Atletico Madrid v Juventus
Champions League – Wednesday, 20th February – 20:00 GMT – Wanda Metropolitano
Things are starting to get back on track. Two woeful performances against Atalanta and Parma in a row demanded a reaction and Juventus have shown something resembling good form, albeit against Sassuolo and Frosinone. Two relatively comfortable victories and an argument can be made that both games should have straightforward wins, but you can only beat what’s in front of you.
Concerns remain about the disjointed nature of the team as they’ve looked too complacent in some of the big games and all too easily overrun in the centre where problems remain with the balance. That said, Paulo Dybala has started to find his feet and is linking well with Cristiano Ronaldo and Mario Mandzukic. The trio played well in the weekends game, all playing a part in the three goals while Cristiano scored and provided an assist for the third game in succession.
The lead in the league is almost unassailable as Juve now sit 13 points clear of Napoli in second. Leo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini both made their returns from injury and the infirmary is gradually emptying as Andrea Barzagli is back in training, meaning only Juan Cuadrado is out while Douglas Costa remains a last minute doubt for the squad against Atletico.
There’s been plenty of mutual respect shown and plenty of comparisons made between Juve and Atleti, given their reliance on a tight defence, a workmanlike midfield and an attack that sometimes looks a little stunted. The two teams are alike in some ways but the mentality and mindset should be the difference maker in a close tie like this. Juve have made a very big statement in bringing in Cristiano to help them get over the finish line in Europe and his experience of playing in many a Madrid derby will be invaluable, given how often he’s squared up against Godin and Co.
As is often the case on European nights, Max Allegri didn’t give too much away in his pre-game presser but confirmed that Sami Khedira will have to stay in Turin while Dybala will start in the attack:
“Tomorrow Dybala will play. That makes you happy so I can go now, right?
“He won’t play because of his goal last Friday but rather because of his overall performance. I think it’ll be a game where he can give us a big hand.
“He’s in tip-top condition, so it’s right he plays. A last-16 tie awaits us. We’ve competed at a high level for the last four years and tomorrow’s game is important, like it has been in previous years.
“Atletico are organised and their strength lies in the defensive phase. The team are growing physically, psychologically and technically.
“Having said that, we must go on. We’re entering the most important part of the season. We have to play a fair game, knowing that we’re facing a compact team, who take advantage of set-pieces and have achieved important results in Europe.
“The Champions League isn’t an obligation, rather it’s an objective, which often also depends on incidents that go for or against you.
“Having Cristiano is an advantage, but it’s not enough. The whole team must put in important performances.
“Simeone’s done very well to give a great mentality to Atletico, and that’s how his team have achieved great results.
“Alvaro Morata grew a lot here, plus he’s a very dangerous player. Tomorrow we must try to control the match and be wary of the counterattack.”
Worrying reports were later confirmed as Khedira has a aardiac arrhythmia and will undergo further tests. We can only wish him all the best and hope that the reports aren’t as serious as they sound. In terms of the starting XI, I think it mostly writes itself at present. Szczesny will start in goal with Mattia De Sciglio probably favoured on the right and Alex Sandro on the left. Bonucci and Chiellini return to the middle of defence while Rodrigo Bentancur, Miralem Pjanic and Blaise Matuidi will complete the midfield. Dybala, Ronaldo and Mandzukic will almost certainly lead the attack.
4-3-3: Szczesny; De Sciglio, Bonucci, Chiellini, Sandro; Bentancur, Pjanic, Matuidi; Dybala, Mandzukic, Ronaldo.
Costa (quad), Cuadrado (knee), Khedira (Cardiac arrhythmia)
4-4-2: Oblak; Arias, Gimenez, Godin, Luis; Correa, Rodrigo, Partey, Niguez; Morata, Griezmann
Koke, Lucas Hernandez
Atletico and Juventus Performance Statistics