Coppa Italia: Lazio vs. Juventus Leg 1 Rapid Fire Preview

Valerio Pennicino

Here's the deal with the Coppa Italia: I have such an incredible love-hate relationship with it. On one hand, I think it can really be a pain in the you-know-what. But on the other hand, having a silver star on that beautiful jersey of ours is something I'd love to see happen this year. That's especially true after what happened a year ago.

So, with Juventus again in the semifinals of the Coppa, the potentially good is outweighing the potentially bad. Playing for a chance to win the Coppa may not be the biggest priority on Juventus' trophy checklist this season, but it's a trophy nonetheless.

The first task en route to a second consecutive Coppa Italia final: Lazio. The second task would be getting a positive result — or keeping any kind of aggregate scoreline in favor of the good guys — in a week's time at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Not exactly the easiest thing to do, but not the toughest at the same time.

First things first, though. Lazio is coming to Juventus Stadium on Tuesday night — the same place where the two teams played out a scoreless draw in the middle of November earlier this season.

GOOD NEWS

We don't have to talk about how Juventus is coming off a completely crap showing the game before. Was Saturday's win, outside of Pogba's two beautiful goals, a picture-perfect showing? Nah, I don't think so. But the 4-0 win over Udinese 48 hours or so ago was the convincing win that this team needed after two craptastic performances against Sampdoria and Parma.

Now, as I sit here writing this, the hope is that Juventus has the wind back in the sails and things start rolling again, with not only the Coppa Italia journey continuing, but some pretty damn crucial games approaching as we get ready to flip the calendar over to February. And it's not just the Champions League tie against Celtic — there's there's the second leg of this Coppa Italia semifinal next week, then Fiorentina and Roma shortly thereafter, as well.

Busy, busy, busy.

BAD NEWS

The current injury situation will likely keep Antonio Conte's choices to a lot like what they were against Udinese over the weekend. If there are a number of primavera players on the bench, or even (gasp) seeing some kind of playing time. Then i won't be surprised at all. While it's the first leg of the Coppa Italia semifinals, Juventus can't afford to risk any of the injured players who missed Saturday's win.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

1. Paul Pogba's encore. The 19-year-old Frenchman may be in a different role in the midfield depending on whether Conte plays Luca Marrone in the midfield or in the center of defense, but I don't think there's any doubt in him playing from the opening whistle. Not just because he's played in every other Coppa Italia game, but he's coming off of arguably his best game in a Juventus jersey against Udinese.

And did I mention that he's 19? That's one scary thought, man.

Scary, scary thought.

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2. Alessandro Matri's impact. The logical choice would be to rest Sebastian Giovinco if he is, in fact, he left Saturday's 4-0 thumping of Udinese because of an injury, therefore creating a starting spot for Mitra Matri. Yes, the same Mitra Matri who scored a goal — the game's fourth and final one — in the second half against Udine. I know the overall picture isn't pretty for Matri, who has struggled for a large part of the last 13 months or so, but Matri has scored three goals in his last three appearances. That's progress, especially for a striker that so desperately needs confidence.

3. The look of the midfield. Pogba's playing, but who else? Even without any injuries, the midfield would probably look like any other Coppa game — subs, subs, subs. Reports suggest that the entire M-V-P midfield of Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal, and Andrea could be rested against Lazio tomorrow. It makes sense seeing as all of them are going to be relied upon heavily in the upcoming weeks. That leaves the reserves for the Coppa — and the likely look of things will depend of where Marrone plays, either in Pirlo's spot, where Pogba filled in so well on Saturday, or in for Leo Bonucci in the center of the three-man defense.

4. Home field advantage. Get the win, get the lead in aggregate heading to Rome. It's pretty simple, ya know. Maybe so easy a caveman could do it? Eh, I wouldn't go that far.

My starting XI (3-5-1-1): Storari; Barzagli, Bonucci, Caceres; Isla, Pogba, Marrone, Padoin, De Ceglie; Quagliarella Giaccherini, Matri

OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME ON TUESDAY: 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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