Juventus are theoretically only four matches away from a Europa League final date in their own stadium in Turin, Italy, but the runaway Serie A leaders are unlikely to go into today’s quarter-final first leg away against French club Olympique Lyonnais taking anything for granted.
That is especially the case after they suffered only their second league defeat in 31 matches at the hands of SSC Napoli at the weekend. So Juve will be keen to make sure that 2-0 reverse does not signal the start of a slump.
Coach Antonio Conte sounded a warning after the visit to Napoli.
“There are tired legs in my squad, that’s inevitable when you’ve been playing every three days and are unable to rotate due to injuries,” Conte said.
Having struggled to see off Italian rivals ACF Fiorentina in the previous round, with the indefatigable Andrea Pirlo scoring the only goal in the second leg for a 2-1 aggregate victory, Juve will nonetheless start as favorites to book their berth in the last four of the competition.
“It’s a difficult draw against Lyon, even if many people are already talking about Juventus in the final,” said Pavel Nedved, the former Czech Republic playmaker who is now on Juve’s board. “We need to take it very seriously. No rival should be underestimated. We really are not thinking about playing in the final at home. We must focus on the quarter-finals.”
Lyon, one of three sides in the quarter-finals yet to win a major UEFA club trophy along with AZ of the Netherlands and Swiss club Basel, have never before faced Juventus, their neighbors from across the Alps.
They go into the game on the back of a defeat, a 2-1 reverse at home to local rivals AS Saint-Etienne that effectively ended their chances of a top-three finish in Ligue 1 that brings with it qualification for next season’s UEFA Champions League.
They are also struggling with injuries, with fragile playmaker Yoann Gourcuff hurting an ankle at the weekend and fellow creative lynchpin Clement Grenier one of a host of others in the treatment room.
Swiss champions Basel play their first-leg clash against 2004 UEFA Cup winners Valencia behind closed doors after being punished for the violent behavior of their fans.
UEFA also fined Basel 107,000 euros (US$147,500) after objects, including cigarette lighters, were thrown on to the pitch in their round-of-16 clash against Red Bull Salzburg, with the referee halting the game for 10 minutes.
AZ take on SL Benfica, last season’s beaten finalists who saw off Tottenham Hotspur in the last round.
The last Spanish representatives, Sevilla, travel to face 2011 winners Porto, who ended Napoli’s interest in the competition with a 3-2 win on aggregate in the last round.
The return legs are scheduled for Thursday next week.