Juventus offer reigning champions Chelsea stern test in spite of Antonio Conte's absence

 

Juventus believe they have a team to compete again with the finest in Europe, but when they face Chelsea tonight their players will be unable to turn to the man who shaped the side's renaissance.

Antonio Conte has yet to see his team beaten in a league game since he took charge before last season, but the defeat he experienced this summer is likely to prove far more painful than any scars suffered during 27 years as a player and a manager.

When the two coaching teams make for the Stamford Bridge dug-outs, it will not be Conte but caretaker Massimo Carrera in the vanguard for the Italian champions. Conte is in the early stages of a 10-month touchline ban he received from the Italian football federation for failing to report match-fixing when he was in charge of Siena in the 2010-11 campaign.

Juve have appealed against Conte's suspension but at the moment he is restricted only to preparing his players and selecting the team. He will watch tonight's game from the stands after Fifa extended the punishment to matches worldwide.

Despite the absence of Conte, Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo - his sometime team-mate for Italy during the 1990s - will understand the challenge Juventus present. Although Italy's clubs are not as strong as they were, Juve's 42-match unbeaten run merits substantial respect.

Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon are the most high-profile players but Claudio Marchisio also provides energy and intelligence in midfield. Mirko Vucinic and Sebastian Giovinco are subtle and elusive attackers, and Italy players Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli are among the best defenders in their country.

Giuseppe Marotta, the man in charge of transfers at Juventus, could not deliver the centre-forward of international renown that the club coveted all summer. Juventus pursued Robin van Persie, Luis Suarez, Fernando Llorente and Stevan Jovetic but ended up only with Nicklas Bendtner, who is on loan from Arsenal.

It will be fascinating to see how the players handle Conte's absence on match-days. Three Serie A matches have yielded three wins but defeating the reigning European champions is a different matter altogether.

 

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