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Verdict: Total goals under 2.5
Best odds: 8/13
It’s everything to play for when Juventus travel to Germany to face Freiburg in the second leg of their clash in the Europa League round of 16 on Thursday. The Serie A giants won the first leg in Turin by 1-0.
Having navigated through the first stage of the competition with success, winning Group G quite comfortably ahead of Nantes, Qarabag and Olympiacos, Freiburg avoided the knockout stage play-offs and were placed directly into this round.
Christian Streich’s team are also enjoying a fine season domestically. At the moment, they’re in fifth place with 45 points from 24 matches, and only goal-difference separates them from RB Leipzig in third and Union Berlin in fourth place. The race for the lower two places leading into next season’s Champions League is set to be a feisty affair, and Freiburg are well in it. They’ve also booked a place in the quarterfinals of the DFB-Pokal, where they’ll face Bayern Munich on April 4th, four days before facing the champions again in the league.
Die Breisgau-Brasilianer won three, drew two and lost one of their last six games in all competitions, showing a decent level of form. They VfB Stuttgart 2-1 at home, beat VfL Bochum 0-2 away, drew 1-1 at home against Bayer Leverkusen, drew 0-0 away to Borussia Monchengladbach, lost the first leg 1-0 away to Juventus, and bounced back with a 2-1 home win over Hoffenheim.
Attacking midfielder Daniel-Kofi Kyereh is out for the season with an ACL tear. Defender Philipp Lienhart picked up a thigh injury in the first leg and is likely to miss out as well, but forward Woo-yeong Jeong has recovered from an illness and should be available for selection.
With Mark Flekken in goal, Mathias Ginter should pair up with Manuel Gulde in the heart of defence, with captain Christian Gunter on the left and Lukas Kubler on the right. Maximilian Eggerstein is expected to start alongside Nicolas Hofler in the middle of the park, while the trio of Michael Gregoritsch, Ritsu Doan and Vincenzo Grifo support Lucas Holer in attack.
The season has had its ups and downs for Juventus. They had some problems with form and results early on – even a dismissal of head coach Massimiliano Allegri was mentioned as a possibility at one point – and just as they were beginning to pick it up and reached some sort of consistency, they were hit with a 15-point deduction in the Serie A for alleged financial malpractices.
Nonetheless, they’re still playing rather well and climbing back up the ladder. They would’ve been second to Napoli without that deduction, but as it is, they’re seventh with 38 points from 26 matches played. It felt like they’re facing an impossible task if they mean to qualify for the Champions League at the end, but right now it only seems unlikely and even if they don’t make it, they should be content with what they’ve done since the deduction.
There’s a 10-point gap between the Old Lady and AC Milan in fourth, with AS Roma (47 points) and Atalanta (42) positioned in between and 12 rounds remaining.
To get where they are in Europe, they finished third in Group H of the Champions League, behind surprise group winners Benfica and Paris Saint-Germain, and got past Nantes in the Europa League knockout stage play-offs.
Of their last six matches in all competitions, Juventus won five, losing only 1-0 away to Roma. They beat Spezia 0-2 away, Nantes in the second leg away by 0-3, city rivals Torino 4-2 at home, Freiburg in the first leg by 1-0, and Sampdoria at home by 4-2.
Midfielder Paul Pogba has only played 35 minutes since his return from Manchester United last summer, and having recovered from a long-term injury, he not only got dropped from the squad for disciplinary reasons, but also picked up a fresh injury ahead of the Sampdoria clash while practicing free-kicks. Winger Federico Chiesa misses out as well – another player with frequent problems following a long-term absence.
Wojciech Szczesny will be between the posts, with Danilo, Gleison Bremer and Alex Sandro expected to form the back line. With Juan Cuadrado and Filip Kostic out wide, the central area will be covered by Manuel Locatelli, Adrien Rabiot and Nicolo Fagiolo. World Cup winner Angel Di Maria will be upfront, alongside striker Dusan Vlahovic.
The contest between these teams will be tight again, but Juventus appear quite capable of doing what it takes to keep the home side quiet. There shouldn’t be more than two goals in the game.
Verdict: Total goals under 2.5
Best odds: 8/13