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Conte cannot afford another selection mistake

Updated: 2013-04-10 08:03
By Reuters in Turin, Italy ( China Daily)

Antonio Conte made an uncharacteristic hash of his team selection against Bayern Munich last week and the Juventus coach cannot afford to get it wrong again as his side chases a two-goal deficit on Wednesday.

The Serie A champion and leader, lucky to escape with a 2-0 defeat after it was hopelessly outclassed in the first leg of its Champions League quarterfinal, must also overcome the absence of suspended midfielder Arturo Vidal in the return match.

The Chilean is arguably its most influential player after Andrea Pirlo, although his absence could set the stage for young midfielder Paul Pogba, this season's Juve revelation, who came off the bench in the first match.

Conte cannot afford another selection mistake

Bayern Munich was crowned Bundesliga champion on Saturday with six games to spare, but skipped the traditional beer-showers and Lederhosen celebrations as it immediately turned its attentions to Wednesday's match at the Juventus stadium, where no foreign team has won a game since it opened in 2011.

"We've hit our first major target, but if we want to crown the season we have to keep going," said Uli Hoeness, president of the treble-chasing Bavarians.

"We now want to turn a super season into a super-plus season. Not taking this chance of making the Champions League semifinals, and then the cup semifinal next week, would be fatal."

Last week's match was the first time Juventus has been so utterly outplayed since Conte took over at the start of last season and implanted his distinctive 3-5-2 system.

Juventus, which won Serie A unbeaten in Conte's first season, usually unsettles its opponents with high-tempo pressing and aggressive attacking but got a taste of its own medicine in Munich.

"I struggled to sleep the night after the match," said defender Giorgio Chiellini. "We are not the side that played so badly in Munich - we are much better than that and are eager to turn the page as quickly as possible. I hope the one in Turin will be our game.

"We need to up the tempo and if we can put in a good performance in the return leg there's still hope that we can get through," he said.

Part of the blame must lie with Conte's team selection, particularly in attack, where Juventus lacks a big-name striker.

The coach, who routinely fields two strikers and rotates them to feature any combination among Mirko Vucinic, Sebastian Giovinco, Fabio Quagliarella and Alessandro Matri, selected his least regular pairing of Quagliarella and Matri last week.

Both looked pedestrian against the Bayern defense and Juventus immediately came to life after they were replaced midway through the second half by the Vucinic-Giovinco double act, Conte's most-used attacking partnership this season.

Conte's midfield was also over-run as Stephan Lichtsteiner, who is also suspended for Wednesday, produced a subdued performance on the right. Juve missed Pogba's strength and neat footwork alongside Pirlo, who was repeatedly muscled off the ball.

Conte may also consider replacing Federico Peluso with the more imposing Kwadwo Asamoah on the left flank.

The Ghanaian was impressive in the first half of the season but has struggled since returning from the African Nations Cup.

(China Daily 04/10/2013 page23)

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