Five things Juventus must do to defeat Celtic
The Italian champions Juventus return to Champions League duty this week with a very difficult task ahead of them if they are to reach the last 16 of the competition, as they face Scottish side Celtic.
Celtic will be difficult opposition for the Bianconeri indeed as they defeated Barcelona in the group stages and were it not for conceding a goal at the Camp Nou with 20 seconds remaining, they would have topped the group ahead of the Catalan giants.
However, that would have deprived fans of this exciting encounter that lies ahead but Juventus would do well to follow these five guidelines to securing victory in the cacophonous cauldron that Parkhead will become when the sides take to the field tomorrow night.
After all, no Italian side has ever won against them in Scotland before and they have only beaten at home in the Champions League by three clubs since their arrival into the tournament – Barcelona, Arsenal and surprisingly, Dynamo Moscow.
Do not become overawed by the atmosphere
You may think that Juventus are highly-paid professional footballers and that this advice may matter little to them but just look at the top players and clubs who have arrived in Glasgow to face Celtic previously and came away disappointed. The support truly lifts the team to new heights and has a serious detrimental effect on the opposition.
Only Andrea Pirlo has previously played here in the Champions League when with AC Milan and while the likes of himself and others such as Gigi Buffon who have played in Champions League and World Cup finals should not be effected too much, you would be surprised.
Nemanja Vidic was pulled into challenges here that he may otherwise not have made which led to the winning goal and Javier Saviola and Thiago Motta, buoyed by atmosphere, both were sent off for Barcelona here in a key UEFA Cup clash that Celtic went on to win. Even the best can be affected.
Keep it tight early
Advancing on the atmosphere point, it is the Celtic players who always come out all energetic and full of fire and passion, determined to give the vociferous support something to really cheer about in the opening stages. They took first half leads against Barcelona and Spartak Moscow previously this season, showing how desperate they are to get the crowd onside.
While the crowd always cheer on the Bhoys until the end when they need a goal, (just ask Palermo’s Massimo Donati for an example in what he calls the “greatest night of his career”) things do become noticeably more subdued and tense during the second half if their side have not yet scored and especially if the opposition are offering a real threat on the counter-attack.
If Pirlo and Arturo Vidal can keep Juventus in possession and keeping the ball moving to teammates, it can draw Celtic players (especially fiery captain Scott Brown) into making reckless challenges they do not need to make in an attempt to appease the crowd. Not conceding first is crucial.
Isolate Emilio Izaguirre
The Honduran was Celtic’s player of the year two seasons ago but, after picking up a broken ankle on the opening day of last season, he has not looked the same player since returning and his positional sense at times in key moments of big European games has been a worry.
He is also an injury doubt meaning that if he does start, then all the more reason to attempt to capitalise on his not being fully-fit while if he does not make the starting side then whoever takes his place, probably Mikael Lustig, is not a natural left-back and therefore susceptible to suffer badly at the hands of a marauding Stephan Lichtsteiner.
Izaguirre also loves to get forward and can at times leave his defence very exposed, something that the Bianconeri will hope to take full advantage of on the counter-attack although they will have to be wary of his attacking as he does deliver a dangerous final ball.
While Juventus’ central defensive trio do defend deeper than many sides, having them sit even deeper than usual in Glasgow would help to cut out a game plan that the hosts will surely attempt to implement.
Leo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli are not the naturally quickest athletes in the world while Celtic attackers Georgios Samaras, James Forrest and Gary Hooper are very quick over short distances.
Neil Lennon will likely be hoping to having Charlie Mulgrew playing dangerous balls behind the visiting defence in an attempt to utilise his teammates’ pace and have them racing behind the Bianconeri and on to such passes.
By defending deeper, this will cut out one of the Celtic attack’s biggest advantages and allow Bonucci and Barzagli’s fine reading of the game to come to the fore instead of their lack of pace perhaps being exposed by defending higher.
No foolish fouls or needless set-piece giveaways
This is massive for Juventus because if they avoid conceding free-kicks in dangerous areas or even corner kicks that they did not have to give away, then they could be well on their way to victory.
Sebastian Giovinco, Alessandro Matri, Fabio Quagliarella and Mirko Vucinic are all capable of causing problems for Celtic (their displays away in Europe this season prove this) and can take their chances when they come so it is about stopping Celtic scoring any goals that they may have not had to work too hard for.
The Bhoys scored nine goals in the group stages and four of these came from set-pieces, and the threat they have from Charlie Mulgrew’s dangerous dead balls is clearly prevalent. Victor Wanyama, Georgios Samaras, Joe Ledley and Kelvin Wilson are all serious aerial threats and Juventus simply cannot give these players any chances to try and punish them in the air.