Juventus-Palermo Preview: Round 16 — The Return of Antonio Conte

Marco Luzzani

Look who's back in the (insert expletive of choice here) hoooooooooooooouse!!!

I could try and wax poetically about Antonio Conte's return. OR...I just just start the post off with this:

See? Aren't we all glad that I've thought of this? Of course you are!!

We've missed you, Antonio Conte. A lot. A lot, a lot, a lot. While you've been here, you haven't really been here. Does that make sense? I think so. But I'd much rather make sure it's understandable first before...ah, screw it.

Antonio Conte is back and there is nothing the FIGC can do about it. (Don't you dare say anything to the contrary.)

It's been a stressful four months since Conte was sent to the sky box on match days. To be completely honest, Conte was probably the most stressed out of all of us, knowing he couldn't direct the team he had basically risen from the brink of one of the worst periods in the club history to winning the Scudetto in a 10-month span. It's what he lives for. Instead, he was forced to watch from above and not have the luxury of throwing chairs at halftime. I'd miss it, too.

But, as opposed to some people's hopes, Juventus haven't fallen apart on game days despite the lack of Conte.

He returns to his team in the same spot as where he left them: At the top of the Serie A table. Hey, the season may have changed, but Juventus' position in the standings stayed the same. That's always nice. And now, with Champions League knockout stage qualification secured, the next goal is to head into the Christmas break as Winter Champions — again. Time to go two for two on that, don't you think?

The wait for Conte to be seen screaming and doing his usual antics on the sidelines is over. The touchline suspension is over. The #CountdownToConte is over. Antonio Conte is back on the Juventus sidelines, where he belongs, and it just feels so right. There's no other way to say, really. For four months we had to watch him react to things in his private box. Starting Sunday, we will watch him do what does best again — be Juventus' manager.

GOOD NEWS

I think we all know what that is. If for some reason you don't, I'll tell you: Antonio Conte.

BAD NEWS

ABSOLUTELY NONE. CONTE IS BACK.

Well, aside from the fact that Sebastian Giovinco is suspended, there isn't much to really be sad about. And I'm pretty sure Fabio Quagliarella Nicklas Bendtner will be able to fill the void left by the little runt. Wait a second.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

1. Have I mentioned Antonio Conte yet? I think so. Anyways, all eyes will be on Il Mister — and rightfully so. The reception he will get when returns to the Juventus Stadium will be fantastic. Every time the curva sings his name will be fantastic. Watching him celebrate goals on the sideline again will be fantastic. Even though Palermo are three points from being in the relegation zone, this is a big game just because of everything going on around it. And, as we know, this Juventus team seems to rise when the spotlight is on them. Pretty sure that's the case on Sunday.

2. Squad rotation. You'd think that Conte would want his top guns available in his first game in hopes of absolutely throttling Palermo, right? Well, it seems like the Italian press has other ideas. Rotating the lineup has been a pretty constant thing this season, and Palermo looks to be no different. Obviously with Giovinco hanging out at the kids table in the skyboxes, Mirko Vucinic will have somebody different as his strike partner.

Then again, there could be very few changes with Juve's Coppa Italia opener a couple days from now therefore making all of this text irrelevant. Why? Because it's pretty much determined already that there's gonna be some heavy squad rotation happening in that game. Place yo bets now, kids.

3. 3-4-3 vs. 3-5-2. Tactics, as always, are going to be important. But, as has been the case when Juventus face a three-man defense this season, things tend to get even that much more important. Will the midfield get crowded? Will Palermo use one of their midfielders to specifically mark Andrea Pirlo? Will Claudio Marchisio continue to be awesome and make everybody swoon? Those sort of things are important, you guys. Having Conte back on the sidelines will certainly help that — especially when it comes to in-game adjustments, be it tactics or just flat out motivation if things aren't going Juve's way.

4. Secret Agent Gasp's continuing his fantastic work. It hasn't been pretty. Palermo have done Palermo things this year, sitting barely outside the relegation zone as the Christmas break quickly approaches. Not exactly where you want to be, regardless of what drama has been happening on or off the field. Palermo's defense hasn't stunk up the joint like their minus-8 goal differential kinda suggest. It's been on offense where they've really taken a huge step back, scoring just 14 goals in 15 games this season, good for worst in Serie A in the non-Pescara category. If there was ever a game for Juventus to make a team pay for its lack of firepower, it would be this one. Go for the kill right away. Leave nothing to chance. Nothing.

5. The Vucinic Effect. (Just for Chuks because he loves it so much.)

My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Caceres; Lichtsteiner, Pogba, Pirlo, Marchisio, Asamoah; Vucinic, Quagliarella

SCHEDULED KICKOFF TIME: 3 P.M. IN ITALY, 9 A.M. ON THE EAST COAS, 6 A.M. ON THE WEST COAST

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