The Champions League last 16 begins with a bang on Tuesday and all eyes will be on Celtic’s clash with Juventus at a pumped-up Parkhead.
Despite their stunning win over Barcelona in the group stages, few pundits are giving Neil Lennon’s heroes a chance of causing another major upset, as shown by their price of 333/100 to take a lead to Turin (Juventus are 39/50 and the draw is 13/5).
But while the Italian champions are undoubtedly a formidable outfit, they are by no means infallible and here are three potential weaknesses that Celtic could prey on as they seek another famous victory.
Conte’s left wing-back conundrum
Much of Juventus’ success since Antonio Conte took charge in May 2011 has been down to their fluid 3-5-2 formation.
The system places huge emphasis on the wing-backs providing width to stretch the opposition and this will again be of paramount importance against a Celtic side who will be happy to defend narrow and deep in a bid to frustrate the Bianconeri.
As usual, Stephan Lichtsteiner will operate on the right flank, but on the other side, Conte has a major selection headache.
Kwadwo Asamoah was signed from Udinese as an all-action midfielder but his boundless energy and marauding runs forward have seen him excel since being switched to left wing-back.
However, Asamoah only returned from Africa Cup of Nations duty with Ghana on Sunday and Conte has admitted that it would be “crazy” to throw him straight back into the fray in Glasgow, even if he makes the trip.
And with his back-up, Paolo De Ceglie, set to miss out after picking up an injury in the weekend win over Fiorentina, Federico Peluso could be asked to fill the void.
Peluso, a January loan signing from Atalanta, is not the quickest and considering he is more comfortable at centre-back, Lennon will surely be tempted to target him on the break, perhaps through the pace and trickery of fit-again James Forrest or fellow flier Tony Watt.
Giorgio Chiellini is Juventus’ best defender by some distance but he will be forced to watch this one from the sidelines as he continues to recover from a calf injury suffered in December.
Chiellini was a key component of the team that romped to the Serie A title without losing a game last term and also excelled at the heart of the Italy rearguard in their run to the Euro 2012 final.
It is no surprise that Juventus endured the worst spell of their campaign so far in January – losing at home to Sampdoria and being held by Parma and Genoa – without the influence of their inspirational defensive lynchpin.
Chiellini’s organisational skills and aerial power will be sorely missed at Parkhead, especially considering Celtic scored four of their nine group-stage goals with headers.
Usual centre-back partners Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci are solid defenders, but their strengths lie in reading the game rather than their pace, with question marks over both in this department.
And if the Juve back line get caught high up the field as they relentlessly press the hosts, Barzagli and Bonucci could be exposed on the counter.
Lack of world-class striker and bodies in the box
Juventus will monopolise possession and look to Andrea Pirlo to unlock Celtic’s stubborn rearguard, but regular watchers of the Old Lady will know that they often fail to add the final touch to their impressive build-up play.
Alessandro Matri, Mirko Vucinic, Sebastian Giovinco and Fabio Quagliarella are no mugs and all four are potential match winners, but their scoring records certainly leave plenty to be desired.
A return of six league goals apiece this term for the first three – and seven for Quagliarella – underlines a lack of a world-class goalscorer, which is unusual for a team who are five points clear of their nearest challengers in Serie A.
Conte clearly recognises the problem as he was desperate to bring a deal for Athletic hitman Fernando Llorente forward to January, rather than wait to capture him on a Bosman in the summer.
However, the Basque club stubbornly refused to accept a transfer fee despite freezing Llorente out since he announced his intention to depart at the end of his contract, leaving Conte to bring in Nicolas Anelka from Shanghai Shenhua in the interim.
Vucinic, the most likely starter of the quintet, naturally enjoys dropping off on occasion to get involved in the build-up play, but if he adopts this approach against Celtic, his partner could well become very isolated as the Bhoys defend their 18-yard box like their lives depend on it.
Even with Pirlo’s enduring playmaking gifts to call upon, passing through Lennon’s men will prove a real challenge – just ask Barca – and if they revert to launching balls into the box, that could well play into Celtic’s hands and seriously blunt their offensive threat.