Facing a one-goal deficit from last week’s first leg, Sporting Lisbon welcome Juventus to Estadio Jose Alvalade in Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final decider.
Beaten by Federico Gatti’s second-half strike in Turin, Sporting are without a win from their last four home games in Europe. Meanwhile, Juve may have suffered successive Serie A defeats but have won each of their last four in continental competition – all without conceding a goal.
Following their unsuccessful trip to Italy last week – when Juventus stole a 1-0 win through the unlikeliest of goalscorers in the 73rd minute – Sporting have now failed to win on any of their 16 visits to Serie A sides, losing on 12 occasions.
Having just gone unbeaten through 11 games in all competitions, Ruben Amorim’s side were dealt an increasingly rare setback, as their form has improved markedly over the past two months – Premier League leaders Arsenal and Denmark’s Midtjylland being among their recent victims.
Sitting fourth in the Primeira Liga standings – while bitter foes Benfica streak clear at the top – does not match the Portuguese champions’ ambition, though, and they remain outsiders to achieve Champions League qualification through the league after a disappointing home draw with Arouca on Sunday.
Hero of the win over Arsenal in London, Pedro Goncalves turned villain when missing a first-half penalty, and Sporting also struck the woodwork twice as they trailed heading into the final minutes; but late on, ‘Pote’ then redeemed himself by striking from the spot to salvage a point.
Winless in three previous meetings with Juventus in UEFA competition, O Leoes have also been eliminated from each of their last five European knockout ties when they have lost the first leg, so history is certainly not on their side ahead of this week’s second leg.
Not only that, but since beating Tottenham in Lisbon last September they have failed to win any of their home fixtures in Europe. Sporting will certainly need to halt that run on Thursday, as going five straight continental contests at Alvalade without victory for the first time would bring elimination.
Juventus may have lost their last two away matches against Portuguese opponents – versus Porto in the 2020-21 campaign and Benfica earlier this season – but avoiding defeat this week would see them through to yet another major semi-final.
Also into the last four of the Coppa Italia, it has, however, been far from plain sailing in Serie A this season; hampered by a 15-point penalty for financial misdemeanours, Juve sit as low as seventh in the table – nine points adrift of Milan, who occupy the final Champions League place.
Since starting April with a trademark 1-0 win over Hellas Verona, Max Allegri’s men have followed a controversial cup draw against old rivals Inter with consecutive defeats, to in-form Lazio and then mid-table Sassuolo.
For all their domestic woes – and a miserable Champions League campaign, during which they were beaten twice by Sporting’s city rivals Benfica – the Bianconeri have won each of their last four matches in Europe without conceding a goal, which represents their best such run since 2013.
Nantes and Freiburg have been cast by the wayside since Juventus entered the Europa League’s knockout stages via a distant third-place finish in Champions League Group H, and a semi against either Manchester United or Sevilla could soon await.
Going on to lift the trophy after next month’s final in Budapest would also offer a route back into Europe’s top club competition, but despite holding a slim first-leg lead, a tough Sporting side still stand in their way.
After Ruben Amorim made several changes at the weekend, when Goncalo Inacio and Hidemasa Morita were among those dropped to the bench, a more familiar XI will start on Thursday.
While much-admired winger Marcus Edwards missed out with an illness and Jeremiah St. Juste was unavailable due to injury, both will aim to be involved in the second leg.
Manuel Ugarte was among those promoted to the lineup against Arouca, but Morita impressed last week in Turin when covering the Uruguayan’s absence through suspension and could win the nod in central midfield.
Sporting remain without first-choice forward Paulinho, plus Daniel Braganca and Jovane Cabral, and if St. Juste cannot recover in time, Ousmane Diomande would most likely start instead.
Juventus number one Wojciech Szczesny was withdrawn due to feeling chest pain during the first leg and regular cup keeper Mattia Perin stepped into the breach both then and in the subsequent defeat to Sassuolo – it remains to be seen if the latter will be called upon again.
At the back, ex-Porto defender Alex Sandro returns after serving a Serie A suspension, but Federico Gatti is set to keep the faith of Max Allegri. Having recently recovered from their latest injury setbacks, both Paul Pogba and Federico Chiesa are available for selection too.
Angel Di Maria should return to take his place in the Bianconeri’s front line – between 2007 and 2010, Di Maria played for Sporting’s arch-rivals Benfica, where he was a teammate of Ruben Amorim.
Sporting Lisbon possible starting lineup:
Adan; Inacio, Coates, Diomande; Esgaio, Goncalves, Morita, Reis; Edwards, Chermiti, Trincao
Juventus possible starting lineup:
Szczesny; Gatti, Bremer, Danilo; Cuadrado, Fagioli, Locatelli, Rabiot, Kostic; Di Maria; Vlahovic