Juventus vs Villarreal | Wednesday 16th March 2022, 20:00 | BT Sport
The Yellow Submarine will sail in to Turin this Wednesday evening looking to inflict a third successive Round of 16 exit from the UCL for their hosts after Dani Parejo's second-half equaliser at Estadio de la Cerámica ensures this tie is delicately poised going in to the second leg.
Juventus will be confident of progression, following a 3-1 victory over relegation-threatened Sampdoria at the weekend although they were thankful for an own goal and a penalty to open up a two-goal advantage which Wojciech Szczęsny protected by saving the Blucerchiati’s own second half spot kick – and although the home side did pull a goal back, Alvaro Morata sealed the three points with his second late on.
That win extended the Old Lady’s unbeaten run in Serie A to 15 games (W10, D5) while they haven’t tasted defeat at their Allianz Stadium home in 10 games across all competitions winning eight.
It appears Max Allegri is getting his team back playing in his style once again, leading them to 13 home wins from 19 fixtures in total this season – an impressive body of work considering they failed to win either of their first two, but interestingly only one of those victories was by a margin greater than two goals, with a single strike advantage the most common outcome, occurring seven times.
Juve have only conceded more than once three times at home this term, shipping just four goals in the last 10 appearances in front of their own fans.
As for Villarreal, they come in to this clash in relatively good heart, with just one defeat in their last eight matches in all competitions, however supporters of the Spanish side will be concerned by the fact they have lost three of their last five road trips and have managed only three wins from a total of 13 La Liga away days.
There seems to be no reason to expect anything other than another tight and cagy affair, with Allegri taking a more pragmatic approach, setting his team up with more structure and solidity although arguably they are less dangerous going forward, backed up by the infogol stats from the first leg of this tie showing a combined xG of just 1.47 with Villarreal accounting for 1.06 and a meagre 0.41 for the men from Turin.
So, with Juventus on a run of six successive home UCL ties – their best sequence in 25 years, I am happy to side with them especially as we can take slight odds against about them winning inside 90 minutes.
Advancing that selection one step further I will also take half a unit on the correct score of 1-0 – always a tough market to crack but with the aforementioned stats surrounding Juventus’ margin of victory, that five of their 13 home wins this season have been by that scoreline including two of their three group stage games (Chelsea and Malmo) I think the 34/5 on offer with SBK is worth some investment.
For their part, three of Villarreal’s last four away defeats have come by that very same score and each of their last three La Liga defeats on the road have been suffered by the only goal of the game.
In a tie of potentially fine margins this could come down to the strikers both sides can field, or in Unai Emery’s case, can’t field.
Star striker Gerard Moreno has been out over recent weeks with a hamstring injury and was expected to miss the trip to Italy all together, however he has travelled and trained, although a start looks very unlikely with the ex-Arsenal boss confirming that he will have to make a very “prudent decision” on the 29-year-olds involvement.
Juventus on the other hand have the luxury of calling on their €75m January signing from Fiorentina, Dusan Vlahovic.
The self-proclaimed “Belgrade Zlatan Ibrahimovic” isn’t short of admirers with club legend Gianluigi Buffon calling him “the best young player in the world with Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappé” while former Italy hitman Christian Vieri ranking him “the best natural striker in Europe alongside Haaland.” – the man himself suggesting the Norwegian “is quicker, but for the rest we’re even”.
However, having never kicked a ball in European football’s elite club competition, there was a question mark as to how the 22-year-old would adapt – well that lasted all of 31 seconds, the time it took the Serbian to break the deadlock in the first leg in Spain and in doing so becoming the quickest debut goalscorer in UEFA Champions League history.
Prior to that first leg his manager tried to keep a lid on expectations, tough to do when the player in question unnervingly inherited Cristiano Ronaldo’s No 7 shirt, saying he would have to protect him – but of course Vlahovic soon allayed those fears.
Similarly, as to when on debut after his big money move, he opened his account with less than 15 minutes on the clock, and then after some criticism from Allegri for allowing himself to be marked out of the game in the Derby della Mole, he returned to the top of the scoring charts with a double against Empoli in the very next game, impressing his manager with his movement as much as his goal scoring.
In short, Vlahovic appears to be the real deal, looking unflappable when under pressure, full of confidence and a lethal finisher – a real game winner, which is why for my last selection I am taking him to score the first – and hopefully only – goal of the game at a best price of 4/1 with Betfair – although those of you looking for a more cautious approach can take 8/5 with Coral that he hits the back of the net at any time.