Juventus-Udinese Preview: Round 21 — When Bianconeri Await

He can fly! Little Seba can fly! - Dino Panato

So, I'm going to go out on a limb in a couple sentences. If you want to stop reading now, I wholeheartedly understand. Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do, ya know? Here goes nothin'...

Juventus aren't off to the best of starts in 2013.

Crazy talk, I know. Or maybe it's actual fact. I'm pretty sure it's the latter, but maybe somebody wants to double check that. But I wouldn't lie. That wouldn't exactly be good journalistic ethics on my part now, would it?

As Juventus try to snap out of the scuffle that has been present the past two weekends, they welcome one of the hottest Serie A teams, Udinese, to Turin. Francesco Guidolin's squad enters winners of four of their last six games, including a very convincing 3-1 victory over Fiorentina last weekend. Sounds like the makings of a terrible one, right? Well, maybe not.

It's just two games, but it's not like they've

Or we can go along of the Swiss Express — fear not, says Stephen Lichtsteiner.

"We were hurt by the home defeat to Sampdoria and we allowed Parma a way back into the game on Sunday. But there's absolutely no need to talk about a crisis. We've dropped five points out of six, but we also did the same at this point last year.

"Udinese are a great team and we need to pay close attention to the pace they possess in their ranks. All our opponents put in a top performance when they play against us and we're aware of that.

"But we've got to try and win everything. Clearly it will be tough, but we have quality and Juve's mentality must always consist of taking to the field with the aim of winning every game and competition we face."

Hey, as long as they're thinking positive, I can do the same thing. It's not the worst thing in the world to do.

But if the Juventus of the previous two games rears its ugly head again, then things could be disappointing yet again. That's going out on a limb, I know, but it's also the truth. 2013 hasn't been kind to Juventus thus far, but, like Lichtsteiner said, it isn't time to panic just like.

Come back to me in a couple weeks and I might say something different. But, as of right now, I'm not that worried.

GOOD NEWS

Ummmmmm...

Let's see here...

Juventus are still in first place? Yeah! There we go. Juventus are still atop the Serie A table.

The way Juventus have played the last couple of weeks, that's all I got.

BAD NEWS

Take out the Coppa win over Milan — which wasn't all that convincing to begin with — and you have two consecutive piss poor performances domestically. That's...not very good at all — especially with the rest of the pack starting to close the gap at a rapid pace. Gone is the comfortable lead ahead Lazio, Napoli, and the rest of the folks. Now, just a few bad results here and there and Juve could find themselves looking up at a team or two rather than the other way around.

Oh, and then there's the fact everybody important seemed to get injured during Thursday's training session. We'll get to that...now.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

1. What the heck the midfield looks like. We already knew Claudio Marchisio was working his way back from his injured knee, but now both Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo are injury doubts after missing training on Thursday. The bearded wonder missed training due to a strain in his right calf, while El Guerrero didn't take part because of bruising after twisting his ankle.

Great.

1a. The Marchisio Factor. While a lot of things went wrong against Parma, I couldn't help but think what it would have been like with Marchisio in the midfield instead of Paul Pogba. Not that Pogba had a bad game, but his skill set is obviously different than that of the man he was filling in for. If Marchisio plays — which is completely up in the air because some reports have said he hasn't fully recovered — his presence will undoubtedly be an important factor.

2. The Vucinic Effect: The Return? We've seen Mirko Vucinic in moments the past couple of games. And no, that's not a backhanded statement about how inconsistent he can be. It's more because he hasn't really played all that much against both Sampdoria and Parma. The question remains: Is this the weekend where Master Mirko is back in the starting lineup or will it be Fabio Quagliarella/Alessandro Matri paired up with Sebastian Giovinco in attack?

3. 3-5-2 vs. 3-5-1-1 tactics and all that good stuff. Ah, the game within the game. No matter who is playing in the midfield for Juventus, it's going to be crowded, as is the case whenever they face a five-man midfield. Things were never able to really materialize the last time Juventus and Udinese squared off because Zeljko Brkic got sent off 12 minutes into the game. When it's 11 v. 11, though, it's obviously a different story.

4. Containing Toto. Here's a pretty simple statement: Antonio Di Natale knows how to score goals — and lots of them. Say what you want about him at the international level, but the 35-year-old Udinese captain can fill up the scoresheet in Serie A. This season is no different, as ADN trails only two guys you've probably heard of — Edinson Cavani and Stephen El Shaarawy — when it comes to the league leaders in goals scored with 14. And out of anybody else in Italy, Di Natale is responsible for more of his team's goals, scoring 44 percent of Udinese's 32 total goals.

My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Caceres, Bonucci, Barzagli; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pirlo, Marchisio, De Ceglie; Giovinco, Vucinic

OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME ON SATURDAY: 8:45 P.M. OVER IN ITALY; 2:45 P.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 11:45 A.M. ON THE WEST COAST

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