Amid a run of just one win from six matches, Juventus welcome Champions League Group H rivals Benfica to Turin on Wednesday evening.
While the Bianconeri were beaten by Paris Saint-Germain on the opening night – and subsequently found themselves held at home in a controversial Serie A contest – their visitors have won every one of their games this season and sit top of the Primeira Liga table.
After suffering their first defeat of the season in Paris – where they were undone by a first-half Kylian Mbappe double – Juventus sought a return to winning ways on Sunday evening, as they hosted Salernitana in Serie A’s sixth round.
Facing provincial outsiders, albeit ones who had significantly strengthened their squad over the summer, Juve were expected to post just their third win since kicking off a stuttering 2022-23 campaign, but they came within minutes of losing instead – then the VAR intervened to deny them all three points.
In a chaotic conclusion to proceedings at the Allianz Stadium, the Bianconeri were reduced to nine men – and coach Max Allegri was also sent off – as a brawl broke out after Arkadiusz Milik’s last-minute ‘winner’ was chalked off. Debate continues to rumble on about the legitimacy of that decision.
Four minutes of stoppage time were initially indicated at the end of a game in which Juve had battled back from a two-goal deficit, but ultimately ended in the 102nd minute with the score standing at 2-2.
That leaves Allegri’s men languishing in eighth place domestically before returning to European action, and they cannot afford to slip up again in Group H, with surely just one spot in the last-16 up for grabs between three teams, as PSG potentially sail off into the distance.
Traditionally, though, Juventus have struggled in their meetings with Benfica down the years: winning once and losing four times in six previous matches. The most recent encounter between the clubs came in the 2014 Europa League semi-finals, where the Portuguese side won 2-1 on aggregate, following a goalless draw in Turin.
That outcome, however, represents a rare high in Benfica’s record on the Italian peninsula, where they have lost 10 of their last 12 European fixtures – including all three in the Champions League.
On this occasion, the Eagles arrive in Piedmont on a scintillating run of form at home and abroad, which has seen them claim victory from each and every one of their 11 matches so far this season. Indeed, they have put together 17 consecutive victories stretching back to last term; scoring 47 goals and keeping 10 clean sheets since losing to Porto in May.
After cruising through the Champions League qualifiers with convincing wins over FC Midtjylland and Dynamo Kyiv last month, last week Roger Schmidt’s side swept past Maccabi Haifa on the first day of the group phase, with a home success secured by strikes from Rafa Silva and Alex Grimaldo.
Their first victory on the opening matchday since 2015 followed five straight wins domestically, and they went on to extend their Primeira Liga streak to six by beating Famalicao 1-0 on Saturday – with Rafa Silva once again on the scoresheet.
European champions in 1961 and again in 1962 – but never since, in accordance with Bela Guttmann’s infamous curse – Benfica pushed Liverpool all the way at last season’s quarter-final stage, and having made a positive start this year will fancy their chances of claiming a top-two spot in Group H.
Though still early in the process, their encounters with Juventus are likely to prove decisive in that regard, so Schmidt will be keen for his men to keep their remarkable run rolling into the weekend at least.
Juventus continue to be plagued by injury problems this season, as not only do the Bianconeri have long-term absentees Paul Pogba and Federico Chiesa still sidelined, but Manuel Locatelli, Adrien Rabiot, Angel Di Maria and Wojciech Szczesny all missed out at the weekend too.
Mattia Perin should continue to deputise for the latter in goal, while teenager Fabio Miretti could keep his place alongside recent arrival Leandro Paredes in central midfield.
Both Juan Cuadrado and Arkadiusz Milik, though, will be available, as their suspensions for being dismissed on Sunday only apply in Serie A; it remains to be seen whether Max Allegri will partner Milik with Dusan Vlahovic up front or opt for a front three instead.
The latter choice would feature left-winger Filip Kostic, who has been involved in five goals in his last five European appearances, after providing an assist on his Champions League debut at the Parc des Princes.
Meanwhile, Benfica will have Joao Mario and nine-goal top scorer Goncalo Ramos back at their disposal after serving bans against Famalicao at the weekend.
Both should start for the visitors, with Julian Draxler – who made his debut on Saturday – competing with David Neres to join Rafa Silva in the supporting cast for Ramos up front.
Roger Schmidt will be without defensive trio Joao Victor, Lucas Verissimo and Morato due to injury, but full-back Alex Grimaldo will feature at the back; he has been involved in four goals in his last four Champions League games.
Juventus possible starting lineup:
Perin; Danilo, Bonucci, Bremer, Sandro; Miretti, Paredes, McKennie; Cuadrado, Vlahovic, Kostic
Benfica possible starting lineup:
Vlachodimos; Gilberto, Otamendi, A. Silva, Grimaldo; Fernandez, Luis; Draxler, R. Silva, Mario; Ramos