Why Giorgio Chiellini Is Key to Juventus' Hopes Against Bayern Munich
Giorgio Chiellini is one of the finest defenders of his generation. On the ground, in the air, with or without the ball—the Pisa-born defender is always in control.
Which is just as well, because Juventus are coming up against a seemingly unstoppable Bayern Munich side.
The Germans demolished Hamburg 9-2 in the league just before this Champions League tie, with 34-year-old Claudio Pizarro setting up two goals on top of scoring four of his own. That the veteran Peruvian is unlikely to start against the Old Lady after a performance like that speaks volumes about the strength of Jupp Heynckes' squad.
On top of Franck Ribery, Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller and Mario Mandzukic, Heynckes will welcome back Bastian Schweinsteiger, whose runs and long-range efforts from central midfield will heap more pressure on the Juve backline—as if the aforementioned attackers weren't going to do enough of that already.
If Juventus are to have any hope of progressing in this year's competition, then they'll have to keep the German goal machine at bay. And though Bayern's quality across the pitch will mean doing so will have to be a team effort, as the club's best defender, Gigi Buffon's vice-captain and a natural leader of men, Chiellini will be vital to the effort.
Last season, the former Livorno and Fiorentina defender played almost every game for Antonio Conte. They went undefeated and romped to their first Serie A title since 2003. This season, injury has kept Chiellini out for vital games, and Juve have looked the worse for it.
But then, any team would. The Italian national team fell to pieces after his injury in the Euro 2012 final, and his inclusion would improve any squad considerably.
Chiellini will have to marshal the Juventus defence and make sure they hold fast. The Italian giants could be without some key attacking players—Mirko Vucinic has the flu and Sebastien Giovinco is struggling back to fitness following the weekend's game—so Conte might be hoping to hold on in Munich and finish the job back home in Turin. They'll only be able to do that if they don't concede too many.
The former left-back turned central defender will also be key to squad morale and attitude. Stephan Lichtsteiner, Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal are all on cards and should they pick up bookings, will miss the return leg in Italy.
Those three men are key to Juve's game-plan, so Chiellini's command of the defence and his reassuring presence behind them will be key to them keeping cool heads and avoid last-ditch tackles and unnecessary bookings.
The league looks wrapped up, and Conte has one eye on the Champions League semi-finals. But the Old Lady haven't gotten that far in Europe's biggest competition since beating Barcelona in 2003.
If they want to return to the very top of the game, they'll need to overcome last year's finalists, who are one of the most prolific teams in recent European football history. They'll need to stop a squad full of world-class attacking talent. How do you do that? With a world-class defender, of course. This is going to be interesting.
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