Beating Borussia Dortmund fundamental for ambitious Juventus
For the prestige of Calcio, for the financial rewards and for the development of the team, Juventus must do enough against Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday evening to ensure they qualify for the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
Domestic success means little to a side that continues to collect points with ease and with no true challenger piling on the pressure. For the side to grow on a commercial level and make the type of money that will guarantee better squads and a better brand, Juventus need European success. And this season, they have a chance to move forward in the competition.
This is the worst Borussia Dortmund side we've seen in recent years. Void of any attacking ideas that don't include space and fast counter-attacks, Koln should have finished them off and grabbed success on Saturday. However, what they did do, is help the Bianconeri prepare for the test, giving Massimiliano Allegri ideas as to how to set up his team to ensure a clean sheet.
One thing Allegri tested in the first leg, and Koln's Peter Stoger proved again over the weekend, is that BVB do not like possession and have yet to show their ability to create chances from open play when space is restricted. Too often they look bereft of ideas as to how to overcome stern defences, and become obsessed with funnelling all their chances through the middle.
"We tried to close the middle and we knew BVB would try to play through it anyway," Stoger explained in his post-match comments. Dortmund's lack of width and insistence on repeating their mistakes is the reason they're suffering this season. Opponents are forcing them to evolve tactically and unless they stop resisting, their struggles will continue.
A draw is all Juventus need and thus can afford to go to Westfalenstadion and play as the away side. At the end of the first leg, the two sides shared possession equally. But until the final third of the match, the Bianconeri forced Die Schwarzgelben to have the ball and create. Pushing forward in numbers in hopes of pressing Juve's centre-backs and provoking mistakes, BVB left space and gaps at the back for the Old Lady to exploit via a quick counter-attack. Much like they did this weekend against Koln. Using the skills of Carlos Tevez and the pace of Alvaro Morata, Juve had the weapons necessary to score twice.
Sadly the Bianconeri will be without Andrea Pirlo. And while his removal from the match proved to be a blessing in disguise in the first leg, it would have been better if he was fit for the second leg, to at least offer an alternative game plan. Nonetheless, Claudio Marchisio has proved to be a hit in this role, while his dynamic style of play and understanding of tactics ensures defensive solidity as well as offensive beauty.
The question is, upon which formation will Allegri rely on Wednesday? Early indications in training show that the coach is undecided between a 3-5-2 formation and the now-familiar 4-3-1-2 shape. With Andrea Barzagli back in the squad, it is thought his presence would offer defensive security in a 3-5-2 formation, especially through the middle, and thus allow the side to sit and defend before counter-attacking with strength. The strategy is perhaps the right plan as Juventus don't need to be proactive and Allegri's main concern is that Germans don't score. Clean sheets win you trophies and he's keen to play it safe away from home.
The question is, is Barzagli really ready to be depended upon? If he commits one mistake and Juventus concede a goal, then the 3-5-2 isn't the best shape to encourage attacking fluidity.
By contrast, the 4-3-1-2 has revived the Old Lady from an attacking point of view, allowing for dynamism and numerous points of creation. Deployed in this formation, BVB will have to live with the fear that their defensive line will struggle to contain Juve's attacking power, making an early goal is a very real possibility. Positioned in this more courageous shape, and an away goal is virtually scored even if on a defensive level, there may be problems.
Why not combine the two? Allegri has shown how to alter the formations midway through the match, while his tactical substitutions have proven to be excellent. He can always start with the 4-3-1-2 shape, attempt to get the away goal when energy is still high, then revert to the 3-5-2 towards the end to manage the result and close out the match.
Only he will know what is best. And the hope is that Juventus take advantage of their position and the weaknesses of their opponent to secure qualification. There are no more challenges to be found in the domestic league, it's time to conquer Europe or at least build experience.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.