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Chelsea start as favorites thanks in part to Juventus’ poor start to the season, but the Allianz Stadium is still a tough place to go.
Chelsea had looked ominous going into the recent round of Premier League fixtures. They sat top of the table after five games, having confidently beaten Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur away from home. The Blues had also registered 3-0 victories over Crystal Palace and Aston Villa, and been the better team in a 1-1 draw with Liverpool in which they spent more than half of the match with one fewer player. Chelsea, it seemed, were the team to beat in the title race.
That might still be the case, but Manchester City delivered a warning to the rest of the division at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. Their 1-0 triumph over Chelsea was more comprehensive than the scoreline suggests. Pep Guardiola’s side enacted revenge for their defeat in last season’s Champions League final, and Thomas Tuchel’s decision to shift to a 3-5-2 formation backfired. For the first time this term, Chelsea left a competitive fixture with a feeling of disappointment rather than delight
That could affect how Wednesday’s game plays out. Had the Blues won at the weekend, they would have arrived in Turin with a swagger. Their confidence would have been higher after another victory over City, who Tuchel’s side beat three times towards the end of last season. Saturday’s loss means it is likely that Chelsea will play a little more cautiously than they would otherwise have done.
There are some competitive groups in this season’s Champions League, but it is hard to see either Zenit Saint Petersburg or Malmo genuinely competing for a top-two finish in this section. Chelsea and Juventus will almost certainly advance to the round of 16, with the matches between them going a long way to determining the order.
A month on from Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure and assessments of his time at Juventus remain hotly contested. This writer’s view is that Ronaldo delivered on an individual basis but the team did not improve with him in it. Juventus bought him because they believed the Portuguese would help them take the final step in Europe. Instead, the Serie A side failed to even reach the quarter-finals in two of his three seasons.
Ronaldo’s exit this summer coincided with Max Allegri’s return to Turin. The Italian left Juventus in 2019 and, somewhat surprisingly, did not take another job in the two subsequent years. Allegri did a brilliant job in his first spell in charge, leading Juventus to five consecutive Serie A titles and also reaching two Champions League finals. But he was unable to land the biggest prize in European soccer, with Barcelona beating the Bianconeri in 2015 and Real Madrid emerging victorious two years later.
After the failed Andrea Pirlo experiment last term, many expected Allegri to make an instant impact upon his return to the club. That has not been the case. Juventus have made a stuttering start to the Serie A season, winning only two of their six matches to date. They beat Malmo in their first Champions League game but are still searching for a post-Ronaldo identity, with Federico Chiesa and Paulo Dybala each vying to have the team built around him.
The league title remains the focus for Juventus, who have been crowned champions of Italy a record 36 times. In the medium term, though, the Italian giants must start competing in the Champions League again. Juventus have only won this tournament twice – that is not good enough for a club of their size and pedigree.
Tuchel has not been at Stamford Bridge for a year yet, but he has already made this Chelsea team his own. We should see the Blues shift back to a 3-4-2-1 formation on Wednesday, even if Mason Mount – an integral part of the system for his ability to link midfield and attack – could miss out through injury. Romelu Lukaku does not have the best record against Juventus but the former Inter Milan marksman would relish a goal or two against his former club’s rivals.
Juventus are not as far along in their development under Allegri as Chelsea are under Tuchel, which is why the latter start as favorites with the bookmakers. Yet there is reason to believe that neither side would be too disappointed with a tie. It would extend Juventus’ unbeaten run to five games in all competitions and suggest that Allegri’s side are moving in the right direction. As for Chelsea, it would be a good result in their toughest fixture of the group phase while also restoring a degree of confidence after the loss to City.
The location makes a difference too. Were this match being played in west London, Chelsea would be even more heavily fancied. At the Allianz Stadium, though, Juventus should be able to hold on for a tie.
|Juventus vs Chelsea Information|
|Teams||Juventus vs Chelsea|
|Location||Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy|
|Time||Wednesday, 29 September 2021, 15.00 PM EDT|
|How to watch||Paramount+|
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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