Juventus-Ajax Preview: Five Questions For The Bianconeri In Amdsterdam
When Juventus face Ajax in Amsterdam on Thursday night, they will find themselves in uncharted territory.
However, it's the uncharted territory the Old Lady never wanted to be in.
Nobody would have ever thought Juve would exit Europe's premier club competition the way they did. The odds of Juve playing in the Europa League were about as small as Sebastian Giovinco is tall. Yet this is where they find themselves after crashing out of the Champions League against Bayern Munich on the final day of group play.
And now Juve are matched up with another fallen giant who they have a history with, Ajax. The two teams most notably faced off in the 1996 Champions League final in Rome. The Bianconeri of course came out on top that day—a game everybody in Turin longs for once again.
1. Can Alberto Zaccheroni's three-man defense contain Ajax's Luis Suárez?
How the defense will play is always a question mark when it comes to Juventus. Whether it's a club battling to not get relegated or one of the top clubs in Serie A, no matter who Juve are playing, the defense is an issue.
And with the appointment of Alberto Zaccheroni as caretaker coach, the worries about the defense got a whole lot more interesting. Zaccheroni went back to his prefered three-man defense—something that wasn't exactly a welcoming thought considering how the defense had played under Ciro Ferrara.
Zac's three-man defense now has to deal with one of the hottest goal scorers in Europe Thursday night—Luis Suárez.
The 23-year-old Suárez has tallied 23 goals in the Dutch Eredivisie along with eight goals in the group stages Europa League. He scores them every way imaginable—shots, headers, volleys, penalties. Anything you can think of, he's probably done it.
He's one of the reasons why Ajax have an absurd goal differential of 48 goals in league play this season. And when they're at home, the goal differential is at 35. That's something you just don't see in Italy.
Can the Juve defense handle a player like Suárez? That remains to be seen. But you have think that wherever he is, Giorgio Chiellini will be in the same area.
2. Who will start in the midfield behind Diego?
With Zacceroni implementing his trademark system after being hired, Juventus had to learn on the fly.
The three-man defense is the obvious elephant in the room, but the squad selection in the midfield behind trequarista Diego is another crucial element to the team's success.
So who does Zaccheroni go with?
Based on form, Paolo De Ceglie and Martin Caceres should be on the wings. While De Ceglie wasn't impressive on the weekend against Genoa, he offers a whole lot more at the moment than Fabio Grosso does right now.
The same kind of decisions have to be made in the center of the midfield. You have to think that Momo Sissoko will be in there the way he is play right now. His contributions defensively, especially with only three men playing in the back, are crucial to the team's success.
But his partner in the center of the midfield is still up in the air.
Could Zaccheroni go completely defensive-minded and pair Sissoko with Felipe Melo? Or will the Juve boss hand a starting shirt to Claudio Marchisio or Antonio Candreva?
The first choice to pair with Sissoko should be Marchisio. Despite playing just under 30 minutes in his return from injury against Genoa, Marchisio came up huge. His quality through ball led to Alessandro Del Piero's controversial penalty and his contributions in defense were huge as well.
3. What kind of impact will Diego have?
It's only fitting that after we talk about the players starting behind him, that we actually talk about Diego.
The Brazilian playmaker's first season in Turin has been an eventful one. A promising start followed by a massive drop in form seem to be the same tale that has surrounded the entire club.
However, Diego has been playing better in recent weeks. The team results might not be there, but his personal performances have many thinking he is starting to turn things around once again.
He'll be going up against an Ajax defense that was shaky at times in the group stages of the Europa League. Ajax allowed six goals in six games in the group stages—a figure you would expect to be smaller against lesser competition.
4. Who starts alongside Alessandro Del Piero—Amauri or David Trezeguet?
One has struggled, one is just back from injury.
The strikeforce has been probably hurt the most by injuries this season. The lone striker who has Amauri's impact on the field, or lack thereof , has been one of the biggest problems for Juve so far this season.
Just because Amauri had a solid game against Genoa over the weekend and scored his first goal in months, doesn't mean he should be the runaway choice to start alongside Del Piero. He has shown this year that a good game could be followed by five absolutely horrible ones where he makes no impact at all.
Does that mean Zac could go with the legendary Del Piero-Trezeguet partnership?
It wouldn't be surprising if he did. It has come through in the clutch so many times before. The chemistry the two have can't be matched by anybody and their production together is well-documented.
5. How will Zaccheroni go about the first leg against Ajax?
Sure, the player selection are one thing, but the way that the manager goes about things in terms of actual tactics is another.
Zaccheroni has a whole lot of experience over the course of his career. He has coached in Europe before with all but one of the clubs he has coached. They haven't exactly been the most successful, but he still has managed in Europe before.
Juventus' performances away from home in Europe this season have left a lot to be desired. The only win Juve registered on the road was a 1-0 win against Maccabi Haifa. The other two games were a scoreless draw against Bayern Munich and a 2-0 loss to Bordeaux.
The question within the question could be this—Does Zaccheroni play for the tie and all-important away goal or does he try and leave Amsterdam with a win?
In the past, Juve have had a lot of success when they travel to Amsterdam. The Old Lady has faced Ajax 10 times at the Amsterdam Arena, winning five games and only losing twice.
But that was then and this is now.
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