You look at the standings and you'll see two things when it comes to Juventus' game tomorrow night. They're not hard to figure out. Just one glance at the Serie A table and they'll hit you in the face like nobody's business.
1. Juventus is in first, three points ahead of second-place Roma after last weekend's round of games.
2. Bologna is currently sitting 17th, just a bad result or two away from sliding down into the pre-Christmas break relegation zone.
Don't tell that second part to Antonio Conte, though. He's not biting on the team playing Juventus being easy pickings just because they're towards the bottom of the table. Sorry, folks. It ain't happening.
Conte: Bologna’s a difficult game. We need to think exclusively about that match and put anything else to the back of our minds #BolognaJuve— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) December 5, 2013
You see, Juventus' manager isn't thinking about next Tuesday night when he team will play in Turkey against Galatasaray — a game that will determine whether or not his team make it to the knockout stages in the Champions League. No, no, no. Conte's mind is on exactly what it should be — what's right smack dab in front of his team. Talk of his trip to Turkey? Nah, we'll have to wait until after Juventus play Bologna for that. Conte wants things to be focused on Bologna, and that's the way it will be no matter what anybody else says.
Is it a pretty cliche way to look at things? Yeah, it is.
But Conte is speaking the truth. He's always been a one-game-at-a-time kind of manager and there's no reason for him to change any of that right now. The tactics he uses may evolve over time, but not the man's mindset. That will always stay the same. And that's totally cool with this guy.
Juventus' last six Serie A games: Six wins, zero goals allowed. That's a nice lookin' recipe for success right there.
Don't know if you've heard, but Andrea Pirlo is out for the next month at the very least. That's...yeah. I got nothin' else for you. This sucks. What a huge loss.
There's one other thing.
I'm not a greedy person, but from a simply selfish point of view, Fredrik Sorensen not playing — he got a pair of yellows in Bologna's draw with Parma on Saturday — is disappointing. According to WhoScored, Sorensen has been one of his team's best regulars so far this season. I liked the kid when he burst onto the scene under Gigi Delneri, and I still hold out a small bit of hope that he can come back to Turin. It's just too bad he won't take part in tomorrow night's game.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. The look of Juventus' midfield without Andrea Pirlo.
We know who will start the match — Arturo Vidal, Claudio Marchisio and Paul Pogba. As to where they line up and what the exact tactics will be is still a mystery to most of us. That Conte, such a man of mystery. Maybe he can give us a hint?
Conte: Pogba, Vidal and Marchisio can all play in front of the defence. We’ll see who’s best suited to the opposition we face. #BolognaJuve— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) December 5, 2013
Well that's not much help at all. But if I were to put on my oddsmaker hat, I'd say the favorite to play in the center of the MVP trio is Pogba. Let Marchisio slot in on the left like he always has, and the same for Vidal on the right. Pogba is the most creative out of the three without a doubt, and hopefully that will translate into Pirlo's absence not being felt as much as some people are fearing.
2. The role of Paul Pogba.
We can officially call Pogba The Golden Boy. That's just another thing to add to the impressive resume of the 20-year-old French midfielder who has taken this game we love by storm. Seriously, think about what you were doing at the same age compared to what Pogba is doing right now. Do it. It could end up being a fun game!
But with Pirlo gone, the role of being Paul Pogba has become even that much more important. Like I said, Pogba's the odds-on favorite to step into the Pirlo role. Maybe not the exact responsibilities since they have different characteristics, but the same spot in the lineup. It will be interesting to see just how exactly Conte has him play, though. I don't think there's any denying that.
3. If there's any resting of players with Galatasaray on the horizon.
Don't tell anybody, but I think the Serie A schedule has actually benefited Juventus before a Champions League game. No, really, I'm telling the truth. Conte's squad has an extra day of rest before heading off to Istanbul, something they haven't been able to say entering their previous European encounters. You'd have to think that this extra 24 hours will factor into Conte's line of thinking when it comes to his starters. And it could very well mean a full-strength Juve — minus Pirlo, of course — will be facing Bologna tomorrow night.
4. The Stephan Lichtsteiner effect.
Juventus' 1-0 win over Udinese didn't just see Fernando Llorente do awesome things again, it also saw Lichtsteiner make his return to the squad after a two-month absence. It was cool to see the Swiss Express back on the right flank, sending dirty looks to opposing players who tried to do something stupid. It was like everything was right in the world again. Could Friday night be his return to the starting lineup? I don't know. Conte was rather coy when addressing Lichtsteiner's health during his pre-match press conference on Thursday. Either way, Lichtsteiner is close to being at full fitness again and that is reason enough to be happy right there.
5. Making sure Juventus keep an eye on the present, not the not-so-distant future.
And now we've officially come full circle. Start the preview with talk of keeping it focused on the present, end things with the same thing. In the past, we've wondered what Juventus is like after a Champions League game. Now, we get to wonder what Juventus will be like before a huge European contest. If last season is any kind of precedent, then maybe another lopsided win is in order like what happened in the Turin derby a year ago before Juve went off to Shakhtar. I'd be perfect okay with that — and why shouldn't I be?
My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pogba, Marchisio, Asamoah; Llorente, Tevez
OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 8:45 P.M. IN ITALY; 2:45 P.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 11:45 A.M. ON THE WEST COAST