After all the chaos of COVID, playing to empty stadiums, injuries, Pirlo learning on the job, keeping us in the running (just) for all we seek to win, our whole season narrows down, becomes blinkered upon this fixture.
We can talk of a transition. Of a change of the style aimed for. Of re-JUVE-nation. Of our fledgling coach learning slowly from his mistakes, and proving…that he can in the least stand the pressure which comes with the position. Yet the reality is, we are Juve. We are a club expected to fight for the top honours. As our reputation suggests, our history, our wage bill. So to consider a second season on the trot where we exit the premier continental competition at the first knock-out stage, is close to unthinkable.
However, we must take into account certain factors>
We are a goal down, and were outplayed for most the match in Portugal, when we looked well below the belief, hunger, organisation, technique of our opponents.
We have still a fair few key players missing, some will return in time, but will be very rusty indeed.
We have started poorly in all our recent games, only settling into any rhythm in the second half.
Our formation changes every game, often of late, as does the system.
We were a damn shambles in the first leg of this two legged tie. Very fortunate indeed to find Chiesa netting that golden goose egg of a goal. Other than which, the game was horrible to endure. That goal, hugely against the match long flow of the game, offers a lifeline.
With Ronaldo, we must assume, well rested and champing at the bit. Arthur and Bonucci both apparently ear-marked to start. Morata, very much moving through the gears towards top form surely to be involved from the first whistle. De Ligt, another to come back into the side. Juan, hopefully sharper from his test run return against Lazio. Chiesa is flying wild wherever we deploy him…Many signs are very positive indeed, and for one of the few times this campaign, whilst we started and played like barely animated corpses until the 40 minute mark, after which against Lazio, we actually looked a decent side capable of mauling anyone in our path….
Yet I must enlarge upon the suggestion that we have often of late played hapless for the opening half. Yes, Pirlo has much to deal with…absences of key players etc. Yet this seems to have helped nourish his pragmatism; a silver lining to the bother. Still…it must be noted and considered, that we have started woefully, played woefully, for most of the first half in our last 3 games.
The nut of the matter is that we cannot afford to play listless and lifeless for one half of the 90 against Porto. We will be doomed if we need that amount of time to collect and find any semblance of cohesion, finally play to our strengths, which are plentiful, in all areas but the unbalanced midfield, but even there, we have more quality than many assert…just an odd mix.
I have been brutally cynical of Pirlo. Yet of late, I have come to lessen my casting of aspersions, softened, and felt finally…proud and pleased and excited by the side for some of the game against Lazio.
As for Porto>>>
Since dominating Juve in the first leg, unlucky to emerge with solely the slender, precarious 2-1 lead, they have beaten the minnows of Maritimo by 1 goal, drawn with the best side in Portugal 0-0, lost at home to Braga, who are no world beaters, then regained some pride with an away victory over Gil Vicente, who nobody will have heard of, for good reason. Their recent games suggest far from a side in great form.
I had wanted nothing more than progress, an identity appearing. Pirlo to introduce and implement a more entertaining profile and style. This has rarely emerged thus far…Which is why we find ourselves in our worst position, in the league, since Del Neri was guiding a far weaker squad.
Yet I am eager to leave the cynicism alone, focus instead on this mega opportunity to confirm, we are on the right path.
Much is up to Pirlo, for he will have enough players available, match sharp or rusty, to crush this Porto outfit. And this game, impacts staggeringly upon our financial and sporting future. Millions will be lost if we fail. Our capacity to draw talent on the recruitment front, will be painfully reduced, even more so considering our league position.
It is too cruel to suggest this game will define Pirlo, as a manager, but is it Right to conclude, this game will define this season.
Unfortunate to find De Ligt ruled out, apparently. The Dutchman joins Danilo (suspended), Dybala and Bentancur as absentees for this match.
McKennie, whilst fit enough to play a portion is expected to start on the bench.
One of the curious questions will be who Pirlo opts for in the back line. Freddy B has offered his two strongest performances of the season at LB with Sandro rarely impressing though fairly steady when on the flank. Although he looked quite decent at CB in the last outing against Lazio, I would be happy enough to see similar tonight…
I fear changing too much and seeing both Big Leo and Chiellini return from the start, with Sandro at LB. Changing too much that is working, for players who have not played regularly for several weeks and only just restarted full training, does not seem sensible. Chiesa at LM with Freddy behind him offers more support for runs from deep on that side of the field, yet…the whole system changes to work around Ronaldo, so perhaps best to get Sandro in at LCB with Leo and Demiral to have Pirlo’s beloved hybrid 3/4 (Juan pulled back also).
Cuadrado of course will be on the right flank. Which pushes Chiesa on the left in midfield as Juan operates as a RWB…this unbalanced routine yet again which I never like. Probably Ramsey coming in at RCM/RM?AM to tuck in and support the Colombian’s forward roaming.
Between them in the centre of the field, we expect to see Arthur given the nod, who has not played a full game for over 4 weeks now. Returning from his ongoing calcification issues for a brief 20 minutes on the weekend. Rabiot will join him.
Up top, Ronaldo in his LWF roaming position, joined by his old chum Alvaro Morata.
I do not rate this Porto side as far superior to Lazio, who we outplayed once finding our rhythm a few days ago. And this was a team who were very motivated indeed, with their CL hopes in tatters and only the league to play for, Juve very much up and down in form. They fancied their chances and were fresher than our lot having had more rest.
We have nothing to fear in this game but ourselves and perhaps Pirlo’s selection and starting system. And could well run out comfortable winners