Juventus vs. Catania Preview: Round 29 — Starting the final countdown

Valerio Pennicino

In reality, the chase for the Scudetto was probably Juventus' and Juventus' only weeks ago. It's only natural to think that way when the lead over the closest competition hits double digits. As Juve enter the week with an absolutely commanding 14-point lead with 10 games to play, the light at the end of the tunnel is becoming just that much more visible to everybody associated with our black and white friends in Turin.

And what a better kind of way than to officially kickoff the final charge to clinching a third straight league title than playing against the team that is on the completely opposite end of the table?

Done and done.

Serie A's best team, Juventus, will be traveling to Sicily to face the league's worst team, Catania. Two teams meeting on the same field, a differential of 55 points in the league table. Sounds like a gold mine for returning home with three points, doesn't it? Yeah, I think so. This is the portion of the schedule in the first half of the season where Juve started to make their rapid rise up the table and into first place for good. They racked up win after win, shutout after shutout, three points after three points.

How did Catania's visit to Juventus Stadium at the end of October go? Well, think about some poker, and then think of the relation to footy that we like to use it in regards to. That's exactly how it went in Turin. Juve's 4-0 shellacking of Catania was exactly that and was the second game (and win) in what has become a 20-game unbeaten and a simply crazy lead atop the table.

So, three more points closer to a third straight Scudetto come 24 hours from now?

Sure! I'm all for it! And if they want to make it another day where we see our poker face, then that's cool, too.

GOOD NEWS

Inside information: Juventus is good, Catania is not very good.

BAD NEWS

Injuries, injuries, injuries. Still plenty of injuries to go around for what seems like a third of the Juventus roster. Basically the same names from the trip to Florence will be missing out on the trip to Catania, which pretty much sucks.

Oh, and Paul Pogba is suspended after picking up a yellow card against Genoa last weekend. As if Juventus needed any other players to be missing from the squad right now. Ah, well.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

1. Post-Europa League hangover.

Thursday's win was emotional. It was a physical battle. It had to take a lot out of every player involved. Now we ask the simple question: How much does Juventus have in the tank coming off short rest? And not just in a physical sense, but also a mental one. Thursday night was a tough one, and you'd probably be right to say that the players were as fatigued physically as they were emotionally and mentally. Well, after they were done jumping around and celebrating, of course. But as is the case no matter if it's the Champions League or Europa League, it's the game after that makes you think. Although I'm pretty sure that playing the worst team in Serie A could help ease some of those issues.

2. How close Juventus come to playing a complete 90 minutes.

I guess you could say Point 1 is connected to Point 2. The problem with Juventus's form right now is that even though they are winning games and picking up points, it's not coming with all that great of football. Earlier in the season when they were winning, they were crushing teams. These days, putting together a complete game is, well, not even close to being a reality. Juve could have a good 45 minutes, then — for whatever reason — just make things hard on themselves. And it's not just turning the switch off and making things interesting, it's keeping the opponent hanging around and in the game. And as a wise man once told me, "When you've got the chance to step on somebody's throat, you do it." Truer words have never been spoken.

3. Who's replacing Paul Pogba in the starting lineup?

Having the 20-year-old Frenchman out of the lineup is one thing, not knowing who the heck is going to take his spot is quite another. With Claudio Marchisio being one of those injured players not included in the squad for tomorrow's match, we're all left to wonder one thing and one thing only — 'Who's it going to be?' Maybe Conte shifts Kwadwo Asamoah to the center of the midfield for the first time in a good amount of time. That's a pretty logical option even though it opens up another question about the left wing. Other than that, though, options are as slim as they've been with only two natural central midfielders not named Asamoah on the roster. Or, we could get our much-anticipated Simone Padoin start. Hey, the guy's won two league titles, ya know.

4. Who's Conte going to be starting in attack?

When I sat at my laptop and thought about who Conte was going to start against Fiorentina, I really had no idea. Well, I had a hunch Carlos Tevez was going to play, but other than, I had no clue. Sitting here a few days later and putting this preview post together, I pretty much have the same kind of vibe. Tevez looked fully fit and was one of the best players against Fiorentina on Thursday night. And even though he played a huge role in Andrea Pirlo's game-winning free kick masterpiece, Fernando Llorente's overall game was nowhere near his strike partner in Florence. Could that open the door for Dani Osvaldo to get a start? I'm thinking it might, especially the way he has played since he arrived in Turin.

5. Does anybody get to rest following the second leg against Fiorentina?

Because Antonio Conte never talks to the press before Serie A matches these days, we have no idea of knowing for sure. Or, we don't even have the chance to get a hint of something happening when it comes to players who were in action on Thursday night getting a bit of a breather. This is supposed to be the perfect game for Conte to do some squad rotation. The problem is that there's not much of a squad to really rotate. That's what the current injury situation has done to Conte's option. Any kind of depth Juve had a few weeks ago is just completely gone at this point. If you need anything close to a reminder, just look at Juve's bench from the 1-0 win over Fiorentina because there's a good chance it will look a lot like it was three days ago.

My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Caceres, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pirlo, Asamoah, Isla; Osvaldo, Tevez

OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 8:45 P.M. IN ITALY; 3:45 P.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 12:45 P.M. ON THE WEST COAST

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