What: UEFA Champions League – Group E
Who: Juventus vs Chelsea
When: Tuesday 20th November, 2012, at 19:45 UK Time
Where: Juventus Stadium, Turin, Italy
Make or Break for Juventus
Juventus’ 4-0 win over FC Nordsjaelland, combined with Chelsea’s victory over Shakhtar Donetsk, has set Group E up perfectly going into the last two rounds. In particular, this clash is now pivotal. To put it simply, if Juventus win, then the holders are staring an early exit from the Champions League in the face. However, if Chelsea come away with a point or more, then the Bianconeri will probably be in the Europa League in the spring. Either way, it seems more than likely that it will be one of these sides who end up missing out on a place in the Round of 16, with Shakhtar Donetsk in ominous form.
Last time these two met in this group Juventus still had their long Serie A unbeaten record. A 3-1 defeat to Inter brought a shuddering halt to their run, and although the Bianconeri won 6-1 at Pescara a week later, this weekend they had to settle for a 0-0 draw at home to Lazio, hardly perfect preparation for the visit of the Londoners.
Midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo was missing for Saturday’s game through suspension and will make a welcome return for this match, while striker Mirko Vucinic is battling to recover from flu in time to take his place up front for the Bianconeri, who are still without coach Antonio Conte on the touchline until he returns from his suspension next month.
Another Big Performance Required from Chelsea
A last minute winner from Victor Moses was all the more critical against Shakhtar Donetsk as it kept Chelsea above Juventus in the group, but only just. Thanks to that goal, Roberto Di Matteo’s men require just a point from their visit to Turin and it would be no surprise were the Italian tempted to revert to the ultra-defensive system which saw the Blues edge to Champions League success last season.
Yet this Chelsea team do not seem set up for such a system, with Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard benefitting most from the new attack-minded philosophy brought in since the start of the season. By coincidence, three of the remaining ‘old guard’, John Terry, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard, remain sidelined through injury as Chelsea’s adaptation to a new style continues.
Defeat to West Brom at the weekend seemed to indicate that Chelsea are suffering their traditional mid-season blip; without Cole and Terry, their defensive organisation seems to be slipping too. Chelsea’s travails over the winter months have often cost them a chance of Premier League glory, they usually get through the group stages. But this season looks like the biggest challenge the Blues have had yet to their proud recent European record.
Juventus 4-0 FC Nordsjaelland (07/11; Champions League)
Pescara 1-6 Juventus (10/11; Serie A)
Juventus 0-0 Lazio (17/11; Serie A)
Chelsea 3-2 Shakhtar Donetsk (07/11; Champions League)
Chelsea 1-1 Liverpool (11/11; Premier League)
West Bromwich Albion 2-1 Chelsea (17/11; Premier League)
Juventus: Mirko Vucinic (doubt); Paolo De Ceglie
Chelsea: Ashley Cole (doubt); John Terry; Frank Lampard
Players to watch
Juventus – Fabio Quagliarella: Quagliarella has hit form of late for Juventus and the former Sampdoria man will be difficult for the Chelsea defence to handle. He scored a hat-trick against Pescara, all three being sumptuous strikes, and that is what makes him such a danger in this game. Quagliarella does not just pose a conventional threat through his finishing prowess and skill however, but is also known for his ability to score spectacular unexpected goals. In a tight game that could be won by a moment of genius, he is one of the most likely to hit a wonder strike.
Chelsea – Ramires: The Brazilian has been one of Chelsea’s most consistent performers since Di Matteo took over from Andre Villas-Boas last season. His energetic displays, technical composure and tactical discipline are essential for the European champions’ shape. Ramires will be tasked with nullifying the threat of Kwadwo Asamoah on the left, whose rampaging runs forward can cause defences problems. And Ramires will then have to help out in central midfield too, where Pirlo can be so dangerous. If the Brazilian has one of his good nights, then Chelsea have a real chance.
The Londoners suffered a 2-1 defeat at West Brom on Saturday which leaves them adrift in the Premier League title race, but the team selection offered clues as to Di Matteo’s thinking about this Champions League clash. With Eden Hazard playing throughout, but both Oscar and Juan Mata brought on from the bench to try to rescue the game for Chelsea, as well as Ramires being given a breather, it appears Di Matteo may take a safety first approach. Hazard, while dazzling going forward, can leave Chelsea vulnerable defensively and it would be a surprise if the Belgian started a game the Blues do not need to win.
Juventus may have the initiative handed to them by Chelsea if the English do take a defensive approach and the Bianconeri’s combative yet technically gifted midfield should be able to exert pressure on the opposition goal. The Londoners were not able to keep Juventus at bay at home even when 2-0 ahead and the Italian champions will be confident they can hurt their opponents. Much will depend on the attacking thrusts of Stephan Lichtsteiner and Asamoah out wide, while their forwards, in particular Sebastian Giovinco and Quagliarella, are in good form. Chelsea rarely seem to lose big matches in Europe these days, while it is rare for Juventus to lose at all. All of which points to a draw. Juventus 1-1 Chelsea.
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