After both qualified for the Europa League quarter-finals in very different style, Serie A giants Juventus and Portuguese champions Sporting Lisbon meet in the first leg of their last-eight tie on Thursday.
Sporting travel to Turin having overcome domestic travails to topple Premier League leaders Arsenal and progress on penalties, while Juve’s controversy-hit campaign continued with a more serene passage past Freiburg.
Since navigating their way into the quarter-finals, Juventus have experienced more mixed fortunes in a season bedevilled by setbacks on and off the pitch; successive trademark 1-0 wins over Inter and Verona have been followed by a controversial Coppa Italia draw and then defeat to Lazio last weekend.
Beaten by 2-1 by Maurizio Sarri’s men on Saturday evening, Juve fans watched on as Serie A’s second-placed side exhibited the kind of fluid football associated with classic ‘Sarrisimo’ – the Old Lady’s now-departed hierarchy disposed of the former Chelsea coach back in 2020, after just one Scudetto-winning season at the helm.
Instead, the combination of Max Allegri’s stolid pragmatism and a 15-point penalty for financial misdeeds sees Juve sit as low as seventh in Italy’s top flight – eight points adrift of Milan in the final Champions League place.
Nonetheless, they have still won 11 of their last 15 matches all told, and after beating Bundesliga overachievers Freiburg both home and away last month they have won each of their last three in Europe without conceding a single goal.
Like their quarter-final opponents, Juventus were dispatched from the continent’s top club tournament during its autumn group stage; in their case, being beaten five times from six outings – including twice by Sporting’s city rivals Benfica.
Ahead of their first-leg encounter at the Allianz Stadium, the Bianconeri have only previously faced the green and white side of Lisbon twice before in UEFA competition: meetings in the 2017-18 Champions League group phase saw Juve win 2-1 at home before drawing 1-1 in Portugal.
Including that loss in Turin, Sporting have failed to win any of their 15 games away to Italian sides in Europe throughout a long and illustrious history. Indeed, a tally of 11 defeats during that time sees precedent well and truly stacked against them on Thursday evening.
More recently, though, the reigning Portuguese champions are unbeaten in their last 11 outings, winning seven times and holding Arsenal level – partly thanks to an outrageous Pedro Goncalves strike – before eliminating the Gunners via a tense penalty shootout.
Enjoying their best spell of an inconsistent season, Sporting boast a lethal counter-attacking threat and – despite slipping out of the top two in their Champions League group – have lost just one of their last six away games in Europe, keeping three clean sheets in the process.
Sunday’s 4-3 victory over Primeira Liga surprise package Casa Pia saw Goncalves on target again, while Barcelona loanee Francisco Trincao sealed success by completing his hat-trick in the 85th minute.
Only occupying fourth place in the domestic standings, as bitter foes Benfica streak clear at the top, Ruben Amorim’s men have not been able to replicate last year’s run to title glory and are outsiders to achieve Champions League qualification through the league.
Nevertheless, wins at home to Tottenham and away at Eintracht Frankfurt – plus pipping in-form Arsenal to a place in the quarters – suggest that Sporting can still hope to outsmart the Old Lady, with a semi-final tie against Manchester United or Europa League specialists Sevilla awaiting next month.
Having himself recovered from an illness which meant missing the journey to Rome last weekend, Max Allegri will welcome back two fringe players to his squad on Thursday, as Moise Kean returns from Serie A suspension and Mattia De Sciglio approaches full fitness following an injury.
Midfield maverick Paul Pogba, though, remains sidelined for Juventus, and Leandro Paredes will not be included after a very public bust-up with Allegri during an open training session.
The Tuscan tactician could name a similar side to that which lost against Lazio; ex-Porto defender Alex Sandro and Arkadiusz Milik are fronting the queue for promotion to the hosts’ starting XI.
If the latter does not partner misfiring striker Dusan Vlahovic up front, Angel Di Maria should feature as the Serbian’s support act, having scored four goals in Europe already this term – his joint-best return in a single season.
Sporting, meanwhile, are set to be without attacking duo Jovane Cabral and Paulinho, who are both on the road to recovery from muscular injuries. Youssef Chermiti should therefore lead the line up front.
Uruguayan midfielder Manuel Ugarte, who was sent off in the second leg against Arsenal, must also sit out the Lions’ trip to Turin – in his case due to suspension.
However, Ruben Amorim may now include Hector Bellerin on the bench, following the full-back’s return to training after a knee problem.
Juventus possible starting lineup:
Szczesny; Danilo, Bremer, Sandro; Cuadrado, Fagioli, Locatelli, Rabiot, Kostic; Di Maria; Vlahovic
Sporting Lisbon possible starting lineup:
Adan; Diomande, Coates, St. Juste; Esgaio, Goncalves, Morita, Reis; Edwards, Chermiti, Trincao