Juventus shouldn't be underestimated vs. Bayern Munich in Champions Lge
Finishing second in their Champions League qualifying group was always going to present Juventus with problems.
If there were two teams every club wanted to avoid, they were Bayern Munich and Barcelona, and sadly the Bianconeri were handed a stern test when they were drawn against the Bundelsiga champs. But daunting as the opponent may seem, is it really impossible to beat Pep Guardiola's team?
What the Catalan tactician has created in Bavaria is a side full of beauty because of its many intricacies. Akin to a beautiful watch with complicated movements, Guardiola's Bayern side move and occupy spaces in elaborate fashion, not in the straightforward way Barcelona managed before them. Fluid, intelligent and well-balanced, each player understands what space he must occupy in order to facilitate the attacking movements of a side boasting some of the very best players in the world.
However, while their complex system is bound to overcome the vast number of opponents they face, many of whom opt for basic, clean tactics in the Bundesliga, the Champions League is a tournament that offers a variety of tactical obstacles that may not be as easy to defeat. We have already seen how the Germans suffered against Porto and Arsenal, especially when the team plays away from home. In fact, in their last seven away matches, they have lost four.
For all their attacking beauty and tactical intricacy, the 2013 Champions League winners are still a team with too many defensive woes that become increasingly more apparent away from the Allianz Arena. It's been widely reported that the reason Juventus vs. Bayern Munich is a more even test now than it was when the draw took place is because the Bavarians are now dealing with several injuries at the back. However, even if they weren't, this is a team set up to attack, and when forced to defend, they struggle against those forwards who run at them with pace, players willing to take them on.
A side with impeccable possession stats, without the ball, they suffer both tactically and psychologically. Psychologically because, unlike other teams in more competitive leagues, they rarely concede the first goal and are made to stage a comeback, though they managed to do so against Darmstadt at the weekend.
Bayern's system can cause problems in that the players may suffer to rearrange themselves defensively when their opponent wins back possession. It's for this reason the counter-attack is a reasonable strategy to adopt by the Italians as long as it remains an option and not the only strategy going forward. Guardiola has already predicted the Italians will defend in numbers before unleashing their forwards quickly, and thus would have prepared for it. As such, it's crucial Massimiliano Allegri keeps his opponent guessing, perhaps switching formations and using the substitutes bench to his advantage.
In games such as these, Alvaro Morata's quality becomes imperative largely because he relishes the big challenges, scoring in the matches that almost seem impossible to resolve. More than that, he is a huge threat on the counter, boasting decent pace, ball control and athleticism that will most definitely terrify a Bayern back line that could be forced to play without a recognised centre-back.
In the match against Darmstadt, Serdar Tasci proved he is nothing more than a fourth-option player considering how capable he is of losing focus and conceding ground. As for Mehdi Benatia, he has only just recovered from injury. The absences will make it that much easier for the likes for Paulo Dybala and his forward companions to pull the defence apart and create space for themselves, especially if the midfielder tasked with aiding the defence is Xabi Alonso, who has struggled to play a clean game when overwhelmed.
Allegri is the kind of coach who strongly believes in the power of his substitutions. And while it often works out for him, the hope is the team he chooses to start do not concede many to render those possible substitutions irrelevant. It's likely he might choose to start Mario Mandzukic for two reasons: The first being that the Croatian holds up play well to allow the talent of Dybala and Paul Pogba to shine. But the other, and perhaps more important, is that the forward will be desperate to prove to Bayern and Guardiola that his departure was a loss to the side. A player capable of frustrating centre-backs, one hopes his injury will not have hindered his ability in attack.
Perhaps not yet capable of playing a full 90 minutes, it's likely Mandzukic will be substituted, and who better to come on in his place than Morata, who can then use his energy and power to punish a more tired Bayern in the latter stage of the match.
This is a German giant accustomed to winning and enjoys being in control. Juve's best chance of rattling their superior, and more experienced, opponent is by providing the Bundesliga club with an uncomfortable and unpredictable environment, and Allegri is the perfect coach for the challenge. Juve may not win, but they should certainly not be underestimated and as long as they believe they are good enough, they have a great opportunity to demonstrate their own perfection.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Minarzouki.