Friendly banter before the kickoff

Posted by Susie Schaaf

I had the lovely opportunity to chat at length with David Tenenbaum, a blogger for Juventus and a Twitter opponent (@DTenenbaum) about the second leg of Bayern Munich's Champions League quarterfinal tie Wednesday against Juventus in Torino. I hope everyone enjoys.

Susie: So, Juventus beat relegation-fodder Pescara 2-1 on Saturday. Did Antonio Conte do any experimenting with the 3-5-1-1 formation that was being bandied about before the first Bayern-Juve tie?

David: No, he did not do any tinkering with the formation, but we did see a very different starting XI on Saturday, due to the combination of resting key players for the second leg, and starting players like Arturo Vidal and Stephan Lichtsteiner (first-choice guys) who are suspended for the second leg. One important note to make, in terms of player selection and tactics for Wednesday, Kwadwo Asamoah had his best game in months, playing like he did back in the final months of 2012. Federico Peluso, who had seemingly usurped Asamoah as the first-choice left wing-back, really struggled against an insanely talented Bayern right wing. That combined, with Asamoah's fine play on Saturday make me think that Asamoah has earned himself a start against Bayern.

- Rzouki: Time to play the Conte way
- Conte: Juve must beat 'best ever' Bayern
- Bayern keeper Neuer eager for more trophies
- Video: Conte sends warning to Bayern


Now, here's my first question to you. With the Bundesliga already in the bag, are there really any weaknesses Juventus can exploit on Wednesday? Or are they just hoping to totally outplay a very classy Bayern side?

Susie: Corner kicks and set pieces are Bayern Munich's true weakness. Every time Bayern gives up one or the other, I'm watching the play through my fingers. Eek! In the first leg -- while I would have tipped Jerome Boateng to get the start over Daniel van Buyten in central defense -- Jupp Heynckes chose wisely partnering the big Belgian with Dante. His towering height alone enables him to head out of danger. But your guy, Andrea Pirlo, is devastating with his whipped-in kicks. I'm frankly surprised that it went as well as it did.

Thanks for the "classy" comment! This tie was -- and still is -- always going to be decided on which team shows up to play that day. Juventus definitely has a shot at overturning the first leg Wednesday in Torino, but how do you feel they accomplish that?

David: Ah, I should add an asterisk, I meant classy like class, skill. Though Bayern is still a pretty classy team, they do have Franck Ribery. Well, like you said, set pieces will be an important factor for Juventus, although I confess that last Tuesday I watched most of Bayern's set pieces with my fingers over my eyes. Juventus are pretty decent when it comes to scoring on corners and free kicks, although in the latter category they are certainly missing the brilliance of Alessandro Del Piero.

Still, Pirlo is not much of a step down from Ale when it comes to free kicks, it's just that at medium range Pirlo would rather send the ball into play in the box, while Del Piero might make an effort on goal. The centerbacks are all important parts of this threat, as are Arturo Vidal and the wingbacks, whomever they maybe on Wednesday.

I think it's going to be very difficult, almost impossible, for Juventus to win the whole tie, but I could see them winning the match outright on Wednesday; in fact, I do see them doing such. However, Bayern only needs to score once, and then Juventus would need to score four goals to win. Bayern knows this, and they'll perfectly able to wait out the match, soak up attacks, and try to get that one goal.

I'd go so far as to say that if Bayern score first, they will probably win the second match, too; it'd just be so deflating for Juventus. That said, Juventus' stadium is a tough arena for opposition (although there have been some notable losses there, 3-1 to Inter in October and a 2-1 loss to a 10-man Sampdoria in January) and I think Juventus will come out ready to roar.

Pirlo played badly last week, and Bayern shut him down pretty well (which is the main reason why he did poorly). Juventus are going to need him to either dictate play or be enough of a distraction to his marker that he takes attention away from other players.

Additionally, it would really help their cause if Paul Pogba blossoms and has one of those games where he's flawless and scores breathtaking goals from distance. Won't be easy against Manuel Neuer, though.

Most of all, as I said earlier, they need to shut out Bayern. I can't see Bayern, arguably the best team in Europe, giving up more than 2-3 goals, even if Juve are on their best play. So they really need to contain Bayern and not let them score.

Finally, Mirko Vucinic, who scored a doppietta (brace) against Pescara, will probably be starting this time, and that should be a huge boost for Juve. When he came on against Bayern last week, he immediately added some direction and capability to Juve's attack, and had he started perhaps Juventus would have managed a goal. Vucinic needs to carry his form (admittedly one goal was a penalty, but he was creating plenty) into the Bayern match, and he needs to bring his Big Game Mirko persona, because he can be a very dangerous striker if he's on his best.

What effect do you think clinching the title will have for Bayern? It should be a big boost, no?

Susie: OK. I'm gonna break this down point by point. Firstly, in Franck Ribery's case, might we be referring to a certain prostitution scandal? If I said she was/is puportedly high-class, would you change your opinion?

