Juventus-Ajax Preview: Five Questions If the Bianconeri Want to Advance

Danny PenzaSenior Writer IFebruary 24, 2010

It was a far from dominating affair, but somehow, some way, Juventus came away with a 2-1 win over Ajax in Amsterdam six days ago.

Statistically, Juve were dominated in almost every category there is. Ajax almost doubled up the possession numbers, controlling the ball for an absurd 63 percent of the game, outshooting Juve 15-3, and earning nine corners compared to only two by Juventus.

Despite all of the numbers going against them, the Bianconeri are up and have the luxury of playing at home on the return leg. An Amauri brace is the difference as Juve gained two crucial away goals.

With Ajax trailing, the match is certainly going to play to their strength. They will attack, attack, and attack some more. What will Alberto Zaccheroni and the Old Lady's response be?

1. Can Juve defend its home turf?

The last time Juve hosted a European match, it ended in disaster. The Bayern Munich match in December was the reason as to why Juve find themselves in the Europa League and not fighting for a spot in the next round in the Champions League.

Now the Stadio Olimpico will hold another European contest—although it's not the one everybody was hoping for.

In the group stages of the Champions League, Juve's performances at home weren't all too impressive. A opening week draw against Bordeaux wasn't anything special, the same goes for the 1-0 win against Maccabi Haifa, which wasn't exactly picture perfect, and of course the Bayern disaster on the final day of the group stages.

Juve's home record in league play isn't impressive either. In 13 games, their record is just 6-4-3 while allowing 17 goals. However, in their last five games, they are undefeated at home, going 4-0-1 at the Olimpico.

A win isn't necessary to advance, but Zaccheroni will certainly like to add another win to the aforementioned winning streak at home.

2. Can the defense hold up for another 90 minutes?

At times, it looked like the pressure in front of Gianluigi Buffon's goal would never end. The obvious advantage that Ajax had led to countless opportunities, but only one goal was able to find the back of the net.

That shouldn't be any different with the Dutch giants a goal down, looking to flip the scoreline in Turin and book their ticket in the Round of 16.

As previously stated, Ajax are all about offense. That was shown during the first meeting in Amsterdam and routinely shown in the Eredivisie. After dropping the first leg to Juve, Ajax are down by one and need to win by two to advance.

Ajax will be without their main goal scorer Luis Suárez, who will miss out because of yellow card accumulation. The hit of missing a talent like Suárez will mean a lot, but that doesn't mean their attack will be totally non-existent because he's not in there.

The main question is who does Zaccheroni start to go along with Nicola Legrottaglie and Giorgio Chiellini in the three-man backline? Jonathan Zebina was torched by Ajax, so he shouldn't be considered. It comes down to either Fabio Cannavaro, who hasn't started since Feb. 6, or Zdenek Grygera.

No matter who it is, he's going to be busy with Ajax likely throwing everybody and the kitchen sink forward to cancel out the deficit.

3. Can Alessandro Del Piero keep his fine form going?

When the inspirational Juve captain came back from his lengthy injury spell, his form was some of the worst we'd seen in quite a while.

He wasn't the only one struggling to find his best

That couldn't be any more different as Juve enter the second leg against Ajax.

Del Piero is rounding into fine form. Whether it's scoring a brace against Genoa or dishing out class assists to anybody and everybody, Del Piero is starting to look like the Del Piero we all know and love.

There's no reason he won't be relied on again in front of the Olimpico crowd. He's proven that even though he's 35 years old, he can handle playing significant minutes in just a week's time and be effective at the same time.

Even with the goal lead, Del Piero will play a key part. His understanding with Diego seems to be getting better and better as the games go by, and the production the two have had is reflective of that.

4. Who starts in the midfield?

With the three-man defense, the midfield is crucial to the team's success. Since Zaccheroni took over, it has been a fairly inconsistent group.

Since he has been in charge, Zac has tried just about every combination possible with the players he has at his disposal.

Word out of Italy is that Momo Sissoko could miss the second leg. Even if that isn't the case, Felipe Melo and Claudio Marchisio should be the starters in the center of the midfield.

Paolo De Ceglie should once again start on the left wing, but the right wing is a little different. With Hasan Salihamidzic getting a red card in the closing moments of the first leg, Zaccheroni could hand Mauro Camoranesi his first start since returning from injury a little over a week ago. If not, Antonio Candreva would likely start after scoring the game-winner over the weekend.

Either way, no matter who starts, the midfield's contributions offensively and, more importantly, defensively will be crucial to Juve's success Thursday night.

5. Will the Brazilian trio continue producing?

Many wondered when the three big summer signings from the past two years would come back into form. So much was expected of them not only because of their price, but because they were expected to

The early struggles are gradually going away. Slowly but surely the SambaJuve is coming back to Turin.

Amauri's brace was almost as surprising as Juve getting a win in Amsterdam. He has been the subject of so much criticism this season, and it's not like he hasn't deserved it. His contributions haven't exactly been highlight worthy.

Same can be said about Melo and Diego—although they haven't been as bad in the games leading up to the first Ajax contest. Both had their low points in the middle of season, but in the weeks leading up to and following Ciro Ferrara getting the pink slip, they seem to coming back to being relevant once again.

Not like how they started the season, but making more positive contributions than negative ones.

Each player will be counted on for something different. Yet at the end of the day, they are three crucial pieces to the puzzle.


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