Juventus  battle Chelsea for Europe’s best 16

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MILAN, Italy  (AFP) – Juventus’s hopes of challenging among Europe’s 16 best football teams could be decided by their penultimate Group H clash against Champions League holders Chelsea on Tuesday.

After years of watching from the sidelines the former two-time winners have embraced their return to the competition after winning a 28th Serie A league title last season.

But so far, the Old Lady’s group campaign has gone off with more of a whimper than a bang.

Antonio Conte’s side managed only three draws before finally hitting form with a 4-0 rout of Danish champions Nordsjaelland in Turin two weeks ago.

That rather late surge, along with Chelsea’s late winner against Shakhtar, has left Juventus third in Group H one point behind the English giants and second placed Shakhtar.

Although both Chelsea and Shakhtar are delicately poised, Juventus, whose final group match is in the Ukraine, are in the unenvied position of hoping results elsewhere go their way.

Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon sees it another way — he believes Juve have their destiny in their hands: “The fact it all depends on us is a good sign. We’re at home to Chelsea and then away to Donetsk.

“We’re confident, and you can’t always rely on other results.”

Juventus suffered their first league defeat in over a year two weeks ago in a 3-1 defeat to Inter Milan and since then have been a mission to make amends.

Juve hammered Pescara 6-1 last week and should have put several goals past Lazio on Saturday before the Biancocelesti held on for a scoreless draw.

It was a gutsy, attacking display from Juve and defender Leonardo Bonucci brushed off suggestions Tuesday’s test had been preying on their minds.

“It was a great Juventus performance, we were the only team in the game. Lazio didn’t have a shot on goal and (Lazio ‘keeper, Federico) Marchetti was the best player on the pitch,” he said.

“Now we turn our attention to Chelsea, it’s a crucial fixture for us because we really want to progress in the Champions League.”

Defeat would prove a hammer blow to Chelsea’s title defence and while their record in Italy is far from illustrious it is arguably their current dip in form that is giving Juve most hope.

Chelsea have only once before won in Italy in the Champions League — a 4-0 group stage success over Lazio, a team for which Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo once played.

And the Blues are in something of a mini-crisis.

On Saturday, Chelsea succumbed 2-1 to West Bromwich Albion, leaving the European champions with just two points from four games and prompting Di Matteo to hint they may soon start focusing more on defence than attack.

“We have played differently this season, but we might have to go a little bit tighter to win games and make sure we don’t concede,” said Di Matteo.

“Maybe it is time to look at it, change it, and get a win. We have massive games coming up, but we have players with a lot of experience in these situations.

“We will look at the set-up of the team and maybe sacrifice a little of the attacking options.”

Juventus’ big concern ahead of Tuesday is Montenegrin striker Mirko Vucinic, one of the first names on Conte’s teamsheet this season but absent against Lazio due to flu-like symptoms.

He remains a doubt although Juve have no shortage of replacements in Fabio Quagliarella, Alessandro Matri and Dane Nicklas Bendtner.

With Juve trailing 2-1 at Stamford Bridge at the start of the group phase, Quagliarella came off the bench to score a fine equaliser to level the scores 2-2.

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