Antonio Conte made an uncharacteristic hash of his team selection against Bayern Munich last week and the Juventus coach cannot afford to get it wrong again as his side chase a two-goal deficit today.
The Serie A champions and leaders, lucky to escape with a 2-0 defeat after they were hopelessly outclassed in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final, must also overcome the absence of suspended midfielder Arturo Vidal in the return.
The Chilean is arguably their most influential player after playmaker Andrea Pirlo, although his absence could set the stage for young midfielder Paul Pogba, this season’s Juve revelation, who came off the bench in the first match.
Bayern Munich were crowned Bundesliga champions on Saturday with six games to spare, but shunned the traditional beer-showers and Lederhosen celebrations as they immediately turned their attentions to today’s match in Turin.
“We’ve hit our first major target, but if we want to crown the season we have to keep going,” said Uli Hoeness, president of the treble-chasing Bavarians.
“We now want to turn a super season into a super plus season. Not taking this chance of making the Champions League semi-finals, and then the cup semi-final next week, would be fatal,” he said.
Last week’s match was the first time that Juventus have been so utterly outplayed since Conte took over at the start of last season and implanted his distinctive 3-5-2 system.
Juventus, who won Serie A unbeaten in Conte’s first season, usually unsettle their opponents with high-tempo pressing and aggressive attacking, but got a taste of their own medicine in Munich.
“I struggled to sleep the night after the match,” said defender Giorgio Chiellini. “We are not the side that played so badly in Munich, we are much better than that and are eager to turn the page as quickly as possible. I hope the one in Turin will be our game.”
“We need to up the tempo and if we can put in a good performance in the return leg there’s still hope that we can get through,” he said.
Part of the blame must lie with Conte’s team selection, particularly in attack where Juventus lack a big-name striker.
The coach, who routinely fields two strikers and rotates them to feature any combination among Mirko Vucinic, Sebastian Giovinco, Fabio Quagliarella and Alessandro Matri, selected his least regular pairing of Quagliarella and Matri last week.
Both looked pedestrian against the Bayern defense and Juventus immediately came to life after they were replaced midway through the second half by the Vucinic-Giovinco double act, Conte’s most used attacking partnership this season.
Conte’s midfield was also overrun as Stephan Lichtsteiner, who is also suspended today, produced a subdued performance on the right. Juve missed Pogba’s physical strength and neat footwork alongside Pirlo, who was repeatedly muscled off the ball.
Conte could also think about replacing Federico Peluso with the more imposing Kwadwo Asamoah on the left flank.
Vidal is suspended after being booked for a challenge on Franck Ribery, although television replays showed that little if any contact was made and the Frenchman’s reaction made it look far worse than it was.