Juventus will welcome Nantes to the Allianz Stadium for the first leg of the play-offs on Thursday, hoping to get their Europa League campaign off to a flying start.

Peace and joy have been precious items at the Allianz Stadium in 2023, but there is no time to ruminate as their UEFA Champions League hopes hang in the balance. So winning the Europa League might be the best bet for Juventus as they begin their campaign against Nantes on Thursday.

After being hit by a whopping 15-point deduction for false accounting in mid-January, Juventus are currently 12 points adrift of the top four teams in Serie A following a nervy 1-0 home victory over Fiorentina on Sunday. Adrien Rabiot’s first-half tap-in extended Bianconeri’s winning run to three matches in domestic competitions.

But the result was only a small comfort given their pitiful position in the Serie A standings. Languishing in mid-table, Juventus could look for a more viable alternate route into next season’s Champions League group stages via lifting the Europa League as manager Massimiliano Allegri looks to salvage their disastrous season so far.

The Italian giants will turn their attention to their first Europa League encounter since the 2013-14 campaign when they host Ligue 1 side Nantes in the knockout playoffs. Juventus got relegated to the European second-tier competition after being ousted from the Champions League after finishing third in their group behind Benfica and PSG.

In stark contrast, Nantes have already made history by making it to the knockout stage of a major European competition for the first time in over 20 years. The French outfit finished second behind Freiburg in Group G of the Europa League despite scoring only six goals.

Antoine Kombouare’s side head into this game off the back of a 1-0 win over Lorient in Ligue 1 last weekend. The result helped the visitors create some breathing room between themselves and the bottom four, tamping down worries of relegation.

A deep Europa League will provide a welcome distraction for the club with upward momentum and may even act as a springboard for the rest of the season. Despite their dismal current position in Ligue 1, Nantes should not be taken lightly by Juventus. They have been in excellent form lately, having won their last three and lost just once over their last 12 matches in all competitions.

Team News & Tactics


Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri will welcome the return of veteran Leonardo Bonucci back to the squad after a two-month injury absence. But Allegri will remain without the services of Paul Pogba (muscle), Fabio Miretti (ankle), Arkadiusz Milik (muscle), and Kaio Jorge (tendon).

The Juventus boss is unlikely to deviate from the 3-5-2 system and its variants, which have brought them reasonable results and solidity of late. Wojciech Szczesny could start in goal behind a back three of Danilo, Gleison Bremer, and Alex Sandro. The backline have been impressive in the recent matches shoring up their defence. And Bonucci could make them stronger at the back when he regains full fitness.

Juan Cuadrado is not fully fit, so De Sciglio will get another chance to impress on the right flank. Meanwhile, Filip Kostic will provide his customary service off the left. In midfield, Allegri might persist with the standard trio of Nicolo Fagioli, Manuel Locatelli, and Adrien Rabiot.

Rabiot has become one of Juventus’s most important players due to his ability to carry the ball in half-spaces. He can also make driving runs forward, establishing himself as a passing and goal-scoring option in the final third.

Dusan Vlahovic should continue to lead on the line alongside the creative presence of Angel Di Maria on Thursday night after returning from a long-term injury. The Serb has been a talismanic figure for Juventus this term, having scored eight goals in 12 league starts for the hosts.

Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Szczesny; Danilo, Bremer, Sandro; De Sciglio, Fagioli, Locatelli, Rabiot, Kostic; Di Maria, Vlahovic


Nantes will be without Ignatius Ganago, Moses Simon (thigh), and Quentin Merlin (groin), with Ganago’s absence marked down to personal reasons.

Following a dismal start to the season, Nantes boss Antoine Kombouare switched from a three-man defensive system with the wing-backs to a settled 4-2-3-1 system, with less emphasis on attacking the opposition through the flanks.

That said, Nantes are also better equipped to play a counter-attacking system that can catch Juventus off guard. The wide attackers in Ludovic Blas and Evann Guessand will look to utilise the space left behind by the marauding Juventus wing-backs. The use of five midfielders should also serve well to crowd out Juve’s technical midfielder, possibly disrupting the home team’s tempo.

Alban Lafont will start in goal, with Fabien Centonze, Jean-Charles Castelletto, Andrei Girotto, and promising winter recruit Jaouen Hadjam forming the back four. The midfield will be held together by the double pivot of Samuel Moutoussamy and former Tottenham and Newcastle United enforcer Moussa Sissoko.

This can be the base for the attacking midfield trio of Blas, Florent Mollet, and Guessand to feed striker Andy Delort, who will look to put pressure on the Juventus defence with his sharp movement and potent finishing.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Lafont; Hadjam, Girotto, Castelletto, Centonze; Moutoussamy, Sissoko; Blas, Mollett, Guessand; Delort

Key Stats

  • Juventus have won five of their last seven matches at home in all competitions (D1 L1).
  • The Bianconeri have kept a clean sheet in eight of their last 12 matches across all competitions.
  • However, Juventus have lost six of their last seven matches in Europe (W1), including each of their last three on the spin.
  • Nantes have lost just one of their last 12 games across all boards (W7 D4) — a run that dates back to November 6.
  • That said, the visitors have only scored six goals in the Europa League group phase, the second-lowest total among all teams to have qualified for the knockout rounds.

Player to Watch

Ludovic Blas

Embed from Getty Images

Blas was the energetic driving force behind Nantes’s surprise Coupe de France success last year and a direct entry into the Europa League group stage. The 25-year-old has been in fine form this season, having a hand in five goals in Ligue 1 (4 goals, 1 assist), and also starring in all six Europa League group matches, netting two goals and registering three assists.

His strike also helped Les Canaris to a 1-0 home league victory over high-flying Lorient at the weekend. And Blas’s exploits have previously earned him interest from well-known clubs across the channel in England.

Intelligent, skillful, explosive, and highly technical winger-cum-attacking midfielder, Blas likes to dribble and can shoot from distance with good precision. His unpredictability, pace, close control, and acceleration make him a player to watch out for in this game, especially with Nantes likely to set up as a counter-attacking team against Juventus.


Juventus 2-1 Nantes

While Juventus will enter Thursday’s clash in Turin as the favourites, the Italian giants will be aware that they may face a tough test. Nantes have earned a reputation for their resilience, tough-to-break-down methods, and potency in counter-attacks.

However, given their points deficit in Serie A and a likely finish outside of the European places, Juventus will be motivated to do well in the UEFA Europa League, which appears to be the most plausible route to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Both Nantes and Juventus have been playing out low-scoring affairs recently. And this one could go the same way, with the hosts’ European pedigree helping them earn a narrow one-goal advantage heading into the second leg in France next midweek.

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