Juventus will look to keep their good run going when they travel to Russia to take on Zenit St Petersburg in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday
Massimiliano Allegri’s Juventus may not be at their best yet but have won seven of their last eight matches in all competitions, drawing the other. They will hope to keep the run going when they take on Zenit St Petersburg in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday.
The Old Lady have so far won the first two games of their group campaign and could further extend their lead at the top with a win in Russia. Zenit too will sniff an opportunity against the Italians who will be without a few key players.
Both teams head into the game having suffered contrasting fortunes at the weekend. Juventus, for their part, saw off Jose Mourinho’s AS Roma in Serie A while Zenit suffered a 2-1 loss to Arsenal Tula in their league fixture.
It was the Russian giants’ second straight loss in recent weeks and they will be keen to set the record straight against the Bianconeri. With Chelsea playing Malmo in the other group game, both clubs could do with all three points at the Gazprom Arena.
Finishing ahead of Chelsea or Juventus is easier said than done. Any hopes Zenit have of doing so will depend on their capability to beat their rivals at home. The current Juve side is not the all-conquering side of old and have a number of chinks in their armour. Whether Zenit can take advantage of it remains to be seen.
It promises to be an intriguing game between two sides who are currently experiencing different runs of form. We at The Hard Tackle now take a look at how the sides could line up and what tactics they can employ.
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Zenit St Petersburg
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Zenit boss Sergei Semak has already confirmed that midfielder Magomed Ozdoev is the club’s only absentee on the night. The Russians have an otherwise fully fit squad to choose from. The return of Sardar Azmoun, who was suspended for the game against Arsenal Tula will be a massive boost for the home side. Nicknamed the Iranian Messi, the 26-year-old is in good form notching up six goals and one assist in 12 games so far this season.
Semak looks set to keep faith in his 3-4-3 system that has so far worked a charm. The Zenit side practically picks itself with Mikhail Kerzakhov set to start in goal. He will be protected by the back three of Yaroslav Rakitskiy, Dmitriy Chistyakov and Wilmar Barrios.
Douglas Santos and Aleksey Sutormin will be tasked to provide the width as wing-backs on the night. The duo will be needed to put in a shift at both ends of the pitch and could prove pivotal to Zenit’s efforts of matching Juventus.
Wendel and Daler Kuzyaev will provide a presence in the central midfield. The duo will need to establish their dominance over Juventus in the middle of the park if they have to give the full-backs the freedom to attack. Should Zenit lose the midfield battle, the formation could very well drop to a 5-2-3 that will defend deep and look to attack on the counter.
Semak’s front three of Claudinho, Azmoun and Malcom certainly pack a punch and can be wily customers on their day. The slow Juventus backline of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini will need to call upon their years of experience to stop their moire nimble opponents.
Probable Lineup (3-4-3): Kerzakhov; Rakitskiy, Chistyakov, Barrios; Santos, Wendel, Kuzyaev, Sutormin; Claudinho, Azmoun, Malcom
Allegri’s men have overcome a difficult start to the season and are now steadily establishing themselves as a force to be reckoned with. While Juventus still have some days to go before being considered genuine challengers, they have shown the knack to get results over the line.
The Old Lady go into the game on the back of an eight-match unbeaten streak. Despite having to make without a number of players, they should have enough in their tank to at least come away with a point. Allegri could once again go with a 4-4-2 formation on the night.
Wojciech Szczesny is certain to start in goal behind the veteran pair of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. Young centre-back Matthijs de Ligt whose future at the club appears to be in question is sidelined for the game.
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The South American duo of Alex Sandro and Juan Cuadrado will be tasked with providing width from the full-back positions. Summer signing Manuel Locatelli and Rodrigo Bentancur look set to start in midfield and provide the base for the more offensive players to thrive.
Federico Chiesa and Federico Bernardeschi look start to start out wide. How well they can combine with the likes of Sandro and Cuadrado behind them could set the tone for the battle on the wings.
Alvaro Morata returned from injury against AS Roma and looks set to start the game this time around. He will partner Moise Kean who scored the winner at the weekend against the Giallorossi. With the likes of Dejan Kulusevski also available on the bench, Allegri is not short of options.
French international Adrien Rabiot misses out after testing positive for COVID-19. Juventus will also be without stalwart South American forward Paulo Dybala.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Szczesny; Sandro, Chiellini, Bonucci, Cuadrado; Bernardeschi, Locatelli, Bentancur, Chiesa; Kean, Morata
- Juventus are on an eight-match unbeaten streak while Zenit have lost their last two games.
- Juventus’s Leonardo Bonucci and Zenit’s Yaroslav Rakitskyi will make their 100th appearance in the UEFA Champions League should they feature on the night.
- Juventus have never lost their eight previous encounters with Russian sides (W7 D1). The lone draw, however, came against Zenit.
- Zenit St Petersburg have only lost one of their last five home games against Italian opponents in European competitions (W2 D2).
- Zenit’s Douglas Santos has created the joint-most chances from open play in the UEFA Champions League this season (8).
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The Italian international has scored in Juventus’ last three Champions League games and in the absence of Paulo Dybala, will be called upon to be the main man again. Chiesa has taken his game up a notch since the Euros and is steadily establishing himself as the lynchpin of the Bianconeri attack. It is fair to say that the Juventus attack shows more life when the 23-year-old is on form.
More will be expected of him against Zenit. Playing in Russia is not an easy prospect and Juventus could opt for a safety-first strategy. Chiesa will need to be aware for opportunities to counter and could use his pace to hit Zenit on the break.
Zenit St Petersburg 1-1 Juventus
Juventus have certainly improved in recent weeks and look formidable. However, Zenit, despite their blip in form, dominated Malmo and put up a real fight against Chelsea in the first two gameweeks. The Russians can not be underestimated.
Sergei Semak’s side also have the advantage of playing at home and could make use of their young attack to trouble Juventus’ veteran backline. With Juventus certainly possessing better quality in terms of players, the match is most likely to end in a scoring draw.