x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Champions League: Juventus in need of redemption against Bayern Munich

Serie A leaders cannot afford a repeat of their first leg effort against Bayern, writes Ian Hawkey.

Andrea Pirlo, left, and Juventus cannot afford to make many more mistakes against Thomas Muller and Bayern Munich.
Andrea Pirlo, left, and Juventus cannot afford to make many more mistakes against Thomas Muller and Bayern Munich.

In the penultimate match of the last European championship, a little over 10 months ago, 14 players either from Bayern Munich or Juventus contested a place in the final.

Germany, with a goalkeeper and three defenders from Bayern, with two Munich men in midfield and another pair used up front, had gone into the Euro 2012 semi-final as favourites.

Italy, with their Juventus backbone, stunned them, up 2-0 by the 37th minute.

That is one useful precedent the Italian Serie A holders can arm themselves with for the daunting task facing Juventus on Wednesday night against the German Bundesliga champions in the second leg of their Uefa Champions League quarter-final.

They trail 2-0. If they replicate the ambush carried out by the Italy of Gianluigi Buffon, Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio in Warsaw last June - and avoid conceding a late goal, as Italy did - then Juve can continue to dream of the Uefa Champions League semi-finals.

Repeat the lacklustre, even dozy display they produced in Munich last Tuesday, and Juve's elimination becomes a formality.

Many Germans were puzzled by the first-leg impotence of Juventus, and particularly by the anonymity of some of the footballers who had so impressed at the Euro 2012.

Pirlo, in particular, bears a weighty expectation to make amends.

Antonio Conte, the Juventus coach, detected symptoms of fatigue in his best passer and organiser, and rested him for the weekend win over Pescara.

Various changes in personnel affect the key jousts of central midfield. Bayern's Bastian Schweinsteiger, commanding in the first 90 minutes, may be partnered by Javi Martinez, the Spaniard who was suspended for the first leg, while Arturo Vidal, for Juve, sits out because of his yellow card at the Allianz Arena.

Though Vidal is a candidate for Juve's player of the season, his probable replacement by the youthful Paul Pogba offers a different sort of athleticism and energy, and perhaps more space for Pirlo.

"It is a big challenge for us," Pogba said of the mission to reverse the deficit, while praising his senior midfield partner. "I have learnt so much at Juve from training with a great like Pirlo."

Juventus need the 33-year-old midfielder at his best. Juventus may be dominant in Serie A, but they are collectively short of expertise at the sharp end of European knockout football. Pirlo, for so long an AC Milan stalwart, will be the only man among tonight's Juve starters who knows what it is to win Europe's major club prize.



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