Juventus will take a three-goal lead into their home stadium Wednesday night when Scottish champions Celtic visit in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16. But to read the reports coming from both teams, it almost sounds like the tie is much tighter.
Don't buy it, though. With a squad as talented as Juventus, Celtic will need a miracle to come back.
Three weeks ago, Alessandro Matri, Claudio Marchisio and Mirko Vucinic scored the goals as Juventus blanked Celtic 3-0 at Celtic Park. Celtic manager Neil Lennon claimed his team should have been awarded at least one penalty for Juventus's physical approach to marking set pieces in their own box, but Spanish referee Alberto Mallenco awarded none.
Ahead of Wednesday's second leg, Celtic assistant Johan Mjallby has warned the players that Juventus will take the same approach. He also said Celtic have a chance if the players remain calm when being marked and attack Juventus's goal consistently.
From the Daily Telegraph:
What we can take heart from is that when it came to the first leg we created a lot of chances and we need to be brave tomorrow night and make sure we play good attacking football.
Obviously Juventus have a healthy lead and we have a mountain to climb, but we have to believe that we can do it.
Elsewhere in the article, Mjallby added that overturning a three-goal deficit "might be too much to ask." But Celtic did record 10 attempts on target in the first leg and had opportunities to equalize before Juventus scored twice late in the second half.
Juventus, meanwhile, are saying the tie isn't over. Manager Antonio Conte pointed out that Celtic will be motivated to turn around a disappointing first-leg performance.
"It will be an important test for everyone—the players, me and the club," he said (via Football Italia). "Celtic are a side who never give up. We need full concentration tomorrow."
Juventus midfielder Andrea Pirlo said his motivation will come from the 2005 Champions League final. Pirlo's AC Milan led Liverpool 3-0 at halftime but surrendered three goals in the second half and lost on penalties.
Quoted by the Scottish Sun, Pirlo said (via ESPN FC):
I will never forget the game against Liverpool in Istanbul—for all the wrong reasons. And it is a game I will be reminding myself of before Celtic. We are in a very strong position and expect to progress after the result in Glasgow—but we can't think all we need to do is turn up. Celtic for a start will be wounded.
They are a very proud football club and have a very proud set of fans. It will have hurt them to see the way they were beaten at their home—and if we are complacent, then that is when they could have their revenge.
If we stay professional and concentrate then I am confident we can progress. We respect our rivals but to fail against the Scots in Turin would be one of the biggest disasters in the history of this club.
While it must be comforting for Juve supporters to read the words of Conte and Pirlo, that's all they are—words. It's true that Liverpool came back against AC Milan, but a like-for-like comparison doesn't work.
Celtic overachieved by reaching this stage of the competition, and even though Lennon's team had chances in the first leg, Juventus were the better team. Besides, making up a three-goal deficit in Turin against a tough Italian defense will be all but impossible.
Juventus have allowed three goals in a single game only once this season—at home to Inter Milan in the league on Nov. 3. But even then, Conte's team scored a goal of their own.
It's never wise to count a team out, especially at this stage in the Champions League. But Celtic will need much more than self-belief to topple Juventus.