We've officially hit and will soon pass the midway point of the season, ladies and gentlemen. Throw a parade, throw a party, do whatever you really want. But this is when things get really interesting.
The first game in the second half of the schedule takes Juventus back to Parma and the Tardini, the same place Juve played Cagliari a few short weeks ago. It's a place where Parma have yet to lose this season. That sounds kinda like Juventus' home field advantage a year ago. Or, taking out the losses to Inter and Samp, a lot like this year.
So, much like Juventus, Parma get things done at home. But, on the other hand, Juve have more wins and points than anybody in Serie A away from home.
Ha! Take that, nerds!
Away we go to Parma, land of overweight men and delicious prosciutto. Sounds like a nice little Sunday actually. If I didn't have to wake up at six in the morning, maybe it would be even better. But enough about me, it's time to get back to Juventus. Forza!
Parma are on better form than Juventus. How do I know this? Well, it's simple. Parma won their last game, Juventus lost the last game they played. See? It's that simple. Well...
Maybe that's not entirely true, but Parma are playing well this season — especially as of late, coming away with nine out of nine points in their last three games. Their results at home this season — six wins, three draws, zero losses — only solidifies that. And when you consider that Amauri is actually tied for the team lead in goals with six, it's even more remarkable. Yes, that same Amauri.
Or, we could just ask a former player something about the team Juve will be facing on Sunday...
"I owe Parma a great deal, they believed in me and relaunched my career. I know them well and they've become even more compact and harder to beat under Donadoni. However, we want to bounce back from the Sampdoria defeat and will do all we can to win." - Sebastian Giovinco
Juventus responded with a victory mid-week against Milan in the Coppa, a game they really could've folded and made the situation even worse. Instead, they took it to extra time and let Mirko Vucinic and Marco Storari do the rest of the work from there. The hope is that win, which a lot of players credit as the right kind of medicine for what went wrong against Sampdoria, will kick-start a new set of momentum and get the squad going again with the schedule getting even busier with the Coppa semis and Champions League ties against Celtic.
This whole point will be completely moot if Juve come out and lay an egg, of couse.
Much like a week ago, it's the injury bug. Giorgio Chiellini and now Claudio Marchisio. Luckily Principino is only out a matter of days, while Chiello is obviously still a ways away from being completely fit and able to return to the squad.
Ah, at least this team has depth. So, in a way, bad news becomes good news. Victory.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. The real response to the Sampdoria loss. A win in the Coppa Italia is nice, but Juventus need to at the very least keep the five-point cushion they've established over the rest of the pack. There's no denying Juventus are the better team when compared to Parma — or anybody else in Italy for that matter — and that a win at the Tardini has to be the goal regardless of how well Parma play there. Juve don't need to just beat Parma, but it needs to be the kind of effort that shows the loss to Sampdoria seven days prior was indeed simply a bad day at the office.
2. Who steps in for Marchisio? Naturally, Principino's absence has created a question as to who will step in for him. In terms of a natural depth chart and previous squad selections, Emmanuele Giaccherini could be used. In terms of who the best player to fill Marchisio's shoes is, Paul Pogba is the obvious choice for that. So, are you #TeamGiacchomole or #TeamPogba? (And yes, I did just use hashtags in a post.)
3. Sebastian Giovinco with his old/new team against his old team. Seba's form as the season has gone on has been getting better and better. Therefore, it's safe to say his effectiveness is one of the biggest keys to victory for Juventus against his former side.I could spit stats out, but I won't. I'll just say this: Whomever plays alongside Giovinco — Mirko Vucinic or Alessandro Matri or the ghost of Nicklas Bendtner — will be next to somebody who is really rounding into form at the right time.
4. Martin Caceres or Federico Peluso? This is Antonio Conte's time show whether or not Caceres is truly the guy to take Chiellini's spot in the lineup for the immediate future. Caceres' performance against Milan in the Coppa was one of the best from any Juve player and would be the logical choice to start on either side of the three-man defense. Then again, Conte doesn't always go with what some of us think is the right thing, so maybe it's time we should be on our toes.
5. Paolo De Ceglie or Federico Peluso? So, if Peluso doesn't get the start in the back three, he's able to play on the left wing. And since he's so great and all, he's a lock to start, right? Well, maybe not. PDC was the one who got the start at left wingback against Sampdoria and Mauricio Isla — in kind of an experimental way — got the nod against Milan. So, will PDC keep his spot when it comes to Serie A games? Based on how Peluso played in his Juventus debut, I sure hope so.
My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Caceres, Bonucci, Barzagli; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pirlo, Pogba, De Ceglie; Giovinco, Vucinic/Matri
OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 3 P.M. OVER IN ITALY; 9 A.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 6 A.M. ON THE WEST COAST