Villarreal and Juventus don’t share a lot of history as the teams only met before in a friendly back in 2009. This will be the first time their paths will cross in a professional capacity. Unai Emery’s Villarreal won the Europa League last season and made it into the Champions League knockout stages for the first time in 13 years. Juventus are playing in the Champions League Round-of-16 for the eighth successive time. The Turin outfit will be looking to overcome their Round-of-16 hoodoo as they got knocked out from this phase of the competition by Porto and Lille in their last two European campaigns.
Unai Emery has an excellent track record in the Europa League. He has made it into the final of that competition five times, and in four of those occasions, he lifted the trophy with his teams. The Champions League, however, has been far less generous to the 50-year-old.
Emery never managed to go beyond the second round of the tournament with his teams. He even failed to do so with the star-studded squad of Paris Saint-Germain. The Spaniard is part of an immortal piece of history, however, as he witnessed his team throwing away a four-goal first-leg lead to Barcelona in the second leg, succumbing to a 6-1 defeat.
That said, the horrifying memories of La Remontada, followed by an unimpressive stint at Arsenal are now distant. Emery has redeemed himself with his brilliant work at Villarreal, having led them to Europa League glory last season. The Yellow Submarine are in contention of a top-four finish at La Liga, and they already made significant achievement in Europe, making their first Champions League Round-of-16 appearance since 2009.
Villarreal secured their group stage spot with a crucial 3-2 victory over Atalanta in the last day of Group F action. They have been in good form domestically, as they are in a winless run of four matches. Arnaut Danjuma, who fired a brace against Atalanta, grabbed the headlines last weekend once again as he bagged a hat-trick in Villarreal’s emphatic 4-1 win against Granada.
Villarreal will be once again without their prolific goalscorer Gerard Moreno, who has been out since late November with a torn muscle injury, but Yeremi Pino will be available for selection after serving a one-match suspension in the Atalanta game.
The hosts might find their midfield options severely depleted. Francis Coquelin and Ruben Pena are confirmed absentees. Etienne Capoue and Giovani Lo Celso will be subject to late checks before the match.
Emery will have a boost in defence, however, as Raul Albiol, Samuel Chukwueze, and Juan Foyth will be back to the fold.
Sitting nine points away from the Serie A summit, Juventus are not favourites to lift the Scudetto this season. But, Juve head-coach Massimiliano Allegri will be happy to conduct some excellent January business that saw high earners like Aaron Ramsey moving on to make space for the likes of Dusan Vlahovic and Denis Zakaria.
Despite the below-par domestic campaign, Juventus have done quite well in Europe so far. Apart from the 4-0 thrashing at Stamford Bridge, they have managed to win all of their remaining five matches, including an impressive 1-0 win against defending champions Chelsea at home. As a result, they finished on top of their group ahead of the Premier League giants.
Juventus are currently undefeated in their last seven matches, but they will not be much thrilled about their away from. They have dropped points in each of their previous three away fixtures. In their last outing, the Bianconeri had to settle for a 1-1 draw against their local rivals Torino. They would hope for a change of luck at Estadio de la Ceramica.
Danilo will return as a right-back option for Allegri after serving a ban. Federico Chiesa, Federico Bernardeschi, and Giorgio Chiellini have been sidelined for a long time. Daniele Rugani limping off the pitch against Tornio further worsened the Italian side’s injury woes. Leonardo Bonucci travelled with the squad, but the veteran might not be fit enough to start. Adrian Rabiot, whose availability was doubtful because of a training ground injury, also boarded the Spain-bound flight.
Both managers are burdened with a piling list of injury and suspensions. But, Villarreal are in a more favourable position because of their home advantage and Juve’s poor away record in recent times. However, we believe Allegri’s side will be able to take advantage of Villarreal’s midfield limitations and force the hosts to share the spoils.
We foresee a 1-1 draw.
Draw @ 3.30