23.02.2016 13:00 - in: UCL S

      Three key #JuveFCB battles

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      As the Bianconeri and Bayern look to steal the advantage in their last 16 tie in Turin, Juventus.com identifies three key individual duels to keep tabs on
      Mario Mandzukic vs. Joshua Kimmich

      Mario Mandzukic has made his return from injury just in time to earn, as Massimiliano Allegri confirmed yesterday in his press conference, a starting berth against Bayern Munich in tonight’s Champions League contest.

      When the draw was made back in December, many identified the Croatian striker’s facing his former employers as one of several intriguing sub-plots, which however risked not happening at all after he reported a torn gemellus muscle following January’s Coppa Italia win over Inter.

      Mandzukic played a crucial role in Juventus’ progression from the group stage after scoring decisive goals in the two victories over Manchester City and he’ll be keen to continue his affinity with a competition he won three years ago with the German champions and in which he netted an impressive five times last season with Atletico Madrid.

      What is very clear is that Mandzukic beefs up the Bianconeri attack from a physical standpoint and he will be looking to bully Bayern’s makeshift backline on a ground where he scored against his current club in 2013.

      Mandzukic scored at Juventus Stadium for Bayern Munich in 2013.
      Kimmich in action against Augsburg. Image courtesy of Bayern's official English Twitter profile.

      In the absence of Jerome Boateng, Holger Badstuber and Mehdi Benatia, the visitors could well field Joshua Kimmich at the heart of the defence.

      A defensive midfielder by trade, the 21-year-old has already been deployed in the centre-back position for the last four Bundesliga fixtures and, by all accounts, has excelled in the role.

      Tonight’s match would represent his first ever rearguard appearance in Europe’s premier club competition, but, with Pep Guardiola requiring tactical and technical versatility from virtually all of the players at his disposal, his use of Kimmich tonight could be seen as just another step in his rapidly progressing football education.

      Gigi Buffon vs. Robert Lewandowski

      A colossal presence between the sticks and an inspirational figure in the dressing room, Gigi Buffon’s game changing saves are enough to transform the spirit and state of mind in all the players surrounding him.

      This has certainly been the case on a number of occasions in this season’s Champions League, most notably away to Borussia Monchengladbach and in both meetings with Manchester City. In these three outings, world-class stops against the likes of Lars Stindl and Thorgan Hazard in north-west Germany and the English outfit’s Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero had a significant say in his side collecting seven of their eventual total of 11 points in Group D.

      Buffon has made 137 appearances in UEFA club competitions, 94 of which in the Champions League.
      Lewandowski has scored a total 30 Champions League goals in his career. Image courtesy of his personal Twitter account, lewy_official.

      The 38-year-old’s lofty levels of performance have required strikers to produce the extraordinary in order to beat him and tonight his steady hands could well be called upon once more in order to thwart one of Europe’s most in-form forwards in Robert Lewandowski.

      The Polish forward has scored a phenomenal 40 times for club and country in 2015/16, his 32 goals in all competitions for Bayern the third highest total across Europe’s top five divisions (behind only Luis Suarez and Ronaldo).

      Lewandowski’s seven strikes in this year’s Champions League show that he’s more than capable of netting on the biggest stage, so it will also be a priority of the backline in front of Buffon to block the former Dortmund man’s supply line as best they can to prevent him adding to his burgeoning tally.

      Paul Pogba vs. Xabi Alonso

      It is some feat when a 22-year-old racks up 30 Champions League appearances, but Paul Pogba did just that last December against Sevilla.

      Since that outing in Andalusia, the Frenchman has enjoyed a hot streak of form in Serie A, scoring three and providing as many assists, thus playing no small part in the Bianconeri’s 15-match winning run.

      While further creative contributions would certainly be welcome tonight against Bayern, his remit will most likely be that of exploiting his undoubted physical and technical attributes to help Juventus have the upper hand in what promises to be an evenly balanced midfield battle.

      Pogba made his Champions League debut aged 18 for Juventus against Shakhtar Donetsk in 2012.
      Xabi Alonso has the most Champions League caps in Bayern's squad (108). Image courtesy of Bayern Munich's official Twitter profile.

      The man tasked with stopping Pogba in his tracks is another player who has consistently featured in Europe’s premier club competition during an extremely distinguished career, getting his hands on the coveted trophy with Liverpool in 2005 and Real Madrid in 2014.

      Upon switching the Spanish capital for Munich immediately after that latest success, Xabi Alonso has been Guardiola’s midfield linchpin, dictating the play from a deep-lying position.

      Given their Catalan coach’s preference for his side to attack from wide positions, Alonso’s principal assignments are those of distribution to the wings and shielding the backline behind him, contributing to his team’s impressive defensive record of conceding only 11 goals all season in the Bundesliga.

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