On Wednesday, Chelsea take on Serie A champions Juventus in the first step of their defence of the Champions League and there could not have been a tougher opponent to begin with. Juventus have lost one game in all competitions, a record that dates back to May 2011. Since then the Bianconeri have only lost the Coppa Italia final against Napoli. They were undefeated in the whole league campaign last season and conceded a mere 20 goals in the 38 games, they have started this season’s campaign with victory in the Community Shield equivalent against Napoli and three straight wins in Serie A, which sees them top the table.
Breaking down the team they are of course now for the first time in two decades without club legend Alessandro Del Piero but captain Gianluigi Buffon now leads the side as he did for the majority of last season. Perhaps the best goalkeeper in this millennium, Buffon played a major part in only conceding 20 goals and the quality doesn’t diminish ahead of him. Juventus are tactically adaptable but they primarily favour a 3-5-2 formation (However they can change to 4-4-2 without any problems) with Barzagli, Bonnuci and Chiellini, the trio may be familiar to you, It is the same three that play ahead of Buffon in the Italian national team, they are an incredibly solid unit and expect Chiellini to take the ball out from defence on occasions giving them an extra dimension going forward.
The two wing backs are likely to be Lichtsteiner and new signing Kwadwo Asamoah. Lichtsteiner was perhaps one of the more impressive and underrated players in last season’s campaign whilst Asamoah, naturally a central midfielder has been moved out to the left and already bagged himself two goals this season from his more defensive but wider role. Expect both players to cover a vast amount of ground as they transition between attack and defence.
Arguably Juventus biggest strength is their midfield (It’s worrying the defence just mentioned isn’t the biggest strength). Marshalled by the timeless Andrea Pirlo who needs no introduction on any European stage will look to control the game and judging from the performances of Chelsea’s central pairings this season, it is going to take a monumental effort to prevent Juventus having their way. Pirlo will operate as a deep playmaker, much of Juventus’ plays will inevitably go through him, but knowing or realising the danger is of little use if you can’t actually prevent him from doing so which is no easy accomplishment. Alongside Pirlo is possibly the star of the team in Arturo Vidal, he doesn’t have the reputation that his fellow central midfielder has but Vidal is technically gifted and has a work rate to match it. His engine never dies and the Chelsea team will have to be wary of his movement and positioning at all time. The The trio is complete with either Giaccherini or Marchisio who play the most forward out of the three midfielders. Their role is as close to a trequartista as this team gets, although if Giovinco starts in the two ahead that could well change. Both players have an eye for goal and great with the ball at their feet. It should also be noted that if it is indeed Marchisio in the middle that would make six Italian players from the starting lineup they used during the Euros. The midfield trio were the three highest rated midfielders in Italy according to WhoScored.
Up front there are several options with Giovinco, Vucinic, Matri and Quagliarella. All four forwards provide a different threat. Giovinco who has recently come back into the Juventus team following his Co-ownership deal at Parma is known as the “Atomic Ant” his diminutive figure is combined with explosive speed, a bag of tricks and a powerful strike capable of scoring from long range. Vucinic is the artist, he has always reminded of players such as Berbatov or Ibrahimovic, he isn’t always going to be the hardest working player but when he gets on the ball, fireworks are indeed capable, like this screamer against A.C Milan. He has the ability to make the game look very easy at all times. Matri is your typical striker, good in the air and perhaps the least capable technically of the four but he, to use a football cliché ‘Knows where the goal is’. Finally Quagliarella who has found it hard to find the same form he had with Sampdoria, Napoli and Udinese but is a very good player in his own right and has a rocket like shot in his armoury.
This is a side I tipped to win the Champions League prior to the Group Stage draw, I’m delighted they’ve ended up in Chelsea’s group as I’ve supported them since I was a kid but that also means I know what they are capable of and if the same Chelsea side turn up that played against Atletico Madrid and QPR, expect the “Old Lady” to come in to London and pick up three points.
Tactically it will be interesting to see how Roberto Di Matteo copes with Juventus’ formation. Many fans including myself have questioned the tactics and personnel used this season and it will need to be perfect against the most in form side in the whole of Europe. As I noted before, there will be a major role to play in that central midfield area and I wouldn’t be surprised if Di Matteo reverted to a 4-3-3 to combat Juventus’ presence and especially to try and minimise the impact of Pirlo on the game. Closing down will be key and it can’t be done by just certain individuals, this will need to be a thorough team effort. All three midfielders will drift into space and have the ability to pick key passes out to supply whoever leads the line. Chelsea’s strength will be as it has been this season the three players in behind Torres and they will look to get in behind and expose any gaps between the midfield and defence. Don’t be fooled by the success against Wigan with three defenders or the two goals against City in the Community Shield this is a team that has near enough perfected the system. They remind me of the Chelsea team under Mourinho in his first year in charge. A team that is incredibly well drilled at the back and know how to close a game out once they have a lead.