How Juventus Will Line Up Against Benfica
Juventus host Benfica on Thursday night, the Italian side hoping to overturn the 2-1 deficit from last week’s first leg. With a place in the final—to be held at their own stadium on May 14—at stake, the Bianconeri will hope to secure passage to this season’s Europa League showpiece.
Their Lisbon-based opponents sealed their own domestic title before meeting with the two-time Serie A champions, but Juve have needed to field their strongest XI as Roma push them all the way to the wire. That has left Antonio Conte with little chance to rotate, using eight of his first-choice team in Monday’s 3-1 win over Sassuolo.
Over the following pages is a look at what can be expected from the coach of La Madama in what is set to be a key match for the Turin giants.
Tactics & Formation
The biggest issue for many fans of Juventus has been Antonio Conte’s constant use of the 3-5-2 formation, with a large majority believing a switch to a back four is necessary in order to succeed in continental competition.
It is a framework the coach used to great effect against Real Madrid back in November, but he rarely thought to use it again since. While Benfica’s wide players are clearly not as dangerous as Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, they still pose a serious threat from the wings.
Conte is widely expected to keep faith with the tactics which have served him so well over the last two and a half seasons, lining his side up once more with a three-man defence.
There are perhaps no greater certainties for Juventus than the presence of Gianluigi Buffon between the posts for La Madama, with the captain providing a guarantee for those ahead of him. At little fault for either goal last week, the 36-year-old has enjoyed another fantastic campaign, showing all the qualities which mark him out as one of the best ‘keepers in the world.
Despite Leonardo Bonucci’s error in the first leg, it is difficult to imagine Conte choosing to break up his first-choice trio in defence. As such, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini should join the former Bari man from the first whistle, although perhaps the former man is the one doubt at the back.
Despite having seemingly fully recovered from the calf injury which kept him out in recent weeks, the 32-year-old may miss out in place of Martin Caceres. The Uruguayan has been excellent when asked to fill in this term, and his pace could prove vital against Benfica's speedy attack.
It is here where Conte has the biggest reason for concern, with Arturo Vidal’s knee injury taking much longer to heal than was originally expected. The coach rested him for the league meeting with Sassuolo in order to have him fit to face Benfica, and he will hope the 26-year-old can return here.
Should he make the starting lineup, he can be certain to feature alongside creator-in-chief Andrea Pirlo, with Paul Pogba likely to get the nod ahead of Claudio Marchisio. The latter is sure to play should Vidal miss out, his stellar performance on Monday once again underlining his importance to Juventus.
But the absence of the Chilean would hit the Bianconeri hardest, his impact on the side glaringly obvious over the past three seasons. In 2013-14 alone he has weighed in with 18 goals and five assists, while stats site WhoScored.com shows that no player in Serie A has made more tackles this term (130).
On the flanks, Mauricio Isla’s start against Sassuolo means Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah are the most likely candidates.
If the goalkeepers and defence make for obvious selections, Antonio Conte would be hard pressed to look beyond his first-choice strike pairing of Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente. Both netted in Monday’s win over Sassuolo, taking their combined tally for the campaign to 37 in all competitions.
The Argentinean’s lengthy European drought came to an end in the first leg against Benfica, and he has enjoyed an excellent debut season on the peninsula, repaying the faith shown in him by the Italian giants. His Spanish partner has fared equally well, overcoming a slow start to become a dangerous opponent for any visitor to Turin.