Thursday, September 30th. The City of Manchester Stadium.
Manchester City vs. Juventus, on one side one of the greatest teams in Italian history, on the other, the 'ugly duckling' of Manchester, a club that has lived in the shadow of Manchester United for years, but who have recently started to blossom under their new owners from Dubai.
This is Man City's first European appearance in two years, and only their third European competition in 18 years. Meanwhile, Juventus have a rich European history, winning both the European Cup and the UEFA Cup on numerous occasions.
This Europa League match should be a classic, and here's why....
Juve has already played their first European game this season, but the team has grown considerably since that game, a 3-3 draw against Polish side Lech Poznan. They are 1-1 in their two Serie A games since the draw, losing to Palermo 3-1, and defeating Cagliari 4-2. But what's really important (aside from the results) is that this new Juve side is starting to grow into themselves. Hopefully the Juventus of yesterday and the game against Udinese show, and not the team that was embarrassed at home by Palermo.
Most of Juve's wins have come thanks to the hard work and skill of winger Milos Krasic, the summer signing who has been brilliant for Juve, scoring a hat-trick yesterday against Cagliari, and basically making their offense tick. Gigi Del Neri, Juve's coach, has said that if Krasic plays well, Juve plays well. If Man City can shut down Krasic then Juve stands little chance of walking away with a win.
Under their new President, Andrea Agnelli (pictured above), Juve will be looking to send a message to the rest of the top-tier of Europe: Juventus is back. Look for the team to try to make a statement on Thursday.
Fresh off of their 1-0 victory over reigning English champions Chelsea, Manchester City are looking good. The team certainly is stacked with world class talent (Carlos Tevez, James Milner, Nigel De Jong, David Silva, etc.) but they have failed to produce results, or at least, they have failed to produce results worthy of the obscene amount of money the owners have been pumping into the club.
The team shut Chelsea down on Saturday, retaining possession for most of the match, and keeping a clean sheet. Juventus' fragile defense will have much to fear if Carlos Tevez bring his A-game, or for that matter, if Emanuel Adebayor brings his A-game.
If City play the way they did Sunday, and Juve play the way they did last Thursday, this game could get ugly.
The two coaches, Luigi Delneri (Juventus) and Roberto Mancini (Man City), both Italian might I add, will be looking to impress their bosses. Delneri's inconsistency (and Juve's inconsistency) has been of some concern to the Juventus board, but an away win against City in European competition could surely secure heavy confidence in the coach, but a loss will only add more question marks.
Mancini, on the other hand, is being toasted after his victory over Chelsea gaffer Carlo Ancelloti (hey, all these coaches are Italian, I wonder what that means?), but he is still expected to produce results, the Man City board room certainly expect European success with the investments made in talent over the summer. Just like his countrymen Delneri, Mancini can really solidify his place in Manchester with a win, but a loss will not go over well with the brass.
Ah, Alessandro! Il Capitano has been playing so well for someone so, well, old. He's been a spark plug for the Juventus offense, creating plenty of opportunities for the rest of his team mates to exploit.
He's played even better in the Europa League and Europa League qualifying. He scored on one of the best free kicks I've ever seen against Strum Graz, and he scored on another beautiful goal last week against Lech Poznan, a great placed shot from well outside of the penalty area.
If Alessandro plays well against Man City, then Juventus will most likely follow suit. Expect a good game from Del Piero and Krasic if Juve are to win.
Happier times indeed
Yes, you read that right, desperation. Despite their recent success in England, City are still looking for something to legitimize themselves as an elite club. A win over one of the most popular and successful (historically at least) clubs in Europe will certainly help. Don't get me wrong, shutting Chelsea down was a big accomplishment, especially given the London club's recent form, but Man City also beat Chelsea twice last season, and at this point they need to start establishing successes on a higher level.
Juventus too, are desperate. They have struggled to get back to the high ground they stood on before the Calciopoli scandal, and the only way they can really start to move on is through success, whether that be domestically, or in Europe. A win over Man City, a talented (yet still not established) English side, will certainly help them push aside their Calciopoli demons.
Basically, both teams are trying to establish themselves as top-tier clubs, Juventus are attempting to re-discover their success, while Manchester City are attempting to create their own. This match should be a dog fight, and I can't wait to see who comes out on top.