Champions League preview round-up: Juventus resisting urge to play it safe in Group A
Massimiliano Allegri insists Juventus will do all they can to beat Atletico Madrid by two clear goals to advance to the Uefa Champions League knockout stages as Group A winners.
Juve trail Atletico by three points going into the final round of group fixtures and the outcome of the Juventus Stadium encounter will determine who tops the group and who finishes as runners-up.
Allegri’s men need only to draw to advance in second place, but victory by two or more goals will see them pip Atletico for the first spot, and in theory, secure an easier draw in the last 16.
Juventus could miss out on the knockout stages altogether if they lose to Atletico and Olympiacos beat Malmo, but Allegri is resisting the urge to play it safe and says his players will go all out to win the group.
“Reaching the knockout stages is our first target of the season. Topping the group would enable us to face the second-placed teams and we must do all we can to win by a two-goal margin,” he told the club’s website.
“Having said that, it won’t be easy, because Atletico limit you to very few chances.”
Allegri refuses to believe Diego Simeone’s side will take today’s encounter lightly, even though they have already guaranteed a place in the last 16.
“We’re up against a team who have won 10 of their last 11 games and done brilliantly in recent years, winning Primera Liga and narrowly missing out on lifting the Champions League,” he said.
Juve captain Gianliuigi Buffon said: “You can believe in anything in life, but I’m interested only in advancing.”
Olympiakos face Malmo in the group’s other match.
The only thing left to resolve in Group D is which team will finish at the top, Arsenal or Borussia Dortmund.
Dortmund need a point from their last match against Anderlecht to make sure of finishing as group winners – unless Arsenal win at Galatasaray by more than six goals.
Anderlecht will finish third no matter what and will join the Europa League round of 32 after the break.
Dortmund are among the top 16 clubs in Europe, but struggling in the Bundesliga. The 1-0 victory over Hoffenheim lifted them out of the German relegation zone.
Ilkay Gundogan is back from injury just in time to help Dortmund out of the doldrums. Gundogan scored the winning goal against Hoffenheim with a rare header, but also provided the much-needed creative spark and passing for which he was known for before his injury.
“I just have to get used now again to the full load, but my back is fine,” Gundogan said.
Defender Mats Hummels described Gundogan as a “fantastic player who was one of the best in his role” until the injury.
Arsenal have learnt to their cost the perils of finishing second in a Champions League group. The English club were runners-up in three of their last four campaigns, earning last-16 matches against Bayern Munich twice and Barcelona. Arsenal lost all three encounters.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger may, though, choose to rest star forward Alexis Sanchez after saying the Chile international was “in the red zone” in reference to his fitness before playing him for the full 90 minutes in Saturday’s 3-2 loss at Stoke in the Premier League.
Galatasaray replaced coach Cesare Prandelli with Hamza Hamzaoglu, who said: “It is an important game from the point of view of prestige and for our self-confidence.”
Monaco are full of confidence ahead of their decisive Champions League clash on Tuesday night at home against Zenit St Petersburg, hoping their watertight defence will again prove hard to breach as they seek a last-16 place.
Monaco need to avoid defeat against the Russians if they are to qualify, a task that does not seem especially daunting, since they have conceded only one goal in their five matches.
They will finish atop Group C if they draw and Bayer Leverkusen lose at Benfica, or if the German side draw and they prevail.
“It’s important for our confidence,” coach Leonardo Jardim said after Monaco beat Toulouse 2-0, their second consecutive 2-0 win in Ligue 1.
“It was the ideal preparation for the Zenit game. We only need one point, but we will go there to win,” said midfielder Jeremy Toulalan.
Monaco got off to a stuttering start this season after losing key players James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao in transfers to Real Madrid and Manchester United, respectively. But they have been learning to live without the pair.
“We are a young team who have been learning fast. We are on a good run and the year-end could be nice,” Toulalan said.
Russian league leaders Zenit are in good spirits following victories over Rubin Kazan and Krasnodar and head into the domestic winter break with a seven-point lead over nearest rivals CSKA Moscow.
Coach Andre Villas-Boas said Zenit played “fantastic” football in the 4-0 win over Krasnodar on Saturday and that his side will need to replicate that effort as they sit third in the group and need a victory to progress.
Veteran striker Alexander Kerzhakov is a doubt for the match. Zenit’s all-time leading goalscorer has not made an appearance since November 18 because of a foot injury.
However, Xavi Garcia is back to full fitness after overcoming a thigh injury.
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Published: December 8, 2014 04:00 AM