Juventus will look to put their domestic woes behind them when they host Zenit St Petersburg on Tuesday night in a UEFA Champions League Group H encounter.
The UEFA Champions League returns this midweek with some enticing encounters in Matchday four, and Group H will see Juventus welcome Russian outfit Zenit St Petersburg to the Allianz Stadium.
Already close to sealing a Last-16 spot in Europe, the Old Lady have been faltering domestically as a 2-1 setback to Hellas Verona followed a narrow midweek loss to Sassuolo, which means Juventus now find themselves in the murky waters of midtable in Serie A.
However, the Turin giants have been at their tenacious best in Europe so far. After winning all three of their Group H games without conceding a single goal, the Old Lady are poised to advance to the knockout round with a win at home against opponents they defeated just a week ago. A late Dejan Kulusevski header broke the deadlock as Juventus sealed a last-gasp 1-0 win in a close-fought contest in Russia’s cultural capital.
Zenit, on the other hand, have shown no signs of a hangover from their defeat to Juventus on Matchday three, as the reigning Russian champions registered comprehensive wins in both their subsequent league games: battering Dinamo Moscow 4-1 on Friday, after previously running out 7-1 victors at home against rivals Spartak Moscow.
That incredible result constitutes their largest victory against the Moscow side in league history. It puts Zenitchiki five points clear at the top of the standings as they pursue a fourth consecutive domestic crown. And they will hope to translate that form onto the continental stages as well.
It is a vital game Sergei Semak & co., as they need to get three points against an out-of-form Juventus side to keep their qualification hopes alive. Otherwise, they will have to contend with a consolatory Europa League pass. Ahead of their crucial encounter at the Allianz Stadium, The Hard Tackle takes a close look at both sides.
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— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) November 1, 2021
Given their dismal week in Serie A, Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri could ring a few changes to his starting lineup. He will hope to have Federico Chiesa back fit from a muscle problem that kept him out at the weekend. Aaron Ramsey (muscular) and Moise Kean (thigh) are also doubtful for the game, while Mattia De Sciglio is a confirmed absentee with a thigh injury that will keep him sidelined until after the international break.
Juventus are expected to line up in Allegri’s preferred 4-4-2 formation. Wojciech Szczesny is certain to start between the sticks. Guarding him in central defence could be the pairing of Leonardo Bonucci and Matthijs de Ligt. Veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini could be handed a breather ahead of a crucial game against Fiorentina in Serie A this weekend.
The South American duo of Juan Cuadrado and Alex Sandro will be expected to provide the much-needed width from the full-back positions and add options for the forwards and midfielders to work with.
Summer arrival Manuel Locatelli could come into midfield ahead of Arthur after getting dropped to the bench in the defeat to Hellas Verona. Locatelli, alongside Rodrigo Bentancur, will look to dominate the midfield battle with their energy and resilience. With Dejan Kulusevski not favoured by Allegri, it should be Chiesa and Adrien Rabiot completing the midfield quartet.
Alvaro Morata will be aiming to impress and end his goalscoring rut following his return from injury last month. He will likely be partnered by in-form star Paulo Dybala. The former will most certainly lead the attack, while the latter will drop into spaces between the lines to carry the ball forward and pose a threat from his drilled shooting from the edge of the box.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Szczesny; Cuadrado, Bonucci, de Ligt, Sandro; Chiesa, Bentancur, Locatelli, Rabiot; Dybala, Morata
Zenit St Petersburg
Zenit boss Sergei Semak has been dealt a major blow by the absence of left-back Douglas Santos, who was substituted early against Spartak due to a muscular issue and then missed the triumph against Dinamo. Magomed Ozdoev is another doubt, with him yet to recover from a knee ligament injury suffered in the summer.
Semak appears to be sticking with his tried-and-tested 3-4-3 system. Stanislav Kritsyuk is an automatic starter in goal after he displaced Mikhail Kerzakhov from the starting lineup. He will be protected by the back-three Dmitri Chistyakov, Dejan Lovren and Yaroslav Rakitskiy.
Sergey Semak: "Tomorrow's match with @juventusfcen is defining for us"
— FC Zenit in English✨ (@fczenit_en) November 1, 2021
In the absence of Douglas Santos, Vyacheslav Karavaev and Aleksey Sutormin will operate as the wing-backs. The duo will look to keep things solid at the back against Juventus’ influential wingers while also providing the outlet on the turnovers.
Wendel and Wilmar Barrios will slot into the midfield double-pivot. Barrios is more of a sitting defensive midfielder, who will majorly screen the backline, while Wendel is more of a box-to-box all-action operator.
If things go against plans and Juventus impose their superiority in midfield, the formation might shift to a 5-2-3 low-block to sustain the opponents and attack the counters with rapid pace. The trio of Claudinho, Sardar Azmoun, and Malcom will line up as Semak’s frontline.
Malcom and Claudinho possess that Brazilian flair and trickery that can cause Juventus’ backline all sorts of problems, while Iranian striker Azmoun is prolific at finishing off the chances and is known for his goalscoring aptitude.
Probable Lineup(3-4-3): Kritsyuk; Lovren, Chistyakov, Rakitskyi; Karavaev, Barrios, Wendel, Sutormin; Malcom, Azmoun, Claudinho
- Max Allegri’s return to Juventus has not been without problems, as a defeat on Saturday followed a midweek setback to Sassuolo. Thus Juve will head to the pitch aiming to escape the indignity of three consecutive defeats in all competitions.
- Despite their domestic issues in recent months, the Bianconeri can claim a tally of 13 victories from their previous 14 Champions League group games heading into Tuesday’s fixture.
- The Old Lady have never lost a continental encounter against Russian opponents in history, having won eight times and drawn once. They have only lost five of their 47 European fixtures at the Allianz Stadium.
- However, four of those losses have come in their previous 15 home games, indicating a drop in standards at a club that has exited at the Round of 16 in each of the last two seasons.
- Following their narrow defeat to Juventus last time out, Zenit have now been defeated in eight of their previous 10 Champions League matches (W1 D1) and finished fourth in their group in each of the last two campaigns.
Player to Watch
Dybala has probably been Juventus’ best player in the season so far. The Argentine’s output has picked up ever since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo. With Alvaro Morata off-colour and misfiring at the moment, much of the goalscoring burden has been left on the shoulders of the ex-Palermo man. And he has stepped up to the plate, producing 4 goals and 3 assists from just 657 minutes of football.
With Juventus lacking creativity at the weekend, it was nearly impossible for the Argentine to get into the box, as he ended up dropping very deep to pick the ball and create something. The second striker position just off of Morata suits the 27-year-old perfectly, and with Federico Chiesa returning for the Zenit game, Dybala will have added support to be more effective in the final third.
Juventus 2-1 Zenit St Petersburg
Zenit are not an opponent to be taken lightly. They have a good mix of talented and experienced players and are certainly brimming with confidence after destroying their domestic opponents in recent weeks. But finding those spaces against a resolute Juventus backline is a different ball-game altogether, and their eagerness to get a result may see them get plucked off by the Bianconeri once more.
Juventus have developed a habit of eking out narrow victories in the Champions League this season, and they can do the trick again at the Allianz Stadium, with Allegri demanding a positive reaction from his players after back-to-back losses in Serie A. Hence, The Hard Tackle predicts another close 2-1 win for the Old Lady to seal their progression into the next round of the competition.