UEFA Champions League Round-of-16 Preview: Celtic vs. Juventus
After an arduous three-month hiatus, exhilarating tournament draw and much build up, the UEFA Champions league will resume in a capacity that will dwarf any Valentine's day plans you may have had.
Among the mouthwatering ties is the historic clash of Scottish champions Celtic and Italian champions Juventus. Despite only meeting on four previous occasions, both clubs boast a rich footballing history in Europe; with both sets of fans among the most passionate in the world, expect an electric atmosphere come matchday.
To say that this tie is perfectly poised would be an understatement. Why? Well if you look at the head-to-head between both sides it will make sense. Four encounters are split two and two...with neither side losing out at their home ground. Following on from that point, Celtic, have won 21 of their last 23 home matches in UEFA's premier competition...Antonio Conte's men have their work cut out for them.
So where does that leave us?
Celtic Team News
Like most teams in this year's competition, the team from Glasgow have been affected by player losses to the Africa Cup of Nations.
However, with the tournament over, Celtic can welcome back Nigerian Efe Ambrose to the squad. His selection would obviously depend on his fatigue from the tournament, but he is most definitely at the disposal of Neil Lennon.
Emilio Izaguirre and Georgios Samaras are still recovering from knee and thigh injuries respectively, but as the match draws closer it seems their prognosis is getting better. Don't be surprised to see either one start or at the very least be named on the bench.
Despite a brilliant debut—the likes of which saw him awarded Man of the Match—new Australian signing Tom Rogic has not been selected in Celtic's Champions League squad. The decision may come back to bite Lennon considering just how good Rogic was against Inverness.
Nonetheless, here is the squad at Lennon's disposal for the midweek tie:
Kris Commons, Izaguirre, Beram Kayal, Scott Brown, Dylan McGeouch, Tony Watt, Charlie Mulgrew, Efe Ambrose, Miku Fedor, Fraser Forster, Gary Hooper, Joe Ledley, Mikael Lustig, Adam Matthews, Lassad Nouioui, Thomas Rogne, Samaras, Victor Wanyama, Kelvin Wilson, Lukasz Zaluska, Anthony Stokes, Bahrudin Atajic, Joe Chalmers, James Forrest, Marcus Fraser, Paul George, John Herron.
Juventus Team News
Following a solid 2-0 showing against Fiorentina on the weekend, the Bianconeri have moved five points clear at the top of the Serie A. Despite not being at the helm of the Old Lady's win—due to suspension—Antonio Conte can now return to the dugout.
With Kwadwo Asamoah back from AFCON duty and Leonardo Bonucci back from suspension, Conte practically has the full Juventus squad at his disposal. He does, however, have to make do without defender Giorgio Chiellini, Paolo de Ceglie, Simone Pepe and Nicklas Bendtner.
With Mirko Vucinic having quite an emphatic run of form, expect him to start for the Bianconeri most likely alongside Sebastian Giovinco. Although, seeing as though Alessandro Matri has also found his scoring boots, don't put it past Conte to mix things up.
Conte's 22-man-squad is as follows: Gianluigi Buffon, Marco Storari, Rubinho, Martin Caceres, Federico Peluso, Andrea Barzagli, Bonucci, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Paul Pogba, Claudio Marchisio, Simone Padoin, Andrea Pirlo, Asamoah, Arturo Vidal, Emanuele Giaccherini, Mauricio Isla, Luca Marrone, Vucinic,Giovinco, Nicolas Anelka, Fabio Quagliarella, Matri.
Here's what's been doing the rounds prior to kickoff.
Juventus midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo had this to say to the media (via Eurosport) about Celtic:
"If they want to play football, we'll play football. But if they want to battle, we are ready to go to battle."
Former Juventus manager Marcelo Lippi had this to say to the Daily Record (via Goal.com) about Juventus' Champions League hopes:
For me, there are four clubs left in the draw who are a few rungs above everyone else: Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Bayern Munich.
These teams are the favourites but there’s no doubt Juventus have quality and will be aiming to challenge.
Celtic boss Neil Lennon made comparisons between the Juve of 2001-02 to the Scudetto-winning side telling the media:
Lippi's team had more flair with Trezeguet, Del Piero, Nedved and Davids. This team is more workmanlike, without being disrespectful to them.
But in the final third they are clinical and they are probably also better defensively than Barcelona. They are strong, organised and very difficult to break down.
Fomer Celtic forward and Italian Massimo Donati reflected on the last time Celtic made the knockout phases of the Champions League telling the Scotsman:
I will always remember that night because it was the best of my career, the highlight, the most magnifico moment. I sometimes watch it on YouTube because, like Celtic, that goal is always in my heart, in my mind.
Celtic vs. Juventus. Prediction?
Juventus remain just one of four teams undefeated in the 2012-13 installment of the competition. However, they will know first-hand just how meaningless that is, considering their last few ventures into the knockouts.
Celtic boast an impressive home record, including a victory against Barcelona at home in the group stage.With both sides defeating last season's respective semi-finalists, expect an intriguing encounter at Celtic Park come kickoff.
Expect Juve to come away winners in both the first leg and the tie...but this year's competition has produced some unexpected results, the likes of which Celtic themselves were responsible for.
Prediction: Celtic 0-1 Juventus
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