Error message

  • Notice: Undefined index: nid in views_handler_field_term_node_tid->pre_render() (line 98 of /var/www/html/docroot/sites/all/modules/views/modules/taxonomy/
  • Notice: Undefined index: nid in views_handler_field_term_node_tid->pre_render() (line 98 of /var/www/html/docroot/sites/all/modules/views/modules/taxonomy/


Will We See Two Italian Teams In The Champions League Quarterfinals?

A lot can change in a few months. The gap between the draw for the Champions League round of 16 and the matches themselves can be vast. Even in countries where a winter break (or the lack thereof) is not just an annual excuse for under-pressure managers, the sides which face off in February can be entirely different from those which were first drawn out of the pots. Now, after a relatively normal week in Serie A, what should we expect from the Italian teams still in Europe’s premier cup competition?

Juventus vs Porto

Paulo Dybala

Paulo Dybala. Photo: @FutNaRede_ | Twitter

We should probably start with Juventus. Admittedly – on paper – nothing much has changed for the Italian champions. A couple of sensible additions over the winter has served to bolster the squad, but Thomas Rincon is unlikely to start and the other players were loaned out. So, Massimiliano Allegri’s squad against Porto is likely to be the same as his squad versus Lyon and Sevilla from earlier in the year. Sort of.

Juventus are still the likely-winners of Serie A. Things haven’t really changed much on that front. But what has changed is the way they are approaching matches. Whereas Allegri alternated between a few familiar formations, recent weeks have seen a sea-change. 

Now, the manager has found a way to start Mario Mandzukic, Gonzalo Higuain, Miralem Pjanic, Juan Cuadrado and Paulo Dybala together. The most important change has not been the players, but the way they are arranged on the pitch.

It's been said before, but it deserves repeating. This formation, logically, shouldn’t work. 

Despite his commendable work rate, few people would have thought of Mandzukic as a left winger. Playing Cuadrado as a winger is less shocking, but there are still questions about the Colombian’s defensive responsibilities. In the middle of the park, Sami Khedira has to cover enough ground to make up for Pjanic’s defensive deficiencies.


The otherwise-indominable back three of Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci can’t be played, thanks to Barzagli’s injury. But the other two remain. The usually-marauding full backs are roped in, forced to spend more time defending. Gianluigi Buffon remains, as ever, but the only-just-back-from-injury Claudio Marchisio seems to have no place in the side. 

For one of Juventus’s best players, this seemed unthinkable back in December.

It’s been dubbed the ‘Five Star’ formation, a nod to the inclusion of five of Juventus’s five most potent attacking options, as well as a glib reference to Beppe Grillo’s rising populist movement in Italy, Cinque Stelle. Just like Grillo’s often-muddled politics, the side seems unbalanced. Top heavy, for sure, but with a vacuum where the midfield would normally be. 

Khedira, as skilled as he is, can only cover so much ground. Once he inevitably gets injured, then the formation will become almost impossible to play.

But it’s worked. Defying conventional wisdom, Allegri has done what he has always done well: he has forged together his incompatible base elements to manufacture gold. It worked against Sassuolo and it worked against Inter. But the real question is, will the manager risk his new formation against Porto, especially playing away from home in the first leg?

It's unlikely. This year, Juventus have put all their eggs in the Champions League basket. They are desperate for European success, as evidenced by their massive spending in the summer. They want to kick on, want to be recognized as one of Europe’s powerhouses. With Serie A victory presumed to be in the bag, this match away in Portugal is the most important of the season thus far. Thus, there are a few questions.

Should Allegri opt for his five-star formation? Is it too unbalanced, despite the success? Is it worth playing such a risky way in such an important match? Where will Marchisio fit in? Will Juve switch to a familiar three-at-the-back formation?


Whereas before we had assumed Juventus would beat Porto (and beat them handily), doubts have started to creep in. With this new formation, Allegri could well win the match. But he might lose. It could be just enough to tip the scales in his favor, overpowering the opponent and rendering the second leg obsolete. But it might be too risky, even against a team second in the Portuguese league. Porto might be a shadow of their former selves, but they are still seasoned European competitors.

As high as Juventus have been flying in recent weeks, there is also the memory of the Fiorentina game. In that match, Fiorentina out-muscled, out-fought and out-played Juventus, who fielded their familiar 3-5-2. It might be a memory which wards Allegri away from playing it safe, which turns his attention to the higher-risk option. Until the team sheet is released, we won’t know, but one tactical choice could define Juventus’s entire season, something we wouldn’t have guessed a few months back.

Real Madrid vs Napoli

Maurizio Sarri

Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri. Photo: @Realmadridplace | Twitter

This is the tie of the round. On paper, Barca vs PSG might seem like the liveliest choice, but both of those sides are far from their prime, playing sluggish, uninspired football. Instead, Napoli should be the team to watch this week. As they prepare to take on the current Spanish league-leaders, they are an entirely different team to the one which qualified from the group stages.

A few months ago, Napoli were rebuilding. The story of Higuain’s departure has been told many times, but the Neapolitans’ attempts to rebuild in his departure seemed to be going well. Arkadiusz Milik seemed to be the like-for-like replacement no one had expected him to be and the goals were beginning to flow. He scored against Benfica and, in a group which went right down to the wire, he helped Napoli to claw their way into the next round. And then he hurt himself.

Milik had worked hard to become an essential part of the team. But his injury left Napoli in limbo. When the draw was made, and Real Madrid’s name came out, heads hung low. They didn’t stand much of a chance with a fully fit line up, but there was a real doubt as to whether Milik would be back in time. And then something quite strange happened.


Napoli switched their style. Gone was the single focal point of the previous seasons. Instead, they opted for an inter-changing front three, with Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon taking turns to terrorize defenses. It took a while for the formation to really take, but in the last three months, Napoli have played the best football of any team in Europe, perhaps rivaled only by Monaco for their ferocity and relentlessness.

Madrid themselves are a different team. They had their own long-term injury, with Gareth Bale still a doubt for the game after three months out. Similar clouds have hung over Luka Modric and Marcelo, two of the world’s best players in their respective positions. While Madrid have the depth and the money to cover for such injuries, it could well be the odds on Napoli are becoming more and more favorable.

In December, when the draw was made, most members of the Italian press would have written Napoli off. At that point, Real Madrid had hardly lost a game in a year, had many of the world’s best players and Napoli themselves were struggling to replace their replacement. But now, things are different. There are not many teams who can go to the Santiago Bernabéu and hope to win but, if anyone can do it, then it might be this Napoli side.

While it’s unlikely they’ll win – the bookies still make Madrid the favorites – there is nothing to say that this team cannot steal a goal. They could even steal two. Even in defeat, these goals could be the perfect beacon of hope to take back to the San Paolo. With the local crowd baying for blood, all Napoli need is the slimmest glimmer of hope. Should they get a goal (or even a positive result) away in Spain, then they could tear Madrid apart in the second leg.

Back in December, such thought would have been immediately dismissed. Now, there is hope. 

Videos you might like