“We have total respect for the European champions, they have been among the best for the past 10 years,” the Juventus captain told the Gazzetta dello Sport yesterday, “but we are at the same level and I believe that if we play our cards right, we can win.”
Juventus have a right to feel confident. Together with group leaders Shakhtar, they have been top of their league for longer than any other side in Europe. But the Italian champions feel they have to win this match to stay in the tournament. Their last match is against Shakhtar and, having had the worst of a draw at home against the Ukrainian-Brazilians, the prospect of visiting Donetsk in December needing three points is chilling.
It will be chilly in the Juventus Stadium tonight as well — temperatures in Turin at this time of year usually plunge towards zero and it can feel a lot colder than London. Chelsea will still need to keep their cool, however. The crowd in the old Stadio delle Alpi often seemed to lack passion. The new ground has steeper sides and the fans are closer to the pitch. The stadium has become a stronghold, breached only when Inter visited a fortnight ago and grabbed a 3-1 win.
Juventus should have won that match in the first half, as they won many others in their long unbeaten run — especially after being gifted a goal by a bad offside decision. They usually start fast and pile on pressure early, forcing opponents into mistakes with the energy of Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal in midfield.
Andrea Pirlo is the player most associated with Juve’s title win, as he is with Italy’s resurgence last season, but Vidal has played just as important a role. The Chilean seems to revel in the challenge of tough games. His tackling and ball retention are crucial, but he also scores goals: seven last season, eight already so far this season, including the vital first goal at Stamford Bridge in September.
He seems to have a knack with vital goals: 11 of his 15 have come with the score at 0-0 or with Juve 1-0 up and the result in the balance. Another two have enabled Juventus to come back and draw. Nine have come in the first half of games — five in the first 15 minutes. Like all the best box-to-box players, he has the sense of timing that enables him to arrive in the opposition area at just the right moment, usually on the right of the attack.
If Juventus have a worry about Vidal — and Marchisio — it is that they are coming into this game after a tiring and frustrating 0-0 draw at home to Lazio when they decided not to rest players. They dominated the match but were unable to score — a little like Chelsea against West Brom.
Their title win owed much to their freshness and particularly to Vidal’s stamina and determination — over the course of the season he put in more tackles than Pirlo and Marchisio combined, and over fewer games. That was partly because Juventus were focused entirely on the league. This time they have to campaign on two fronts and in October when matches were coming one on top of the other, Vidal’s performances suffered and so did the team. Ball possession, so vital to their game, fell away dramatically compared to the opening weeks.
Chelsea have the advantage of starting with more rested players, but on the back of a defeat. Buffon believes the psychological factor is more important, especially at this time of the season: “We’re still at the start, there is time and there are ways to manage your forces... In the end you can conserve your energy, but a defeat hurts, it’s not the best way of preparing for a big game. Losing is never good for the health.”
Juve bounced back from defeat to Inter with two wins, scoring 10 goals. Chelsea will hope for similar resolve from their players tonight.