Juventus and Atletico Madrid square off today in the second leg of their quarterfinal Champions League clash. The Old Lady started off about as abysmally as one could've imagined, and they now trail 2-0 heading into Turin. FloFC caught up with La Liga and Serie A experts Jason Pettigrove and Adam Digby to talk through the match.
Juventus have to score at least twice but also not concede. What formation do you think Allegri will play on that basis, and which players miss out on a starting spot?
I think he’ll stick with the 4-3-3 that they’ve been using all season because, in my opinion, it’s too late to change for anything else. It also obviously is the system that brings the best from Cristiano Ronaldo, who, when paired with Mario Mandzukic and Federico Bernardeschi in attack, looks much more dangerous.
By the same token, how do you think Atleti will approach the return encounter from a tactical/team selection standpoint given that they have a huge advantage as they land in Turin with a two-goal cushion?
Atleti are rarely given credit for their attacking excellence, something that Diego Simeone has mentioned more than once in press conferences this season. That may be something to do with how well they play defensively. Only 17 goals conceded in La Liga is, by a distance, the best in the Spanish top flight.
However, the Argentinian will be wary of Juve’s power coming forward but will also know that an away goal makes life much more difficult for them. With Alvaro Morata back in the groove, it’s a no-brainer to start him alongside Antoine Griezmann again.
Rodrigo alongside Thomas Partey gives the Rojiblancos enough of a presence in central midfield to disrupt Pjanic’s efforts to play in any one of the front three, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Thomas Lemar given the nod over Koke, purely to neutralize Cancelo’s threat if the latter plays. Playing on the counter will suit the visitors, too.
What went wrong for the Bianconeri in the first leg and how do they put it right in the return?
Is it too reductive to say “everything?” To be honest, nothing went right for Juve and, while immense credit must go to Atleti for their superb performance, the Bianconeri played right into their hands in almost every way.
Allegri's safety-first approach allowed their opponents to play on the front foot and dictate terms, which we know is exactly how Diego Simeone wants his side to play, while leaving out the likes of Cancelo robbed the Old Lady of one of her most potent attacking outlets.
On the flip side of that, what do you think went right for Atleti and what will they do in Turin to try keep those factors in their favor?
As you suggest, Juve’s own tactics benefitted their opponents on the night. Buoyed by a partisan home crowd, one sensed that if it were Atleti that scored first, they could go on and get another. The Rojiblancos were disciplined throughout and compact, closing down the passing lanes effectively, which disrupted Juve’s natural style.
You could sense as the game went on that the Italians were getting more and more frustrated, and that’s precisely what Atleti need to ensure they do again. Get in amongst them, don’t let Juve dictate the rhythm of the game and be ready to take any chances when they come.
It’s worth pointing out that Atleti have lost just once in this season’s competition, but it was a big 4-0 defeat against Dortmund. On that occasion they were troubled by incessant attacking and played in such a way as to invite that pressure. If they can see out the first 15 minutes by keeping Juve at bay, they must then get a foothold and stand toe-to-toe with them, rather than giving Allegri’s side the incentive.
There’s been a lot of talk about how far Juve can go in this season’s competition, with many tipping them for the title because of signing Cristiano. Is that still a realistic aim at this point, and do you anticipate Ronaldo being the man for the big occasion again?
Ronaldo’s big-game impact, particularly against Atleti needs no explanation and he has to be firing on all cylinders if Juve are going to have any success in this tie. He has killed off the hopes of Simeone’s men so many times and the Bianconeri will obviously hope he can do so again, but must ensure it is a team effort rather than the Portuguese star being left to do it all himself.
As for winning the Champions League, it’s a question of “if” really isn’t it? If Juve can turn this tie around and if they can qualify for the quarterfinals, they will not only have eliminated a major opponent, but they will have presumably done so by delivering the kind of performance that sends a strong statement of intent to everyone else left in the competition. So my answer is yes, Juve can still win the tournament, if they get past Atleti.
How about from an Atleti perspective? Who do you see being the key man and what are the chances of this team going on to lift the trophy if they see off the Old Lady?
Purely because he’s coming into form at the right time, and he’s up against an old employer, too, I’d say that Morata will be key for the visitors. He’s been nothing short of sensational since his arrival from Chelsea, and the carrot of being two ties away from another final should they qualify from this round will see the very best from him.
Like you, it’s an “if” scenario with Atleti at this point, but let’s not forget that the final is at their own Wanda Metropolitano stadium. IF Juve are dispatched, then I’d hate to be the team drawn against Simeone’s side from there on. Over two legs they’re capable of beating anyone left in the competition, and confidence is sky high because of their league position, too. I’d definitely make them one of the favorites.
May the best team win!
Jason Pettigrove is an experienced freelance football journalist, editor, and published author who specializes in La Liga and the major European leagues. Find him on Twitter @jasonpettigrove.
Adam Digby is an Italian football writer for FourFourTwo, The Independent, and elsewhere. Author of "Juventus: A History In Black & White." Follow Adam on Twitter.