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Wednesday, 23 April 2014 08:06

Juventus – the expert lowdown

In-depth look at Benfica’s Europa League semi-final opponents

download__1_.jpgOn Thursday night one of the most eagerly awaited matches of the club season will take place in Lisbon, as the newly crowned Portuguese champions take on Juventus in the first leg of the Europa League semi-final. PortuGOAL enlisted the help of Juventus expert Adam Digby for a detailed look at the Italian champions elect.
1. How did Juventus get here? Give us a quick guide to Juve’s path to the semi-finals of the Europa League.
As everyone knows, the Bianconeri crashed out of the Champions League in the Group Stage, a disappointing result for the two-time Italian title winners. However, what remains largely overlooked is that the team was struggling in general in those first few months of the season, improving drastically towards December when their chances in the elite competition ended.
Dropping into the Europa League – with the prospect of the Final held in their own Stadium – appears to have ignited Antonio Conte’s men and they have swept aside Trabzonspor and Lyon to reach this tie with Benfica.
2. Current form. How have Juventus looked form-wise in recent weeks?
Impressive. Since that defeat against Galatasaray, they have lost just one league match – a 3-0 loss to Napoli last month – and drawn just three times, a remarkable run that has left them on the cusp of a third consecutive league title. That is a feat they have not managed since 1935, testament to the quality Conte has instilled in his side. They have won their last five matches, conceding only once in that streak, highlighting the defensive excellence which has seen them keep 25 clean sheets in all competitions this term.
3. Ones to watch - Who are Juve's star players?
Obviously the quality of Gigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo speaks for itself, but the real danger men right now are Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente. The duo have brought extra quality to Juve’s attack and, despite the Argentinean still unable to net in Europe he has still been a key figure almost every time he pulls on the black and white shirt. With a combined tally of 34 goals, the club has seen an instant reward to finally bringing in two top class strikers.
4. Strong points/weak points – what must Benfica beware of and what can they exploit?
While the defensive record and their attacking duo clearly standout, their biggest quality is in midfield where Pirlo shares space with Arturo Vidal, Paul Pogba and Claudio Marchisio. Three of those four are usually fielded in Conte’s 3-5-2 formation, which has been a major strength at home but a clear weakness in Europe.
Teams with quality wide players have been able to exploit the spaces that leaves, and Benfica are obviously equipped to do just that. Conte could switch it, and may need to if his team is to advance here.
5. Formation and playing style – what system do Juventus usually play? Would you describe them generically as an attacking or a defensive team?
As stated in the previous question, Conte uses a 3-5-2 framework, but switched to 4-3-3 against Real Madrid, enjoying some success against the Spanish giants. He will certainly consider making that move again, and that may well give Juve the edge.
6. What are the local press saying about the tie? Who are considered favourites to progress?
The tie is seen as very finely balanced, although Torinese daily La Stampa wrote on Tuesday that Salvio’s broken arm was “a huge boost” for La Madama. Elsewhere, the excellent Fabrizio Bocca wrote in La Repubblica that beating the Portuguese Champions was “not easy, but it can certainly be done."
7. Mood in the camp – judging by player/coach quotes regarding this game, do you think Juventus come into the match in a confident frame of mind?
Definitely, but there is also huge respect for Benfica there too. Conte told reporters at the weekend that the first leg “won’t be easy, as it’s a fiery atmosphere, but we want to honour the Europa League.” The coach has spoken at length about his desire to win the competition so will field his strongest side, and Claudio Marchisio discussed the tie with UEFA.com, telling them;
“Clearly they have the experience and the players with the qualities and characteristics to cause us difficulty. We have to think about them and think of the game as another final. There will be two quality teams that will try and put on a spectacle in these two matches. For our part, we hope we have the right belief to reach our objective, which is to play the final in Turin.”
8. What do you think the result of the match will be?
To be brutally honest, I’m worried about the first leg. Benfica have much more European experience than this Juventus, who I do feel have enough quality to progress. No idea of a scoreline but I believe La Madama will make it to the final. Just.
Our thanks to Adam Digby, the author of the forthcoming book “Juventus: A History in Black & White”. To keep track of everything Juve be sure to follow Turin-based Adam on Twitter @Adz77.

Comments (4)
4 Thursday, 24 April 2014 13:09
Here we go again dipping into grandpas memory bank. If Liverpool is not currently considered a European heavyweight with all of their HISTORY and a recent champions league win what exactly qualifies Benfica as a European heavyweight? Yes youre right portugal dont have any footballing heavyweights anymore times have changed and people like you need to accept that. If youre a selling team youre not a heavyweight. If youve won 4 league titles in 20 years in a league like ours you are not a heavyweight.
3 Wednesday, 23 April 2014 15:19
Well Mr. LHE, if by your rationale SLB are not a traditional heavyweight (9 European finals to date)...then Portugal has no heavyweights. That's a great estimation of Portuguese football by you LOL!!!
2 Wednesday, 23 April 2014 14:07
* 1 European Heavyweight
Some thoughts
1 Wednesday, 23 April 2014 11:54
Yes this is a huge tie between two European heavyweights. This was worthy of the final itself, and as a matter of fact neither of these teams should have dropped out of the CL groups this season, considering the squads they have. This is more like a CL tie in all honesty. Juve are the most difficult of the 3 opponents we could've had, however I'd rather play them over 2 legs in the semi, than in just one "away" match in the final.

It's a balanced and even tie, however I would say Juve are slight favourites at this moment for two main reasons. Firstly the fact that Benfica were just crowned Liga champions and had a serious celebration process, I'm a little concerned whether this may have affected the concentration and focus of the players. Secondly Juve have the extra motivation of badly wanting to get to their home final in Torino. However this can work both ways, they could also get nervous at the thought of missing out on that final. Also SLB have more recent European experience at this level. So it's a tough one to call.

I think we are slightly stronger in attack particularly from wide areas, while Juve's central midfield is probably stronger than ours. I wonder if Conte will indeed change his formation for this tie. The 3-5-2 is a risky formation because quick attacks from wide areas can really harm 3 at the back, as Spain ruthlessly demonstrated at the 2012 Euro final. Benfica have the personnel (Markovic, Gaitan) to exploit such a formation. Juve have a very strong midfield though, and will likely be the strongest midfield we've faced this year. So very difficult to predict who will come out on top. It's gonna be a great tie whatever happens!

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