Champions League - Football: Juve face another knockout blow

16 March 2022 00:16:12 GMTPlus10
Head coach Massimiliano Allegri is hoping to guide Juventus past Villarreal

Juventus and the Champions League have rarely seen eye-to-eye and there's the potential for more heartache with Wednesday's visit of Villarreal in the last-16.

Juve and the Yellow Submarine are locked at 1-1 after the first leg in Spain as the final two ties in the round of 16 reach their conclusion.

The match in Turin is likely to carry far more intrigue than proceedings in France, where defending European champions Chelsea have a firm grip on matters against Lille after winning the reverse fixture 2-0.

Knockout woes dog Old Lady

The Blues' 1-0 victory over Manchester City in last year's final saw them lift the European Cup for a second time, moving them level with Juve on the all-time winners' list.

Given no team from Europe’s top five leagues has won their domestic title more often than Juventus (36), it is remarkable that they haven't enjoyed more success in the continent's premier competition.

They last won the Champions League in 1996 following a penalty shootout against Ajax, with their first success having arrived in 1985 and they are 12121/1 to add a third success this season

Those two triumphs are outliers when considering Juve's history overall though, with the Italian giants having been to nine finals in total.

Despite assembling squads featuring a who's who of Europe's greats, success in this format has never come easy for the Bianconeri, even when they had serial winner Cristiano Ronaldo amongst their ranks.

During their run of nine successive Serie A titles between 2011 and 2020, Juventus twice got as far as the final of the Champions League, only to come up short against Barcelona and Real Madrid in the decider.

Recently, the Old Lady have lost four of their last five European knockout ties, bowing out at the last-16 stage of the Champions League the last two years.

Both those exits have occurred despite having home advantage in the second leg of the tie, so there's a sense of trepidation heading into a meeting with canny operators and Europa League holders Villarreal - with Juve 8/15 to progress to the quarter-finals.

Yellow Submarine aim for sinking feeling

There wasn't a great deal between the two teams in the first leg, Dani Parejo's equaliser for the hosts levelling the tie after Dusan Vlahovic had given Juve the lead just 33 seconds into the game.

For the most part, the game was a chess match orchestrated by two astute tacticians in Unai Emery and Massimiliano Allegri, with chances at a premium.

Allegri was the last man to take Juve to a European final and has spoken of the need for his team to be patient in their quest for success, both at home and abroad.

After a rocky start to his return to Turin, Allegri's team have shown good form of late, a run of eight wins from their last 12 matches in all competitions helping move Juve to within seven points of Serie A leaders AC Milan.

The addition of talented forward Vlahovic in the January transfer window has added an extra dimension to Allegri's line-up and his performances, along with a returning Giorgio Chiellini, could be the key elements to the return leg.

Villarreal are hopeful of having their own key forward, Gerard Moreno, back for this game after a recent spell out with a calf injury as they seek to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time since the 2008-09 season.

Win in Italy already achieved

They confirmed their spot in the last-16 with a win on Italian soil, getting the better of Atalanta in the group stages as they finished runners up to Manchester United in Group F.

They won back-to-back away games in the group round, but have traditionally struggled on the road in Europe, winning only four of 17 games on their travels in the Champions League.

They've won just three away games in La Liga this season too and will no doubt be well-organised under Emery with the Spanish tactician having built a defence that’s kept the third highest number of clean sheets domestically.

With Villarreal no pushovers and Juventus' previous failures on their mind, it's likely to be a tight second leg, with a home win in 90 minutes priced at 11/10 and the hosts 11/4 to triumph by a one-goal margin.

Europe the priority for Blues

A win for Juventus would make it seven straight home Champions League victories for the Italians, with Chelsea amongst their string of victims.

A 1-0 victory over the Blues in September helped them clinch top spot in Group H, denying the European champions home advantage for the second leg of their last-16 tie with Lille.

However, Thomas Tuchel's men take a healthy advantage with them to France, having outclassed the Ligue 1 champions 2-0 at Stamford Bridge - with Chelsea 12121/1 to retain thir European crown.

That made it 14 wins in the last 20 Champions League matches for the Blues, who could throw all their eggs into the European basket given they trail Manchester City by 11 points in the Premier League standings.

Tuchel has done well to keep his squad's focus on matters on the pitch and although they weren't brilliant in Sunday’s 1-0 win over Newcastle United, it was a professional performance, the type they will be keen to repeat on Wednesday.

Les Dogues' bark worst than their bite

Lille were second-best for much of the first leg and haven't given many indications they are likely to improve on that performance.

Coach Jocelyn Gourvennec said his team lacked a spark in Friday's goalless draw at home to St Etienne as Lille made it one win from their last four matches on their own turf.

Goals are a big issue for Les Dogues, failing to score more than once in seven of their last eight, while they've never beaten Chelsea in three previous attempts.

Even with a fully-fit squad to choose from, the odds are firmly stacked against Gourvennec's men and Chelsea are 19/20 to wrap up their place in the quarter-finals with a win in 90 minutes, with the draw 12/5.

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