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Q & A with BWRAO: Villarreal vs Juventus in the Champions League

Unai Emery and Max Allegri go head to head in European knockout play.

Juventus v Torino FC - Serie A Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

We haven’t been able to do as many Q and A’s this season but I always enjoy them. This time, we are talking to our sister blog in the SBN Network that covers Juventus. Go check out the questions they asked me and see if you agree with what I called Villarreal’s biggest weakness.

If a Villarreal fan was looking for someone in Italy to root for, why should they pick Juventus?

Juventus are the most successful club in Italy, but they didn’t just happen upon that success. All those trophies over the decades have been underpinned by very basic fundamentals - it’s not over until it’s over and you should be prepared for Juventus to battle until the very end (fino alla fine), and that a certain fortitude is expected of every player to pull on the hallowed black and white shirt, a grit and purpose that is inculcated from generation to generation that has played for the club (grinta).

How good is Weston McKennie, and how is he used in the Juventus setup?

McKennie has come along in leaps and bounds from season to season, and though he is still far from the finished product, he is certainly showing all the signs of becoming a star player. There are still areas for him to improve, with his passing and distribution - especially at close quarters - still needing some work and his first touch often leading him into trouble when being pressed closely. However, he seems to have perfected the art of being the late-arriving midfielder that follows the movement of the ball into the box, which leads to a number of scoring opportunities for the player, usually of the headed variety.

Allegri has bounced back and forth between a 4-3-3 and a 4-4-2 formation this season, with McKennie mostly on the left side of the midfield. To be honest though, that feels more a matter of necessity that he has played on the left wing because he looks to be a lot more effective when playing on the right on his stronger right foot.

There have been reports out of Italy that Juventus will be missing some key players for this match. Who’s out and how will that affect Juve’s strategy?

Juve have struggled mightily with injuries this season, especially in defence. At the moment, Matthijs de Ligt is the only fit centrehalf in the lineup, with Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Daniele Rugani all missing this match. Allegri’s key creative force Paulo Dybala left the weekend derby draw with an injury and is also out for this game. And then Federico Chiesa, who was sensational in last summer’s European Championship success for Italy is out for the rest of the season after sustaining a ligament injury that required surgery. To top it off, the versatile Federico Bernardeschi is also out injured which really limits the squad’s ability to be flexible.

All these injuries mean Allegri is likely going to try to play a cagey game on Tuesday, likely looking to sit back in defence and pick off Villarreal on the break while maintaining a solid defensive shape.

Juventus currently sit in 4th in Serie A. Is that an accurate representation of the level of this team compared to the rest of the league, or have you guys just been unfortunate this year?

It’s probably an accurate reflection of the quality of performances this team has shown this season. On one hand there have certainly been games where they have failed to score despite dominating the opposition or conceded very ticky-tacky goals which feels very unfortunate. That said, they have also been shockingly bad at times too, especially earlier in the season and we can consider ourselves lucky to still be in the Champions League race, though that is more due to the failings of other teams around us too.

What has Allegri changed since returning to Juventus?

The coach brings a sense of composure around this team which mysteriously disappeared in the two seasons he was gone and Maurizio Sarri then Andrea Pirlo were in charge. A lot of that Juventus swagger that came with nine successive league triumphs has gone, and a defeat against Juve is no longer a foregone conclusion. If anything, it feels like opponents save their best games for the clashes against the Bianconeri, as beating Juventus is still a notable achievement. In Allegri’s second go-around at the club, his first job was to tighten up the defence which had completely disintegrated in recent seasons despite still having the same personnel for years now. He has pretty much achieved that with Juve the third best defence in the league right now. It’s going forward though where they look out of ideas and over reliant on a moment of magic from one of their stars for goals.

We’ve had to face Cristiano Ronaldo twice this season. Has his departure been a loss or a net positive for your side?

It’s hard to argue that Ronaldo’s departure has finally allowed the long-postponed rebuild to finally take off. The significant financial outlay that is involved with bringing the CR7 roadshow to town meant Juventus were not able to be as involved in the transfer market as they would have liked to, and key areas of the team have seen drop offs in quality in the last few years. The additions of de Ligt, Federico Chiesa, Manuel Locatelli, Dusan Vlahovic and Denis Zakaria are all geared towards making Juve dominant again, but there’s still a few more signings required to achieve that dream.

How does Alvaro Morata fit into this team? Luis Enrique seems to love him but he’s never quite proven himself here in Spain domestically.

Most Juve fans had expected that the addition of Vlahovic in January would likely relegate Morata to the bench as a back-up for the exciting young striker. Instead, Morata has rediscovered himself as a left-sided forward (much like fan-favorite Mario Mandzukic did) and has been very dangerous as a creator in the left channel while forming a trident with Vlahovic and Dybala. The Spaniard is a particular Allegri favorite because he brings a lot of the battling qualities that the coach values in his side, and seems to save up his best for the biggest games.

Score prediction for the first leg?

Villarreal attacking Juve’s fragile backline with pace is a nightmare that Allegri will not want to come to fruition, so we can expect him to play a conservative 4-4-2 to match the hosts’ formation. Still, it’s hard to see how they will repel Villarreal for a full ninety minutes, so my call is a 1-0 win for the home side, with Juve putting in a gritty but dull performance.