Juventus’ success of the season will be determined in their 180 minutes against Sevilla. Five points clear of fifth-placed Milan in Serie A, Massimiliano Allegri’s side have made a remarkable recovery in their pursuit of Champions League qualification, and it looks likely that the Old Lady will return to Europe’s most prestigious competition next season.
However impressive the recovery is, a season without honorary titles is still seen as a failure at Juventus. After all, these are the giants with 36 Serie A titles, two Champions League trophies and 14 Italian Cups to their name.
Juventus’ first leg in the Europa League semi-final against Sevilla will be a perfect snapshot of the state of Allegri’s outfit. Sunday’s victory over Atalanta breathed new life into the team, which has continued to thrive since Dusan Vlahovic’s return to the scoring form.
The Sevilla test represents a crucial moment for Juventus. They face the European specialists for the first time at home on Thursday and could head to Spain next week with a crucial advantage in the draw, provided they play the way Allegri knows they can.
Angel di Maria (centre) trains for Juventus’ Europa League semi-final against Sevilla
The Serie A giants are now attempting to end their turbulent campaign with European silverware
And this is probably the best time to play against a team like Sevilla. Juventus has all the first team players available, except for the injured Mattia de Sciglio.
Meanwhile, fit teen Samuel Iling-Junior enters the game in excellent spirits after his opener against Atalanta. The England winger remains at Allegri’s disposal until the end of the season, having declined his call-up to the national team ahead of the U20 World Cup.
But if history has taught us anything about the Europa League, it’s that Sevilla are not to be underestimated. The most successful team in the history of the tournament, crushed Manchester United 5-2 on aggregate in the quarter-finals and almost played with a boost of swagger and confidence as they were labeled the underdogs.
Paredes and Fagioli could be Allegri’s tactical surprise
Sevilla may be stuck in the middle of the Spanish table, but Juventus will know how toxic they can be. If Real Madrid is the team with the most confidence in the Champions League, then Sevilla is undoubtedly the team to channel that into the Europa League.
Deploying both Leandro Paredes and Nicolo Fagioli in defensive midfield would give Juventus more security, but Allegri will be careful not to upset the balance his midfield has found in recent appearances.
The former PSG star is likely to take turns with Fagioli, with one of the presenters starting the match and the other arriving late to finish the match.
The feeling in Italy is that Juventus cannot choose both midfielders as they have to guarantee more technique in an otherwise idealess midfield.
But the semi-finals provide an ideal opportunity to play them in different roles. If Allegri trusts Paredes in the playmaker role, his defensive stability would allow Fagioli to kick further upfield as a half-forward and support the attack. It is a risk, but one that can surprise the Spaniards tactically.
Leandro Paredes (pictured) could provide Max Allegri with a tactical surprise against the Spanish side
The manager chose Nicolo Fagioli (left) and Adrien Rabiot (right) in recent games.
Vlahovic is on fire
The Serbian striker has overcome his physical problems and can finally become Juventus’ talisman.
His goal against Atalanta was a moment of technical brilliance and reaffirmed his superb poaching ability in the penalty area, taking his tally to 10 Serie A goals in 25 games.
Against Sevilla, he will play with confidence and enthusiasm, having impressed Allegri lately, and could be the difference in the crucial match at the Allianz.
His work in the center of attack is considered essential by his fans and coaches in Turin and his physical strength seems reborn thanks to the presence of Federico Chiesa at his side.
Vlahovic and Chiesa, who played together for the first time in Fiorentina, are likely to lead Juventus’ attack in an expected 3-5-1-1 on Thursday.
The Italian giants will be delighted to see star striker Dusan Vlahovic back in scoring form
Europa League glory could determine Allegri’s future
The two-legged draw against Sevilla is fundamental to Allegri’s future, who has a real chance of reaching the Europa League final in the next two weeks.
His season in Serie A has not been a positive one, despite a late rise to Champions League qualification, and Juventus can still take points deductions, taking them out of the top four altogether.
The team reportedly thanked Allegri with a special tribute during training for his efforts this season, and the manager could be labeled a hero if he wins the Europa League, especially as it will secure their place in the next Champions League campaign to confirm.
According to Ansa, there was an excellent atmosphere in the Juventus camp when the coach was greeted with joyful applause and an ovation from his players.
Juventus’ fate in the Europa League could determine head coach Allegri’s future (above)
A new sporting director like Cristiano Giuntoli could ruin the positive feeling at Juventus. There would likely be a gap between decisions made on the field and those made in the transfer market.
The now-former Naples manager doesn’t want to be a puppet in the transfer window – and Allegri will no doubt still want to build Juventus in his own image.
Winning a major trophy like the Europa League would allow Allegri to have more influence during contract negotiations and prevent a new director from taking on too much authority when they finally land in Turin.
Juventus has firepower on the left flank
Despite making 49 appearances and 3,367 minutes this season, Filip Kostic is in danger of missing out on form winger Iling-Junior against Sevilla.
Samuel Iling-Junior has revived Juventus’ attack on the left in recent games
Allegri has to choose between the teen and Filip Kostic (above) – whether they even play together
The England youngster is proving he can become a top player at Juventus one day and he needs to keep playing games. Experiencing big matches, such as a Europa League semi-final, will be even more valuable.
However, the prospect of playing together against Kostic and Iling-Junior could further deter Sevilla and force the Spanish team to change their tactical approach. With this in mind, Juventus go into the clash with an element of surprise on the left flank, and therefore a tactical advantage.
Allegri’s defenders have to shake their way injury fears
Each of Juventus’ main defenders has some sort of problem on their way into the game, and they all need to solve these problems quickly before facing Sevilla’s dynamic attack.
Europa League specialist Sevilla hopes to benefit from Juventus’ fear of injury on Thursday
Leonardo Bonucci is on the verge of returning after an injury-plagued season that saw him consistently leave and rejoin the ranks, while Gleison Bremer still has some muscle soreness and his legs require elastic bandages to combat fatigue.
Daniele Rugani and Federico Gatti are currently the two most physically fit central defenders, with the exception of Danilo, who has played in almost every game for Allegri this campaign. The strength of the defense will be essential in their attempt to overtake Sevilla in the Europa League.
Will he bet on Gatti’s muscles or Rugani’s experience? Will Bonucci and Bremer be one hundred percent fit? Will Danilo be used as a full-back or as a central defender?
Time will tell for Thursday’s showpiece, but for now the only certainty is Wojciech Szczesny between the posts.