Juventus-Pescara Preview: Round 31 — Swimming with the Delfini

Giuseppe Bellini

Safe bet: Pescara isn't as good as Bayern Munich. Take that one to the bank.

Following the Champions League quarterfinal draw, there was one game in the current ultra-important two-plus-week span that called out something along the lines of "All right, we'll be able to rest a little bit." That was without considering how Juventus would do in Munich against Bayern. Win, lose, or draw. Pescara's visit to Juventus Stadium was going to be one that would give Antonio Conte some option.

Fast forward a little bit and add in the 2-0 loss on Tuesday to Bayern Munich, and, well, it's time for Juventus to rebound from one of their worst performances of Antonio Conte's first two years manager.

Yes, Pescara is bound for Serie B when the season comes to an end. And yes, they've been sitting towards or at the bottom of the Serie A table for weeks on end now. But this isn't about playing the last-place team in the league. It's about getting back on the horse and winning games to close out the season. Would another six goals against Pescara be nice? Well, I think we all know the answer to that.

But to expect that would be wee bit unrealistic regardless of how bad Pescara may be on defense. What matters the most to me, you ask? Getting another three points in the standings and getting another three points closer to a second straight Scudetto. That's the main concern — right now. We'll worry about Wednesday night's game at Juventus Stadium when it gets here.

The squad will be different. That's just a predetermined fact based on suspensions and how Antonio Conte has rotated his lineup before and after Champions League games. Saturday won't be any different and there's no reason to think otherwise. There's no other way to think about it — especially with Champions League on the horizon.

GOOD NEWS

In case you forgot how the last Juventus-Pescara went, here's a brief reminder if you want one...

See? This is basically the opposite of what Juventus saw on Tuesday in Munich. Juventus were the ones on the attack instead of being caught on their heels a good amount of the time. And the statistics only back that up even further. Bayern's goal differential is out-of-this-world good. Pescara's? It's currently standing at minus-40. Let me say that again: MINUS-FORTY. That's 61 goals allowed, 21 goals scored in case you were wondering. If Pescara is a definition of bad, then Juve is good, right? Juventus' bare essentials — 59 scored, 19 allowed, plus-40 goal differential — is the other side of the coin when being compared to Pescara.

In conclusion: The Serie B Express is now loading on Platform 3, Pescara. We expect to see you there shortly.

BAD NEWS

No Andrea Barzagli. No Giorgio Chiellini. Who knows what Matrin Caceres' health condition will be when Juve take the field on Saturday. The defensive options, thanks to the two suspensions and our favorite Uruguayan's ongoing recovery from his car accident last month, are as thin as they've been in quite awhile. Luckily it's Pescara, and not Bayern that are coming to Juventus Stadium.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

1. Champions League hangover. Yeah, yeah, it can be said after every European game. It's nothing new. But for the first time this season, Juventus are coming off a loss in the Champions League. And not just a loss, but a complete whoopin'. Juventus will either come out completely pissed off — as they should be — or just kinda go through the motions. Regardless of what the starting lineup is, Conte must be able to get his team to put what happened on Tuesday against Bayern in the past and get things going again.

2. Luca Marrone. Finally, the 23-year-old defender-turned-midfielder gets a chance to play. How long has it been since Marrone last started a game? If you picked "March 6 against Celtic," then you're correct. It's been even longer since the last time Luca appeared in a Serie A game — two months ago when Juve beat Fiorentina 2-0 on Feb. 9. The only other action Marrone has seen lately was over the international break with the Italy Under-21 squad, but that's it. So what I'm basically trying to say is that he hasn't played much — recently or this season as a whole.

3. Who plays in the midfield? And more importantly, will Conte resist the urge to play Andrea Pirlo? Quick answer to the second question: I damn well hope so. We know how much a rested Pirlo can mean to the squad, and there's no reason not to rest him against the worst team in Serie A with a Champions League game on the horizon. But Conte may opt to play Pirlo — as the Gazzetta has been predicting pretty much all week — and rest somebody like Claudio Marchisio, who had his own kind of struggles against Bayern on Tuesday.

4. Who starts at striker? You would think that regardless of how he's feeling, Mirko Vucinic is going to be rested for the second leg against Bayern Munich. That just seems too logical at this point. While the Fabio Quagliarella-Alessandro Matri partnership didn't do much of anything in Munich, Conte could turn to them again if it's in his plans to play Sebastian Giovinco and/or Vucinic on Wednesday.

Or I could just be making all of this up and it will mean absolutely come kickoff time. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

My starting XI (3-5-2): Storari; Bonucci, Marrone, Peluso; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pogba, Marchisio, Asamoah; Giovinco, Matri

OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 6 P.M. IN ITALY; HIGH NOON ON THE EAST COAST; 9 A.M. ON THE WEST COAST

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