Trailing by a goal from last week’s first leg, Freiburg aim to overturn their deficit and reach the Europa League quarter-finals on Thursday, when they host fallen giants Juventus.
Juve are more accustomed to life among Europe’s elite, but having established a lead to take to Germany, they will now try to finish the job in their last-16 tie.
After struggling at times to cope with their illustrious hosts in Turin, Freiburg at least rallied a little towards the end of proceedings and returned to the Black Forest after a 1-0 defeat.
While Juventus could well have added further to Angel Di Maria’s decisive strike, the Bundesliga side failed to force a single effort on target and recorded only a single off-target effort too.
Such a shortage of potency in the final third continues a concerning trend for Freiburg, who have scored a modest 14 goals in 11 games to start 2023, having spent the first half of the season defying the doubters by keeping pace with Germany’s top-four contenders.
After Ritsu Doan’s 89th-minute finish secured maximum points against Hoffenheim at the weekend, though, Christian Streich’s side still sit fifth in the domestic standings and are well set to guarantee European football for next season. They have also gone 11 games unbeaten at home in the league.
Streich has been in post for 11 years now, and recently extended his contract again. The veteran coach will lead Freiburg into their first home fixture against an Italian team, and what little European history they do have suggests an upset could still be on the cards.
Die Breisgauer have never lost the second leg of a UEFA knockout tie – both winning and drawing twice – and they will have to extend that streak at Europa-Park Stadion if they are to turn a fine campaign into a groundbreaking one by toppling the Old Lady and reaching a continental quarter-final.
Despite only appearing in the Europa League for the first time this season in mid-February, just two players have scored more goals in its 2022-23 edition than Juve’s Di Maria, who followed up a hat-trick against Nantes in the playoff round with last Thursday’s strike at the Allianz Stadium.
Streich was open in his admiration for the World Cup winner after the game, and despite reaching the grand old footballing age of 35, Di Maria is hungry for more silverware; with his side’s slim Scudetto hopes ended by both Napoli’s brilliance and a 15-point penalty, only the cups now offer such an opportunity.
In addition to reaching the Coppa Italia semi-finals, where they meet old rivals Inter next month over two legs, Juventus are targeting glory in the Europa League – and with it, a ticket back to the big-time.
After a haphazard 4-2 win over Sampdoria on Sunday – in which they let a two-goal lead slip in less than two minutes before rallying in the second half – Max Allegri’s men sit seventh in the Serie A standings, some 10 points adrift of the top four with games running out.
As a result, Juve’s best route into the Champions League is by winning Europe’s second-tier tournament in May. With a one-goal lead and having lost just one of their last nine matches against German clubs – winning each of the last three in a row without conceding – they are clear favourites to make the quarter-finals.
Juventus have also progressed from each of their last nine UEFA knockout ties when leading from the first leg, last failing in the 2010 Europa League last 16 against Fulham, when they were memorably beaten 4-1 by Roy Hodgson’s side. Furthermore, they have lost just one of their last 21 games at this level.
Once again, Freiburg boss Christian Streich will turn to boyhood Inter fan Vincenzo Grifo for inspiration on Thursday, and not only from set-pieces but also in support of likely lone striker Lucas Holer, who was left isolated in Turin.
Italy international Grifo has netted 12 Bundesliga goals this season and also scored twice in the Europa League group stage.
While Daniel-Kofi Kyereh is out for the rest of the season with an ACL tear and Philipp Lienhart sustained a thigh injury against Juventus last week, Woo-yeong Jeong has recovered from illness and could feature for the hosts; if Lienhart cannot return in time, Manuel Gulde may keep his place in defence.
Juventus, meanwhile, will be without Paul Pogba, who was dropped for disciplinary reasons before the first leg and was subsequently struck down by injury when practising free kicks. The French midfielder has tallied a total of 35 minutes of first-team action since returning to Italy last summer.
Federico Chiesa is set to be sidelined too, but chief creator Angel Di Maria is available. The latter has taken the most shots (12) and completed the joint-most take-ons (15) of any player since the Europa League knockout stages commenced.
In-form Adrien Rabiot failed to find the net even once last season but is Juve’s second-top scorer this term with nine goals following his brace at the weekend.
By contrast, Dusan Vlahovic has endured a six-game goal drought of late, his worst such streak since joining the club last January. Clearly low on confidence, he also missed a penalty on Sunday, but with Arkadiusz Milik absent through injury and Moise Kean an enigmatic presence, the Serbia striker will still start up front.
Freiburg possible starting lineup:
Flekken; Kubler, Gulde, Ginter, Gunter; Eggestein, Hofler; Doan, Gregoritsch, Grifo; Holer
Juventus possible starting lineup:
Szczesny; Danilo, Bremer, Sandro; Cuadrado, Fagioli, Locatelli, Rabiot, Kostic; Di Maria; Vlahovic