The Champions League Round of 16 in the make-or-break point of the season. Winning the group and ensuring Bayern Munich at least makes the quarterfinals should be the minimum expectation for Bayern Munich every season. The past several years it's been something of a cakewalk against the likes of Shaktar Donetsk and Arsenal but this year, Bayern have landed the unenviable task of taking on Italian champions Juventus who are in the midst of a massive unbeaten streak.
Taking us through what to expect from this Juventus side is our colleague Danny Penza over at Black & White & Read All Over.
Ryan: Juventus lost both Arturo Vidal (sorry, not sorry) and Andrea Pirlo last summer. How did the departure of such important players affect the squad?
Danny:Once Sami Khedira and Claudio Marchisio got healthy earlier in the season, the loss of Vidal and Pirlo didn’t make that much of an impact like some game broadcasters make it seem. It was not because the transition from one kind of midfield to another was easier, but because it took a lot of the pressure off Paul Pogba, who was clearly in a serious funk through the first month or so of the season. Marchisio, especially, has been awesome the last couple of seasons and I am on record saying that he out-Pirlo’d Pirlo as Juve’s deep-lying midfielder last season. He’s only continued to be that good — if not better — this season as he’s become the full-time center man of Juve’s midfield. Khedira has struggled to consistently stay healthy this season, but his importance to the midfield can’t be denied. He’s been good when in there, and hopefully the rest of the way he’s available more often than not.
Both Vidal and Pirlo needed to move on for their own respective reasons. And while they were both fantastic players and had a huge impact over the last four title-winning seasons, it now seems like Juve have more than just adjusted to not having two parts of the M-V-P midfield in Turin anymore.
Ryan: Paulo Dybala has worked his way towards an impressive goal and assist tally, but hasn't seemed to pull it off in Serie A's biggest games or in the Champions League. How much will he change Juventus' approach over Mario Mandzukic (assuming Mandzukic is still injured)?
Danny: I wouldn’t say that he’s struggled in big Serie A games. He’s scored against both Napoli and Fiorentina, scored in both games against Roma, got the game-winner against Milan. That’s Serie A’s second-, third- and fourth-place teams entering the weekend (and Milan). Sure, he doesn’t have any Champions League goals this season, but he also didn’t start in two of Juve’s first three group stage games.
There’s no denying that having Mandzukic healthy and starting regularly alongsid him has been a huge help to Dybala both in terms of production and overall quality of play. But Dybala has been arguably the best striker in Serie A this season not named Gonzalo Higuain. He’ll get that elusive Champions League goal soon enough. He’s too good not to.
Ryan: What do you feel is Juventus' biggest weakness?
Danny: Easy — staying healthy. It seem like a week can’t go by where we’re not seeing another Juventus player come up with some kind of injury popping up. It doesn’t matter if it’s a minor muscle strain or a season-ending Achilles injury like what happened to Martin Caceres a couple of weeks ago, something seems to put a damper on the result a day or two earlier.
I figured there were at least four or five players that were injured could have started against Bologna on Friday night. That’s just been a regular thing and what makes Juve’s 16-game unbeaten run pretty remarkable. Yes, they’ve gotten some important players back from early-season injuries, but they’ve also lost key players to injury, too. Basically, injuries are stupid. I tend to be saying that a lot this season for some reason…