Can Celtic stun Juventus with an unlikely comeback?
The Champions League returns this week, although only one of Italy’s two remaining representatives take to the field when Juventus meet Celtic in Turin, with a place in the quarter-finals at stake.
In truth, this should be one of the Bianconeri’s easier games of this month, having already fought through a tough top of the table clash against Napoli on Friday night. The club are defending a 3-0 lead they picked up at Parkhead in the first leg.
This should be a routine game for Juventus, and one in which they can use to rest many of their key players, given that there is little or no chance of them crumbling so dramatically in a manner that has not been witnessed from an Italian side since that Champions League final last decade.
Three of their players are a booking away from a suspension and it seems likely that Antonio Conte will keep with Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and Stephan Lichtsteiner. Meanwhile, Giorgio Chiellini is unlikely to be risked given that he only returned to action at the San Paolo last week.
Players like Paul Pogba, Mauricio Isla and Kwadwo Asamoah should all return to the side and be thankful of the chance to prove themselves on the biggest stage of all. But will resting some vital players hand some of the psychological edge over to the Scottish champions?
There is no doubt that Juventus sent Celtic a message in the last game, that being if you make mistakes at this level against top opposition then you will be punished. Juventus are in firm command of the tie, but there is a chance that the visitors could be buoyed by the Old Lady resting so many players.
They may see this as a show of disrespect or simply that, rightly, Juve can afford themselves some breathing space given their large lead. However, this could see Celtic go out wanting to prove that they are a better side than they showed in the first leg and want to punish a Juventus team that may lack some of their stars.
Of course, the replacements that they can all upon, such as Pogba, are still outstanding players who should slot in without too much trouble. These players should do a very efficient job, but they must be wary of the threat of a team who will be coming to Juventus Stadium knowing they have nothing to lose.
That makes them a dangerous opponent indeed and they will be desperate to put on a show for their many fans who will have paid a lot of money to get to Italy. Celtic fans will most likely know that this is essentially a chance to watch their team for the last time this year in Europe’s biggest tournament, rather than having serious hopes of advancing.
Yet, everyone has already written them off in this tie and if they could get the opening goal of this game, then who knows what could follow it. They have conceded only three goals once this season (in that famous game against Inter that ended their unbeaten run) and the chances of Celtic coming to Turin and doing so are remote.
However, the opening goal could just turn the tide in Celtic’s favour, especially if they can get it early. This is by no means an endorsement of the Bhoys’ chances and even if they were to score, all it takes is one goal from the home side to truly kill the tie off.
However, Celtic will be going into this game, at least, looking to end their campaign on a high. Giving the travelling fans something to cheer about by getting another result to add to their vastly improving away record and will undoubtedly be hopeful of going there and picking up a narrow win over what could be a second-string Juventus team.
Although captain Scott Brown misses out through injury, they welcome Georgios Samaras back to the side. The Greek international is a key player for the Hoops, especially away from home in Europe where his pace, intelligent movement and ability to hold the ball up and dictate the flow of play when necessary is key.
Anthony Stokes is also back in the team and, with a record of a goal every two games since joining the club, will add a much-needed fire-power back to the attack alongside Gary Hooper. This fire-power could be especially prevalent if manager Neil Lennon decides to throw caution to the wind and go for broke.
Emilio Izaguirre, Kris Commons and Victor Wanyama all enjoyed good games in Glasgow in the first leg. All three should line up again, but it was at the back that Celtic really let themselves down in that game.
The villain of that night, Efe Ambrose, has been in fine form since that game and has even scored twice to get the supporters and his teammates back on side following that frustrating night.
The odds of Juventus throwing away a three goal lead at home with one of the best defences they have had in recent years is not just unlikely, it is as improbable a scenario as you can get in football. Although I hesitate to use the word impossible.
Though do not rule Celtic out from leaving Juventus Stadium with something because, with the league wrapped up and only the Scottish Cup left to play for, they will be extremely hungry to bow out of Europe on a high. The Scottish giants will want to show the continent that they are a better team than the one who were humbled so drastically in Glasgow’s East End.