The transfer market is officially open. And now, after almost three weeks of sitting around and enjoying the holidays, the same can be said about Serie A. Yep, we're officially open for business — again.
Thank the dear high heavens. Things were starting to get a little boring, guys. There's only so many reruns of my favorite television shows before I really start to question my laziness. And I really missed waking up at six in the morning a good portion of the time to watch some calcio.
That last part doesn't sound right. Damn sleep schedule!
Regardless of when Sunday's kickoff may or may not be, things are about to get busy again. Not just in Serie A, not just because there's a game against Milan in the Coppa Italia quarterfinals right around the corner, but on all three fronts once the Champions League ramps back up again next month.
But right now, the attention is back on league campaign.
The official midway point of the 2012-13 season sees Sampdoria come to the same place as where the season started: Juventus Stadium. But instead of a former Juve legend (Ciro Ferrara) facing one of his ex-teammates (Antonio Conte) for the second time in their coaching careers, it's a Samp side coming to Turin with a new manager — Delio Rossi — and a whole lot of problems.
To steal something that the Juventus YouTube previews would say, "Why not extend their misery one match further?"
And with that, I say A-V-A-N-T-I.
If you want an example of two teams going in different directions, well, you've got it. As we return from the winter break, Juventus currently sit eight points clear of their closest competition, Lazio, in the Serie A table. Sampdoria, on the other hand, is likely to be in the relegation battle the entire second half of the season as they just two points out of the bottom three.
More evidence, if you feel so inclined:
Goals scored: Juventus 39, Sampdoria 20
Goals allowed: Juventus 11, Sampdoria 27
Goal differential after some fancy math: Juventus plus-28, Sampdoria minus-7
I think it's pretty safe to say things are pointing in Juve's direction.
No more weekends without calcio until a late March international break. Suck on that, winter break. See you again in 12 months.
The Giorgio Chiellini countdown to healing clock is still a long way from being at all zeroes. Boo.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. The continued de-rustification of Martin Caceres. Or, in other words, how much rust our favorite high-socked Uruguayan has actually knocked off. If Caceres is the guy who will be playing most of the time during Chiellini's injury layoff, then getting him up to speed needs to as soon as possible. He's more than capable of doing so and providing the appropriate cover until Chiellini is back to full health; it's now just a matter of getting back to form.
2. The continued progression of Sebastian Giovinco. Or, in other words, whether or not Super Seba picks up where he left off before the holiday break. Giovinco has been gradually getting better as the season has gone on. For all the freak-out that was going on a few months back, Gio's stats — seven goals and five assists in 17 games in all competitions — are starting to represent how well he's played as of late. And one can hope he only gets better from here on out.
3. Holiday hangover? Juventus haven't played an official match in nearly three weeks. Like any team coming off an extended break — international or holiday — where they play a friendly or two and that's about, some rust is somewhat expected. And that's why I've posed said question. The good thing about this season compared to last is that Juventus aren't coming off a week-long journey to the Middle East like a year ago. Instead, the squad has been training in the bitter cold in Vinovo while Antonio Conte screams at them. Ah, 2013 already looks a lot like 2012.
4. Who will be Juventus' wingmen? No Stephen Lichtsteiner due to yellow card suspension and likely no Kwadwo Asamoah due to the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations. As a result, who will be starting is up in the air right now — at least to a certain extent. Paolo De Ceglie seems like he'll get the start on the left flank due to the fact Federico Peluso has only had a couple more training sessions with Conte than I have. On the right, who knows. There's more options, thus creating more "probable" lineup possibilities.
5.Whether there will be any chance for a Vucinic Effect (haw). Friday morning brought reports that our favorite mustached Montenegrin is dealing with an ankle problem. Going a step further, it's Vucinic's Achilles tendon, which has put in doubt for the Sampdoria match. Therefore, who starts if Mighty Mirko can't give it a go? Based on how he went into the winter break, all signs point to Alessandro Matri as Giovinco's partner up top. That's my best guess because Nicklas Bendtner isn't around to save the day. (Is that a cheap shot because he's injured? I don't know.)
My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Caceres, Bonucci, Barzagli; Isla, Vidal, Pirlo, Marchisio, De Ceglie; Matri, Giovinco
GAME TIME: 3 P.M. ACROSS THE POND IN ITALY; 9 A.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 6 A.M. ON THE WEST COAST