With Vidal and Lichsteiner out, who will be directly responsible for Ribery? And who is drifting in from the center to help? Emanuele Giaccherini and...? As far as the other side of the pitch -- digressing to a bit earlier: Pogba had a kind of horror show against Arjen Robben, as well. I concur with your preferring Asamoah over Pogba against Robben (for Juventus' sake, of course).

This match Wednesday could go several different ways. Yeah, you're correct, David, in saying that Juventus could win this outright. However, 2-1 or 3-1 would still see Bayern through. FCB did a really nice job in the Arsenal first leg of conceding possession, yet being lethal on the break. But, frankly, I don't see this happening here.

Thomas Mueller and Mario Mandzukic handled Pirlo well in the first leg. And I would go as far as to say that Toni Kroos' injury was a blessing in disguise. (Not that I don't love him, mind you.) To explain: Mueller mixes it up better where Kroos is more of a control player. (Note: see EURO '12.) Pirlo will be facing those two again on Wednesday. Can he hope to get a better result?

Fabio Quagliarella and Alessandro Matri were basically nullified by Dante and van Buyten in the first leg, thereby giving Philipp Lahm and David Alaba the head on the wings. It wasn't until Conte's second-half substitutions of Sebastian Giovinco and Vucinic where Juve kind of got the ball rolling --too-little-too-late, however. I'll be interested to see how this leg plays out if the latter duo start together.

And, yes, it's a huge emotional boost to put the title to rest now. That being said, I don't think Heynckes et.al. necessarily put their collective feet on the brakes. As far as records to be broken, there is a lot yet to accomplish! It's likely that Bayern will secure a double, though. I can't see them losing to any potential Pokal opponents.

David: Hmmm, I guess if we're talking in that context then Ribery is indeed high class, and young.

As far as Juve's right side, I'm tempted to say that Simone Padoin will get the start, but Mauricio Isla has sometimes needled his way into starting lineups in big games, and he is arguably better (some would say definitely, and this is true in general but Isla is still not the same after his knee injury at Udinese) than Padoin. Pogba will probably be taking Vidal's role on the right, and hopefully he will do a better job of containing Ribery than he did containing Robben.

I'd imagine that (barring a move from the 3-5-2) Pogba will just replace Vidal, while Marchisio and Pirlo will be in their usual roles. However, as you have pointed out many of these players failed last time, so perhaps Conte has something up his sleeve, but he's not really the type to suddenly shift his formation. That said, desperate times call for desperate measures.

I really can't say whether or not Pirlo will do a better job, but his main concern should be occupying Bayern enough that other players (Pogba, probably, he's the de-facto vice-Pirlo) can create plays.

And yeah, Matri-Quagliarella did not cut the mustard, and I will say Giovinco was pretty lousy as well. Vucinic is the only striker who is a definite start for this match, and from there I think you can find reasons to start any of the strikers aside from Giovinco, who really doesn't have the class to cut it in the Champions League.

Matri and Quags both have various qualities that can help against Bayern, but neither are proactive enough to make a difference without a man like Vucinic working to create for them.

Susie: So now, it's down to brass tacks. For a bit of pre-match banter, however, who is your least favorite Bayern Munich player? And, why? I know you'll know the answer to the opposite as I'll choose Vidal. I'm glad he turned down Bayern. And he's got stupid hair. Giorgio Chiellini comes a very close second in my books, though, as he's my least favorite Italian player.

David: Oof. Talking bad about Giorgio and Artie V? Looks like when I defend the Inter-Gender Championship against you in the ring, it'll be a true grudge match. Might end up with our luchador masks ripped off.

Least favorite Bayern player? That's tough. To paraphrase my idol Don Draper, I don't think about Bayern at all. At least, not until a few weeks ago. But, I'll go with David Alaba. For no good reason other than the fact that now everyone thinks Buffon is over the hill. It's not his fault! There was a deflection!

If not Alaba, then Ribery. He hacked Vidal down last week, and that got my blood boiling. But it's tough to say, Bayern aren't one of those teams that are just so easy to hate. Perhaps they should sign some more polarizing players.

Susie: Haha! More polarizing players than Arjen Robben? Who does Bayern sign next? Balotelli? (Speaking of Italians.)

For those of you who are not on Twitter, David and I are both based in Florida. And we've had a long-standing, half-serious conversation about a wrestling match to really get this thing decided. We have decided on luchador masks if it ever goes through.

I envision my mask to be red (naturally), with a white nose-plate, a Bavarian flag skull cap, gold trim all-around. And of course, four (soon to be five) stars emblazoned across the forehead. Oh, wait! And kitty ears. Yours, David?


David: Well, it'd obviously be black and white, but I also want it to be red, white, and blue (I love my country), so maybe the face is black and white and the back of my head would be red, white, and blue. This could potentially be the ugliest lucha mask, but whatever.

Well, it looks like this is all wrapped up. Hopefully my team shows up this time, and thanks for listening to my ramblings, Susie, it's been a blast. See you on the other side.

Susie: It. Is. On! May the best team win Wednesday, and the right team go through. Thank you for the conversation, David. It's been an absolute pleasure!

David is a blogger at the JuveFC blog and the Juventus Club Focus columnist for ForzaItalianFootball. He also tweets about MLS and the U.S. National team.

ESPN Conversations