Juventus-Fulham: Five Questions for the Old Lady in Thursday's First Leg
The journey in the European competition that nobody expected Juventus to be a part of continues Thursday night when the Bianconeri host Fulham at the Stadio Olimpico.
Juventus weren't impressive in their premier Europa League voyage against Ajax two weeks ago and needed two goals by Amauri, who hadn't scored in four months before his brace, to squeak by with a victory as the old rivals faced off.
Now Juve find themselves in the Round of 16 of a competition some say they don't care about at all, while others say they want to win. It's certainly not the European competition they want to be in, but at the same time, you get the feeling that some players have a definite desire the win the whole thing.
To do so, they will have to take advantage of having the first leg against Fulham in Turin.
1. How much will the defense miss Giorgio Chiellini?
There was a collective gasp when Chiellini was seen limping at the end of Juve's game against Fiorentina this past Saturday.
The collective gasp turned into the huge sigh of relief as Chiellini was only ruled out for one week—meaning he'll miss the first leg against Fulham and then this weekend's matchup against Siena.
Chiellini's absense will definitely leave a huge hole in the center of the defense. There might not be another central defender in the game today that is so incredibly vital to his team's success.
Instead of the imposing Keysar, Nicola Legrottaglie and Fabio Cannavaro will be the pair in the center of the defense. They haven't played together other than a couple of games this season and the results haven't exactly been spectacular—most notably a 3-1 loss against Bari in December.
Out wide on the left, Fabio Grosso will probably get the nod over Paolo De Ceglie after the youngster struggled against Fiorentina over the weekend. On the right, with Martin Caceres still out injured, it's going to be a coin flip between Zdenek Gryera and Jonathan Zebina.
The big question remains—Without Chiellini, will this 30-plus-year-old defense be able to keep up with Fulham?
2. What formation does Alberto Zaccheroni go with?
Over the course of Zaccheroni's stint as Juve manager that began six weeks ago, there has been no definite formation that he has gone with.
Just when it looked like he was going to stick with his trademark three-man defense, Zac changed things up and went with the same 4-3-1-2 that Ciro Ferrara used when he was in charge.
However, over the weekend Zaccheroni again adapted to the players he had at his disposal and adopated a Christmas Tree formation with David Trezeguet playing as a lone striker in front of Diego and Antonio Candreva.
Now it's a guessing game as to what formation the Juve tactician is going to roll out against Fulham on Thursday night.
It's pretty easy to figure out who starts up top depending on what formation Zaccheroni goes with. If Zac prefers the lone striker, it will likely be David Trezeguet. If he chooses to go with the 4-3-1-2, Alessandro Del Piero will be paired with Trezeguet and Vincenzo Iaquinta will be on the bench if either one of the starters struggle.
Selection in the midfield is basically a process of elimination. Felipe Melo is out suspended while Claudio Marchisio has reportedly been battling a fever the past couple of days.
Luckily for Zaccheroni, Mauro Camoranesi is available after recovering from his latest injury and may be forced into starting because of the limited bodies. Dane Christian Poulsen, who also is just coming back from an injury, will likely be in the starting lineup along with Momo Sissoko.
3. Can Juve build on the momentum from the Fiorentina win?
The theme of the season is that when Juventus get a big win, in the next game or two, there's a significant letdown and they ultimately lose ground, whether it's in Europe or Italy.
Case in point: record an emotional win against Inter and then three days later, see your Champions League aspirations go up in smoke with a disastrous showing against Bayern Munich.
Now, four months later, Juventus are coming off another emotional win, this time a 2-1 decision away to Fiorentina, and have a European contest just days after.
There were things that Juventus did well against the Viola, some things they didn't do very well. But to win in a hostile environment like the Franchi is, you have to do something right and that's what happened on Saturday night.
If Juventus want to record a victory against Fulham, they will certainly have to build upon the Fiorentina win. They can't afford a letdown to put themselves in an early hole with the second leg of the Round of 16 tie in England.
4. Can some of the regulars overcome fatigue?
This squad is tired. After almost every game the past two weeks, Zaccheroni has said it himself. Any kind of depth that Juve had has been eliminated by the huge amount of injuries.
Playing a complete game is always an important aspect to being successful on a week-to-week basis, but it's even more important when you're playing a second half team like Fulham are.
Yes, Fulham do most their damage from minutes 45-to-90, and it's not even a close call. They're far and away a much better team at the break. Of the 32 goals Fulham have scored in England this season, almost 75 percent of those have come during the second half of play.
Will a second-half team like Fulham, plus a fatigued team like Juventus, equal bad times for the Turin faithful?
It's not a very good combination.
5. Can Juventus take advantage of Fulham's woeful away record?
To be a successful team, you not only have to win a whole lot of games over the course of a season, but you have to defend your home turf to the utmost degree.
So far this season, Juventus haven't done that. In 14 home games in Serie A this season, Juve have only won six, losing five and recording three draws. That ranks them with the 13th best record at home in the league. You read that correctly.
But for all the trouble Juve have had at the Olimpico this season, Fulham's record away from home is even worse.
Away from the friendly confines of Craven Cottage, Fulham has exactly one win in 14 matches. That is something you see from teams battling to stay out of the relegation zone, not a team battling in Europe this season and in the top half of the table domestically.
It's going to be a difficult game, but Juventus must take advantage of Fulham's difficulties away from home.
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