Juventus host Celtic in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League tie on Wednesday in Turin. After an impressive 3-0 victory in Scotland, Juve will look to seal their spot in the quarterfinals of the competition, while the Scottish side will hope for a miracle to progress.
Neil Lennon’s side have even more to worry about heading into the match, with captain Scott Brown set to miss out with a hip injury. The Scotland international has been in and out of the side all season, and the manager verified this week that the midfielder will be unavailable for the crucial tie in Italy. Without their leader on the field, the Scottish Premier League leaders will need to look elsewhere for inspiration in Turin.
Juventus head into Wednesday with a fairly easy task in front of them to advance to the Champions League final eight. All Antonio Conte’s side must do is keep the final score within three goals, and a quarterfinal spot is theirs. While this may seem simple enough, Juve star Andrea Pirlo believes that his side must remain focused to avoid a massive slip-up.The midfielder was quoted as saying:
We are in a very strong position and expect to progress after the result in Glasgow – but we can’t think all we need to do is turn up…and if we are complacent, then that is when they could have their revenge.
Here are a few key players to watch in the decisive match on Wednesday:
The above-quoted midfielder could be very important for Juventus as they look to maintain their advantage in Italy. The 33 year old is a veteran in European competitions, having played in seven Champions League campaigns for AC Milan and Juventus, and that experience may come in handy on Wednesday. The Bianconeri will need a leader in the midfield to keep the team’s composure during what is sure to be a high-intensity match, and Pirlo should be the man to bring that leadership. If the Italian can keep possession and distribute the ball to his teammates to avoid the pressure that Celtic are sure to put on, Juventus should have no problem in easing past their visitors.
If Celtic are to score three goals in Italy, Hooper will need to be a key figure in the Scottish side’s attack. The team’s leading scorer has become a focal point of Neil Lennon’s front line this season, but has hit a spell of poor form of late, only scoring once in his last eight appearances for the club. For Celtic to make an upset bid against Juventus, Hooper must get back on the score sheet. In the 18 games in which the 25 year old has scored, his team have only lost once. Clearly, the striker’s scoring touch pays great dividends for his club, so Hooper will be essential to Celtic’s attack in Turin on Wednesday. If he can get involved early and often, the Scottish side may stand a fighting chance to upset the Serie A leaders.
Like Andrea Pirlo, Gianluigi Buffon’s experience could be crucial for Juventus to advance into the quarterfinals of the UCL. The Italian goalkeeper has appeared in eight Champions League campaigns for Juventus, and has become one of the world’s best shot stoppers in that time. The 35 year old is also in the midst of an impressive run of form, having recorded clean sheets in four of his last five appearances between the posts for the Bianconeri. If the Italian continues his run of form and protects the Juventus net, Celtic’s hope of an upset will become nothing more than a pipe dream. With Buffon’s experience and skill, it is hard to bet against him in this contest.
While choosing a defender as a key player for a team in need of three goals may seem odd, Matthews will be more important than one might think. The 21 year old leads Celtic in assists this season with eight, and the Scottish side have not yet lost when Matthews provides the decisive pass for a goal. If Neil Lennon’s side are to have any chance of scoring three goals, the likes of Gary Hooper, Georgios Samaras, and Anthony Stokes will need to be given plenty of ammunition. While Adam Matthews may seem a strange source, the right back could provide the offensive spark that Celtic need to get the necessary goals. If the Wales international can put the ball on a silver platter for his forwards, Juventus may have their hands full in Italy.