Preview: Juventus vs. Freiburg

Preview: Juventus vs. Freiburg

Aiming to leave domestic troubles behind and take a step closer to some silverware, Juventus host Bundesliga upstarts Freiburg on Thursday night, in the Europa League’s last 16.

The teams convene in Turin for the first leg, with the hosts having lost at the weekend to fall further behind in Serie A – where they have already been docked 15 points – and their visitors riding high in the German top flight.

Already clear favourites to progress coming into their playoff tie with Nantes last month, Juventus may have been stung by a blistering counter-attack to draw the home leg 1-1, but ultimately eased through in France as Angel Di Maria bagged a hat-trick against 10-man opponents.

After Nicolas Pallois was sent off in the 17th minute, Juve’s task was made all the more straightforward, and they went on to make a more successful start to their Europa League campaign than the finish of their participation in Europe’s top competition.

Among the drop-outs from the Champions League group phase, where they lost five times, the Bianconeri subsequently bounced back from such embarrassment by embarking on a long winning run in Serie A without conceding a goal.

Max Allegri’s men were then humbled for a second time this season by Serie A newcomers Monza, before another positive run of results saw them surge towards the top six despite a heavy points deduction for financial indiscretions derailing their challenge.

However, Sunday’s high-profile clash with Roma at Stadio Olimpico saw them stopped in their tracks, as a Gianluca Mancini screamer split the sides before Juve striker Moise Kean was sent off late on, only moments after leaving the bench.

Nevertheless, following an eight-match unbeaten streak previously, Juventus are not only still in Europe but also into the Coppa Italia semi-finals; sitting seventh in the Serie A standings with more than a third of the season to go.

The two-time European champions may have slipped down the ranks in terms of continental standing – and off-field events continue to drag the club’s name through the mud – but before welcoming Freiburg to Turin, they have lost just one of their last 16 games at Europa League level.

Not accustomed to midweek nights under the bright lights of Europe, Freiburg will not only encounter Juventus for the first time this week, Thursday’s clash at the Allianz Stadium will also mark their first competitive meeting with an Italian opponent.

One of just three teams to go undefeated through the group phase – winning four times in the process – the Black Forest club have featured only sporadically in either the UEFA Cup or Europa League, but are enjoying their best run this season.

Only Real Sociedad have conceded fewer goals than Freiburg’s three in the Europa League, and the latter also finished well clear of Juve’s recent victims Nantes in Group G during the autumn.

Under maverick coach Christian Streich, who has been in charge of since 2011, they have lost only five times all season, while Saturday’s stalemate with Borussia Monchengladbach brought only a second failure to score in their last 17 matches.

Streich’s side may have recently slipped outside the Bundesliga’s top four, with that 0-0 result at Gladbach leaving them fifth, but still sit only two points shy of third-placed Union Berlin – another team still standing in this year’s Europa League.

Indeed, an impressive tally of 42 points after 23 games represents a new club record for Die Breisgauer, who will now seek to continue their improbable progress on the continent.

Juventus Europa League form:

Juventus form (all competitions):

Freiburg Europa League form:

Freiburg form (all competitions):

We say: Juventus 2-1 Freiburg
Juventus have not won a European trophy since 1996, and with a point to prove given recent events at the club, they should be clear-minded about their task. While Freiburg are far from pushovers, the Bianconeri possess far more individual quality and experience at this level, so can take a lead with them to Germany next week.

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