Juventus’ path to the UEFA Champions League (UCL) via Serie A now appears to be closed after a 2-1 loss to Lazio over the weekend. They do have a different entry route into the UCL for the upcoming season, but it would need them to win the Europa League (UEL). They last won the UEL in 1992/93 when they, oddly, defeated Portuguese opposition in the quarterfinals.
That may be a sign they may take comfort in before Sporting Lisbon visits, but the biggest confidence booster of all for Juve is unquestionably the fact that they have never dropped a home UEL encounter (W6, D7). They’ll definitely be optimistic about continuing that streak here, and the fact that they’ve won their previous three matches in Europe without giving up a goal should give them encouragement.
Despite a stunning 4-3 victory over Casa Pia over the weekend, Sporting has just a slim chance of earning a Primeira Liga UCL spot. This competition also offers Sporting’s greatest opportunity to dine with Europe’s finest next season. Sporting eliminated one of the UEL’s top scorers by defeating Arsenal on penalties in the last-16, securing their place in the quarterfinals in stunning fashion.
Sporting, however, travels to Turin carrying the baggage of having lost all 15 of their away games in Europe against Italian opponents, so this one is expected to be a difficult test (D4, L11). But, the Portuguese team should have more confidence in their ability to pull off an Italian trick on one of the top teams on the continent after suffering just one loss in their last six away European games (W2, D3).
Angel Di Mara of Juventus has already scored four goals, the last two of which are, intriguingly, headers, making the UEL knockout rounds his own. Pedro Gonçalves, a content traveler, scored in Sporting’s triumphs in the play-off and round of 16 on the road.
Max Allegri will welcome back two periphery players to his squad on Thursday, as Moise Kean returns from a Serie A suspension and Mattia De Sciglio nears full fitness after an injury. Allegri himself has recovered from an illness that prevented him from traveling to Rome last weekend.
Leandro Paredes will not be playing for Juventus because of his very public altercation with Allegri during a public training session, but midfield whiz Paul Pogba is also available.
Alex Sandro, an ex-Porto defender, and Arkadiusz Milik are leading the line for promotion to the hosts’ starting XI, so the Tuscan strategist may select a team identical to the one that fell to Lazio.
Angel Di Maria, who has already scored four goals in Europe this season, should play as the Serbian’s support act if the latter does not partner struggling striker Dusan Vlahovic up front. It would be his joint-best season total.
Jovane Cabral and Paulinho, two offensive teammates for Sporting who are also working their way back from muscular problems, are not expected to play. So, the front of the line should be led by Youssef Chermiti.
The first leg must be skipped by Uruguayan midfielder Manuel Ugarte, who was suspended after receiving a red card against Arsenal in the second round.
Ruben Amorim, though, might now put Hector Bellerin on the bench after the full-back returned to practice after a knee injury.
Szczesny; Danilo; Bremer; Sandro; Cuadrado; Fagioli; Locatelli; Rabiot; Kostic; Di Maria; Vlahovic; Juventus probable starting lineup.
Adan, Inacio, Coates, St. Juste, Esgaio, Goncalves, Morita, Reis, Edwards, Chermiti, and Trincao could all make the Sporting Lisbon starting lineup.
We predict: Juventus 1-0 Sporting Lisbon
A well prepared Juventus team can neutralize Sporting’s spirited attack and take a slender lead to Lisbon the following week. Juventus is a master of seizing the lead and then grinding out a hard triumph.