Juventus will be looking to regroup as they take on Dinamo Zagreb at the Stadion Maksimir on Tuesday evening.
The Bianconeri were far from impressive in their Champions League opener as they settled for a scoreless stalemate with Sevilla. And despite leading the Serie A charts, the team have not fully hit their stride just yet. Massimiliano Allegri’s men made it two wins in two grinding out a 1-0 result over Palermo, but it was far from an assured performance. Having spent quite a bit this summer, it is clear that Juventus are aiming to go beyond winning the league title, but it remains to be seen if La Vecchia Signora can make the grade in Europe this season.
One area of concern is their lack of quality in the final third, which was shown time and time again during the tie with Sevilla. Fortunately, Dinamo Zagreb may present a more straightforward task – on paper at least – for the Italian champions. The Plavi were humiliated 3-0 by Lyon in their first Champions League game and have hit some rough times in the Prva NHL. Despite starting off well initially, September was not so kind for the Croatian powerhouse. In addition to the aforementioned 3-0 drubbing by Lyon, they stumbled to a shock 5-2 reversal against Rijeka. This saw the departure of Zlatko Kranjčar, with Željko Sopić taking over in his stead. Since then, Dinamo Zagreb have rebounded with two confidence boosting victories that have seen them score six goals and concede none.
Like Juventus, Dinamo Zagreb have dominated their domestic league as of late. They not only won last season’s title, but the ten before that. Still, even the most ardent Croatian fan will admit that the local league is no where as competitive as Serie A or any of Europe’s other bigger competitions, and they are regarded as one of the weaker teams in their quartet. Last term, they lost all but one of their Champions League group stage games. Yes, Arsenal and Bayern Munich were in that group, and Dinamo managed to shock the Gunners 2-1 at home. However, whilst losing to die Roten is no surprise, dropping six points against the likes of Greek outfit Olympiakos – who, in all honesty, is not really a better side than the Croatians – was quite disappointing to say the least.
Having shipped three goals, Dinamo Zagreb will be desperate to avoid suffering an embarrassing defeat on home turf. The hosts have some injury concerns, with defensive options Petar Stojanovič , Marko Lešković, and Alexandru Matel definitely out and skipper Domagoj Antolić not fully fit. Meanwhile, Juventus arrive in the Croatian capital without the services of Claudio Marchisio, Mehdi Benatia, and now both Kwadwo Asamoah and Daniele Rugani join them on the sidelines after sustaining injuries during the clash with Palermo. Although they do appear to hold the advantage, Dinamo Zagreb have only lost two out of their last nine Champions League home fixtures, and they surely will attempt to hunker down in order to keep Juventus at bay for as long as possible.
This will be a very interesting match on a personal level for Juventus attackers Mario Mandzukic and Marko Pjaca, with both men having featured for Dinamo during their club careers. For Pjaca, should he feature, it will mark the first time he faces his ex-teammates since his multi-million Euro move to Turin earlier this summer.
So, will Dinamo Zagreb manage to frustrate Juventus? Their only prior meeting was back in 1967, during the quarter-finals of the now-defunct Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, and the Croatians won 5-2 on aggregate before eventually lifting the title. Or will Juve rebound in style in the Croatian capital to get their European campaign back on track?