Juventus and Lyon line up for Champions League last-16 battle after polar opposite fixture schedules

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Project restart was never going to be perfect. When they look back the full 163 days since they contested the first leg of their last-16 Champions League tie, both Juventus and Lyon would acknowledge the 'level playing-field' Uefa tried to maintain through the long enforced break in their marquee competition has more than a few bumps.

Lyon surprised the Serie A title-holders back in late February, with a well-organised 1-0 win, a slender advantage which they will pluck out of the archive, brush the dust off from and hope to preserve over 90 minutes – or more – in Turin this evening.

Lyon’s memory of how they stifled Juve will have to be useful – because recent match practice is in very short supply.

Of all the last-16 ties to be completed ahead of the Champions League’s unique ‘Final 8’ tournament in Lisbon next week, Juve-Lyon has the most uneven backdrop.

France’s Ligue 1 was abandoned, incomplete, in April, while the coronavirus pandemic inflicted its terrible damage on the country.

Italy also closed down amid climbing numbers of casualties but always planned for its football to resume. It did so with a relentless calendar from late June.

The upshot is that, including their two Cup ties, Juventus have played 14 competitive matches in the last seven weeks.

Lyon have played just one, last Sunday’s rescheduled League Cup final, since early March.

Here’s another measure of their relative match-readiness: Lyon’s last competitive goal was scored more than five months ago (the League Cup final against PSG finished 0-0 after 120 minutes, PSG winning on penalties); Juve’s Cristiano Ronaldo has alone scored 10 goals in 10 games since June 22.

Naturally, the respective managers can slice this either way. Maurizio Sarri – who worried out loud about Juventus’ sluggish passing and movement at Lyon in February and was still making the same complaints as Juve inched towards their ninth successive Italian title last month – is fearful of fatigue, given the breakneck schedule of Serie A’s restart.

“It’s as much to do with recovering our mental energy as the physical energy so we can give everything against Lyon,” said Sarri, who has one major physical concern: the fitness of Paulo Dybala – Serie A’s MVP for the season. Dybala has been nursing a thigh problem for the last two weeks.

For Lyon manager Rudi Garcia, the shortage of full match-practice is an issue. But there are compensations from the long gap between first leg and second.

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Gallery: Juve celebrate Serie A title

Juventus players celebrate after being crowned champions at the end of their 3-1 Serie A defeat against Roma at the Allianz Arena, Turin, on Saturday, August 1. EPA

Juventus' forward Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates. AFP

Matthijs de Ligt raises the trophy. EPA

Juventus players celebrate. EPA

Head coach Maurizio Sarri. EPA

Juventus' Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala in the stands during the 3-1 defeat to Roma. Reuters

Juventus' Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates. Reuters

Goalkeeper Gigi Buffon and Cristiano Ronaldo celebrate. EPA

Cristiano Ronaldo kisses the trophy. EPA

Leonardo Bonucci kisses the trophy. EPA

Goalkeeper Woiciech Szczensny. EPA

Juventus' Argentinian forward Paulo Dybala. AFP

Juventus players celebrate. EPA

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Memphis Depay, the Lyon captain, had been all but ruled out of the ‘normal’ season with a cruciate ligament tear in December. He was back in full training by July, and should lead the attack in Turin.

But another downside of the long wait is that Lyon are without midfielder Lucas Tousart, who scored the only goal in the first leg. He had been sold to Hertha Berlin in January, and then loaned back to Lyon until June. Hertha would not extend that loan to cover August.

Such are the wrinkles in the timeline of a competition Uefa still hope will provide a glorious end to the most unusual of seasons.

To be part of the last-eight, Lyon must combat rustiness, and Juve overcome aching limbs and the lingering anxieties about a leaky rearguard: Juve’s latest league title was won with a poorer defensive record than all the previous eight.

“We have to remember,” said Garcia, reaching back those 163 days, “that we have beaten Juventus and kept a clean sheet against them. We know that if we can score there [because of the away-goals rule], Juve will need three.”

The reward for the winner is a quarter-final against Manchester City or Real Madrid, and, potentially, a uniquely quick route to a European Cup triumph at a venue that particularly appeals to the competition’s greatest ever goalscorer.

Since the Champions League's later stages were relocated to Lisbon, it has been hard not to notice that Portugal’s most celebrated footballer, Ronaldo, has a special spring in his step.

Updated: August 7, 2020 08:47 AM

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