Top of Group H with maximum points so far, Juventus seek to seal a double over Zenit St Petersburg in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Though already closing in on the last 16, the Bianconeri have been struggling domestically, while Zenit sit top of the Russian Premier League but trail behind in the group following defeat to this week’s hosts in Russia.
Though, following events at the weekend, Juventus find themselves in the unfamiliar territory of mid-table in Serie A – following a 2-1 reverse at Hellas Verona – the Turin giants have been at their resilient best in Europe so far.
Having won all three of their Group H fixtures without conceding a goal, the Old Lady stands ready to reach the knockout stage with a win on home soil against opponents they bettered just a fortnight ago.
A late Dejan Kulusevski strike broke the resistance of Zenit last time the teams met, as he headed home Mattia De Sciglio’s cross with four minutes remaining of a close-fought contest in Russia’s cultural capital.
That late intervention by the Swedish attacker kept Juve three points ahead of defending champions Chelsea in the standings, with Zenit stuck on three points and outsiders Malmo having failed to post either a goal or a point.
For all their domestic woes over the past year, the Bianconeri can boast a record of 13 wins from their last 14 Champions League group games ahead of Tuesday’s return, and precedent stands in their favour too.
Juventus have never lost a continental clash with Russian opposition in their entire history – coming out on top eight times and drawing once – and have lost only five of their 47 European matches at the Allianz Stadium. However, four of those defeats have come in their last 15 home outings, reflecting the decline in standards at a club which has bowed out at the first knockout round in each of the last two campaigns.
Max Allegri’s return to Turin has not gone seamlessly either, as defeat on Saturday followed a last-gasp midweek loss to Sassuolo, so Juve will take to the field hoping to avoid the ignominy of three successive defeats.
Zenit have certainly shown little sign of a hangover from their late loss on the third matchday, as the reigning Russian champions have comfortably won both league games since losing to Juventus: beating Dinamo Moscow 4-1 on Friday, as Claudinho found the net for a second successive match, having previously running out 7-1 winners at home to Spartak.
That remarkable scoreline represents their biggest margin of victory over the Moscow side in league history, and leaves the Zenitchiki top of the table by five points, as they seek a fourth consecutive domestic title.
Back-to-back successes have lightened the mood in Sergei Semak’s camp, as they had previously lost three straight games in all competitions, but carrying such form onto the Champions League stage often proves a step too far for the St Petersburg side.
Following the defeat to Juve last time out, Zenit have now lost eight of their last 10 matches in Europe’s elite club competition – winning just one – and finished fourth in their group in each of the last two seasons.
While Malmo’s ineptitude may save them from that fate for a third consecutive campaign, any hopes of making the last 16 rather than receiving a consolatory Europa League pass will rely heavily on events this Tuesday, against an off-colour Juventus side under pressure to produce.
Juventus Champions League form:
Juventus form (all competitions):
Zenit St Petersburg Champions League form:
Zenit St Petersburg form (all competitions):
We say: Juventus 1-0 Zenit St Petersburg
Juventus have made a habit of grinding out narrow wins in the Champions League this term, and they can continue to do so at the Allianz Stadium, despite their faltering Serie A status.
While Zenit have scored freely in the past week, they will find less space than their domestic opponents afford them, and their desperation to claim the points could see them picked off by the Bianconeri once again.