missing Matiuidi and Paulo Dybala. La Joya returned to training today and while there was some initial optimism over his inclusion, the squad list confirmed that he will sit this one out in the hopes that he’ll recover in time for the derby against Torino at the weekend. Stephan Lichtsteiner is another absentee as it’s reported that he picked up a knock that will keep him out of action for now. Andrea Barzagli is still struggling with a muscular problem in his right calf while Benedkit Howedes is yet to return to training and Juan Cuadrado is expected to go under the knife for his groin injury.
Despite the mounting injuries, Allegri was optimistic in his presser earlier today and saw it as an even match:
“It’s a very balanced match tomorrow, 50-50 so we’ll have to be very focused tomorrow and very careful.
“We have to play so as not to exalt their qualities and characteristics. We have to use our heads and our technique because they’re a physical team.
“So we’ll have to be very careful in possession, and if we want to go through of course we’ll have to play very well in London too in the second leg.
“The club has grown a lot and the team have grown a lot, in terms of confidence in Europe in particular, getting very important results and achievements.
“They reached two finals in three years and that’s something very important.
“I always say that Real Madrid have been the only team in recent years who have done better than Juventus in recent years in the Champions League.
“Making these type of comparisons, comparing ourselves to Barcelona, Bayern Munich and the great European teams is something that’s really fundamental for Juventus.
“This is not a process that will end this year in Europe, as I’ve always pointed out Juventus’ objective is to keep going reaching this stage, because you have Real Madrid vs Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus vs Tottenham and in each tie one of the two will be eliminated.
“So it’s very important to play these rounds and then maybe the Quarter-Finals, the Semi-Finals or even the Final, but certainly our self-esteem has grown a lot.”
“Tomorrow we’ll have to play an excellent match for a tactical point of view, because otherwise if we just focus on the physical aspect we could suffer a lot.
“We have to work hard from a tactical point of view and play on the things they struggle with.”
Gigi Buffon is expected to start in goal while Mattia De Sciglio was rested on Friday with one eye on this match. Medhia Benatia and Giorgio Chiellini will form the centre-back pairing with Alex Sandro at left -back. The midfield is the real conundrum for this match, with Allegri alluding to using “someone with different characteristics” to fill in for Matuidi. The obvious option would be Marchisio, however Rodrigo Bentancur could be an outside bet while Stefano Sturaro may not be the right kind of player to use from the start of the game. Pjanic and Khedira will almost certainly start with Douglas Costa returning to the starting XI in place of Bernardeschi. Mario Mandzukic is unlikely to be dropped for a game of this magnitude and Gonazlo Higuain is starting to return to form over the course of the last month.
4-3-3: Buffon; De Sciglio, Benatia, Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Marchisio, Pjanic, Khedira; Costa, Higuain, Mandzukic.
Dybala (hamstring), Matuidi (hamstring), Cuadrado (groin), Howedes (hamstring), Lichtsteiner
4-3-3: Lloris, Trippier, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Davies; Dier, Dembele; Alli, Eriksen, Heung-Min; Kane