Juventus-Catania Preview: Round 28 — Another European Hangover?

Maurizio Lagana

The elephant in the room — yes, with Catania coming to Turin, the pun is intended — is whether or not Juventus can put their game-after-Champions-League struggles a thing of the past. It's there, just chilling in the corner waiting to show its ugly head again. Whether or not the elephant will eat some bananas is still to be determined, but it's there.

The thinking is that with the squad being somewhat rotated on Wednesday night there won't be the kind of slipup there was in the previous post-Champions League losses to Milan and Roma. Sure, Andrea Pirlo played, but it wasn't a full 90 and has had almost four days to recover. And while Pirlo played the majority of the 2-0 win, other first teamers — Stephan Lichtsteiner and Claudio Marchisio — didn't even sit on the bench, instead resting up because of the comfortable lead.

The vision was pretty clear from Antonio Conte: Juventus had things in control against Celtic and he was planning for the future at the same time. Catania will be a tough test for the simple fact that they're a solid team. Their position in the table isn't some kind of fluke. And after their stunning loss to Inter last weekend after going up 2-0, I'm going to go out on a limb and say they're hungry to get back out on the field and resume their charge towards a possible European spot.

Making it three straight duds after a European triumph probably isn't the best idea, now would it?

So here arrives Catania at Juventus Stadium, a venue that will likely be buzzing because of what happened on the grounds a few days prior. Yes, the Champions League has been a source of problems because it takes so much out of the squad after every game, but it's also completely energized the supporters. But to keep the supporters at full voice, the Champions League hangover will have to be a thing of the past.

And, hey, they might even roll out the Harlem Shake after a goal. Wouldn't that be, uh, original?

GOOD NEWS

Arturo Vidal is suspended, but Paul Pogba is there to fill his spot in the lineup. Man, it's nice to have one of the best youngsters in European football as a player to come off the bench whenever it's needed. And it's even sweeter that as the season has gone on, the Juventus Stadium crowd has started to roar whenever Pogba has the ball outside the box with a chance to shoot. It's like they know something good might happen if the young Frenchman connects...

BAD NEWS

It's the same old band of players on the injury list. Martin Caceres' back is slowly getting back to full strength. Who knows when Paolo De Ceglie and Nicolas Anelka will be back. It's kinda like they're currently in a holding pattern just waiting for some bit of good news.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

1. Just how competitive this Catania side can be — especially with their current problems when it comes to what the heck the lineup might look like. Don't believe me? Ha!

So, that doesn't exactly make Catania an easy team to prepare for. But, at the same time, Catania are going to be struggling to put together a defense with so few options available. Despite the fact that they're currently dealing with somewhat of an injury crisis, it's pretty easy to see that Catania have been one of Serie A's biggest surprises simply based on their table position. If you were to find a Vegas bookie who was taking Serie A wagers, putting a bet on Catania being in contention for a Europa League spot would have probably netted you a nice chunk of change. Damn hindsight.

2. The status of Giorgio Chiellini. Will he play? Will he start? Will he chill on the bench like he did against Celtic on Wednesday night? Whether or not his non-participation against Celtic was a precaution to keep his most recent injury from flaring up again, we'll never know. But the rest on Wednesday should have done him some good. He's going to have to return to full-time action at some point in time. And that involves him being at full strength physically.

3. The striker selection. If you go by the theory that Conte rested a fair number of his starters against Celtic midweek, then Sebastian Giovinco and Mirko Vucinic will get the nod ahead of Alessandro Matri and Fabio Quaglirella. Again, with Matri playing well and scoring goals, I still struggle to understand why he hasn't been playing from the start in most games the last few weeks. But I'm not Antonio Conte, nor do I try and say I am.

Well, that kinda sorta doesn't really help us figure out who's going to be playing. Oh well. I guess we'll just have to wait and see, then.

4. Which Kwadwo Asamoah shows up — first half or second half of the season version. Asamoah didn't depart for the African Cup of Nations in the best of form, and he hasn't returned any better. With Federico Peluso playing well since his move from Atalanta, some say the pressure is on Kojo to step things up. While I don't buy into all the jabber, there's no doubting that Asamoah needs to play better heading into the home stretch. He adds so much to the team when he is on form. And when he's not on form, the left flank just isn't the same — no matter who is playing.

My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Peluso; Lichtsteiner, Pogba, Pirlo, Marchisio, Asamoah; Matri, Giovinco

OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 3 P.M. IN ITALY; 10 A.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 7 A.M. ON THE WEST COAST

Note for American readers: Yes, those times are true. If you haven't been notified already, it's Daylight Savings weekend for all of us. Set the clocks forward an hour and "enjoy" losing the hour of sleep.


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