UEFA Champions League 1/4 final B. Munich v Juventus Preview

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UEFA Champions League 1/4 final B. Munich v Juventus Preview Empty UEFA Champions League 1/4 final B. Munich v Juventus Preview

Post by thegutterpoet Mon Apr 01, 2013 10:51 pm

Every Juventini who witnessed the barbed 1-2 away victory over Inter in the derby d'italia last Saturday will be confronting Tuesday's champions league quarter-final with confidence, excitement yet also a hint of trepidation. Whilst it is fair to conclude that we never looked like losing, those with any objectivity must concede that the victory was in no small way brought about through two world class saves from Buffon and the decision of the referee to refrain from awarding a penalty after a clumsy tackle by Chiellini in the area on Cassano. We won the game, but few worth listening to would have argued had we drawn.

Turning our attention to Bavaria, to check on the progress of the incredibly strong Bayern machine which blocks our path to the semi-finals, we see that their own warm-up for the big match resulted in a brutal 9-2 mauling of mid-table Hamburg. Sitting top of the bundesliga, twenty points clear of their nearest challenger Dortmund, having amassed a stunning goal difference of +65, Heynckes' well oiled panzer unit has enjoyed a season of continued success. The debate focused on the strengths and weaknesses of the major European leagues is not for now. Suffice to say, Bayern Munich have been indomitable domestically. Given our own healthy 9 point lead over Napoli in Serie A, the upcoming fixture will offer an intriguing opportunity for the best of Italy to face the best of Germany.

On the European stage both teams have been impressive. Especially our beloved bianconeri, whose table-topping unbeaten journey through a group which included reigning champions league holders Chelsea and the notoriously tough Shakhtar Donesk, represents a top quality début in the competition for Antonio Conte. An achievement rendered all the more spectacular, given the ridiculous scommessopoli trial, which cruelly and wrongly stole 15 league games and the whole group stage of European competition from the manager (Conte was banned from match days but not from training). We were expected to despatch Celtic in the second round knock-out phase, and did so without hitting top gear. Dealing with their thuggish, high tempo approach to the game alongside vociferous home support in a careful, calculated manner then finishing the job at home comfortably. Bayern had a harder time, going down 2-0 at home after winning handsomely in London in the first leg, sneaking through on the away goals rule to break Arsenal hearts the world over.

For Bayern the league title is already won and with Heynckes leaving his post in the Summer to make way for ex-Barca genius Pep Guardiola, the manager would dearly like to add a second personal champions league trophy to his legacy. The 67 year old, who in his playing career scored a phenomenal 243 goals in 394 games, won the competition in 1998 whilst manager of Real Madrid and has taken Bayern to two of the last three finals, losing to Mourinho's Inter in 2010, and succumbing to Chelsea on penalties last year.

The story is markedly different for Juve, with the quarter-final ties representing the deepest we have delved in continental competition since the ill-fated calciopoli scandal in 2006. Before which we were champions league regulars, having won the competition twice in our history and sharing the depressing title of 'most champions league final defeats' along with our German foes.

The strength of Juventus lies in the collective. Conte's is a team which doesn't lack individual superstars, but adopts a tactical focus always trumping expansive freedom for individual brilliance. Which is perhaps why we have seen so little of the scorer of a truly beautiful goal in the recent derby d'italia, the one player in our forward line who is capable of the magnificent and magical, often from incredible angles.

Fabio Quagliarella's wonder strike left as bitter as sweet a taste in the mouth, for as welcome as the goal was, it will likely do little to alter the manager's convictions when it comes to seeing Mirko Vucinic as a better fit for his system. The Montenegrin is a player who infuriates far more regularly than amazes. Profligate, mercurial, often more hapless than helpful but at times very capable of wonderful creativity and top calibre shooting. Perhaps he appears more selfless in training??Or his natural game as a trequartista/ attacking midfielder rings more of Conte's bells?? Neither are enough for me to understand fully his continued higher placing in the pecking order above Quagliarella. My own instincts point to the passionate Neapolitan character of the Italian proving abrasive to Conte's attempts/demands at footballing socialism. With Mirko more willing to tow the party line...Hardly what I would call a meritocracy. And yet still, I believe Conte when he explains how he 'knows from the look in a players eye' who is most ready for the battle.

It could well be that Mirko simply manages to look more fired up during training, following Conte's orders with admirable zeal whilst Fabio is concentrating on scoring in the top corner from 30 yards, less interested in the movements of our wingbacks or runs from midfield.

With Giovinco taking a brutal knock on the ankle from the criminally spiteful tackle of Cambiasso on Saturday it remains to be seen whether la formica atomica will feature. It seems horrid to write, but most likely correct to assume, that Mirko Vucinic will be playing from the start. Alongside him we should expect the only pure prima punta in our squad, Allessandro Matri, whose form took a turn for the better as 2013 washed across our shores. He is an intelligent player, content to lead the line, poach in the box, drag defenders wide and link up with the marauding midfield en-route to goal. With Llorente arriving in the summer break its a good time for Matri to be championing his own cause to remain a regular first team player.

Our midfield is magnificent. Pirlo remains one of the finest deep lying play-makers in the world game, yet as we saw against Inter, he is prone to mistakes and when they occur, it is of ultra-importance for there to be adequate, pacey cover. The manner in which Palacio sliced through our defence, very directly, was worrying, with too many players caught ball watching. Regardless, Andrea oozes all sorts of class, and will require man marking. Marchisio and Vidal can both play box-to-box to perfection, involve themselves in the final third to devastating effect and appear in fine physical and mental shape.

The strength of the midfield triumvirate is mirrored in defence with Chiellini, Bonucci and Barzagli offering immense muscle, sharpness of mind and confidence in the tackle. The latter two are both useful on the ball, with my only concern gazing upon Chiellini, whose mad dashes forward and occasional awkward challenges at the back could well land us in hot water. Regardless, he remains the strongest centre-back in the competition and always brings more to the table than he takes.

The wing-back situation is of more interest with the Lichsteiner steamroller sure to return at RWB, but what of the LWB spot? Asamoah has been poor since returning from ACON duty in South Africa, although he looked slightly improved in his last outing. Peluso offers more defensively. In the away fixture this may well be of too great to ignore importance with Ribery and Robben attempting to own the flanks, surely high up on our list of potential problem areas. Asamoah gives more offensively, and with Chiellini so robust on the left side of the rear-guard trio I'd probably opt for the Ghanaian.

Quagliarella's record in the champions league this season is nothing short of a joy to behold. Played 251 minutes, scored 4 goals, made 1 assist. After both our starting strikers scoried scintillating goals at the weekend and linked up masterfully at times, I hope the duo start up-top against Bayern…

My hoped for line-up:
Lichsteiner Barzagli Bonucci Chiellini Asamoah
Vidal Pirlo Marchisio
Quagliarella Matri

Conte's main talents as a manager are preparation and the ability to inspire, inject, infuse into his team the same confidence, belief and winning mentality that he possesses in spades. Lest we forget that he lifted the trophy as a player for Juventus in 1996.

We seem to play better with our backs against the wall, and my major worry is that we will be welcomed and made to feel cosy by the Germans, lulled into a false sense of security. Still...the greatest contribution Conte has made to the club, as manager, is to reignite the flame of self-belief, which has spread like forest-fire throughout the ranks. We may not be the 300 at Thermopylae, but we do have a Leonidas as our leader. This game, like every other, is a war. And I smile at the chorus in my heart and soul singing of Conte sending out soldiers who refuse to die...

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