The Champions League round of 16 tie between Juventus and Villarreal is very much in the balance when the two sides meet for the second leg in Turin on Wednesday night.
Massimiliano Allegri’s Bianconeri got off to the dream start in Spain when blockbuster new arrival Dusan Vlahovic made history on his Champions League debut by scoring the game’s opener after just 30 seconds. Buoyed by Vlahovic’s brilliance, Juve had the chance to kill off the tie in Villarreal’s backyard.
But, an ultra-conservative approach from the characteristically cautious Allegri hamstrung the Old Lady. Their attacking efficiency waned as the contest wore on and eventually, a defensive lapse allowed Dani Parejo to equalise for the home side midway through the second half.
In the first leg, the vulnerability of Juve’s default ploy was laid bare and, as a result, they head into the reverse fixture with many fearing a repeat of 2020 and 2021. In back-to-back seasons, Juventus, led by more idealistic coaches, have been dumped out in the first knockout round by supposedly inferior opposition: Lyon and Porto.
Their recent humiliations have been two of the bleakest nights in modern Bianconeri history, with the club’s demise from superpower to continental mediocrity becoming abundantly clear.
Thus, defeat must be avoided on Wednesday for this galvanised group of players. There’s no doubting that they’re a better side than Villarreal, but Juve were also more gifted than Lyon and Porto. Nothing can be taken for granted.
How have Villarreal fared domestically since the first leg draw with Juventus?
We saw in the first leg what Unai Emery’s Yellow Submarine are all about. They’re smartly-coached, boast a coherent possession structure and a comparably pragmatic to Allegri’s Juventus. However, they lack a focal point in the absence of Gerard Moreno and, in the first leg, they weren’t able to make the most of promising crossing situations after working the opening wonderfully.
In the build-up to the first leg, Villarreal had enjoyed a four-game unbeaten run in La Liga; beating Champions League hopefuls Real Betis and holding runaway league leaders Real Madrid to a stalemate in the process. Juventus’ form has been pretty consistent either side of the 1-1 draw in Spain with their unbeaten run extending to 15 games in Serie A, but how have Villarreal got on since the first leg three weeks ago.
Well, they’ve slid down to seventh in the table despite winning two of their three games in between the two clashes with Juventus. However, the margin between themselves and Atletico Madrid in fourth is just six points.
In the wake of the draw with Juve, Emery’s side were inspired by teenager Yeremy Pino in a 5-1 beatdown of Espanyol. Pino completed a perfect hat-trick in the first half before adding a fourth after the break. The spritely winger came on off the bench in the first leg and looked bright during his cameo appearance. He’s surely a contender to start on Wednesday.
Defeat followed a week later away at Osasuna to halt their momentum before they got back on track with a slender victory over Celta Vigo. Parejo was on the scoresheet again for the Yellow Submarine.
Thus, Villarreal head into the second leg off the back of a victory but injuries are beginning to mount. Crucially, Moreno is unlikely to start but he could make the bench, while Etienne Capoue, Juan Foyth and Raul Albiol are all doubts. Paco Alcacer, Alberto Moreno and Ruben Pena are all sidelined.
Despite their injury woes, Villarreal highlighted their credentials in the first leg after Juventus ceded total control. A similar dynamic is expected to play out on Wednesday, especially if the home side get in front, but the potential return of Moreno will be a massive boost to their hopes of penetrating a resilient Bianconeri defence.