Maybe it's because Italy wrapped up World Cup qualification weeks ago, or maybe it's because there was nothing of major, earth-shattering kind of proportions going on, but the past two weeks worth of international break went by as slow as it could possibly be. There were crazy transfer rumors like always, but it seemed like everybody in the Italian media cranked up the stupid a notch or two just so we can see if we're really paying attention.
Thankfully, the international break is done and over with. Congrats on making it through another round of Fernando Llorente exit rumors. You should be proud of yourselves, guys and gals.
When Juventus faces Fiorentina in Florence Sunday afternoon, we'll officially have our calcio back. Well, it was back on Friday night when Roma beat Napoli at the Olimpico, but you know what I mean. (I hope you know what I mean.) Yes, you can put away your 'Countdown to Kickoff' clocks and take the jerseys out of the closet again. It's nearly game time!
It's the start of what is a huge stretch of games for Juventus. There's obviously a game tomorrow afternoon, but lurking in the not-so-far-away distance is a trip to Spain to play Real Madrid in the Champions League. But don't tell Antonio Conte about all of that. His eyes are on one thing — beating La Viola.
Conte: I'm not thinking about Real Madrid today. The only important clash for us is Fiorentina, one game at a time... #FiorentinaJuve— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) October 19, 2013
This guy...I like this guy.
Simply in terms of how Juventus has been playing the last month or so, I'd say the international break came at a good time. Something neededto be changed, and maybe two weeks off allowed Conte to adjust a few things so that this Juventus squad doesn't look like the one that went into the international break.
At least I hope that happened. We'll see if it becomes a real thing or just something else to continue to shake our heads at during games.
The fully-fit options on the right wing are almost as thin in numbers as they've been in quite some time. Even though he is rumored to be getting healthier by the day, Stephan Lichtsteiner didn't take part in any international break. On top of that, his assumed backup, Mauricio Isla, was injured during his time with the Chile national team. So if you're a Simone Padoin fanboy, you could be in luck. Get those DVRs ready!
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Containing Giuseppe Rossi
If I wasn't rooting for Juventus tomorrow, I'd want the American-born striker to keep his incredible start to the season going for the simple fact that he's a great player coming off one hell of a 24-month stretch. But because there are rooting interests involved, I don't want Rossi to do much of anything at all. (Sorry.) Actually making that happen, though, is another matter entirely. Only Alessio Cerci has scored more goals than Rossi has in Serie A this season. He's been good, damn good, and Fiorentina are seeing their risky transfer from this past January pay off big time thus far.
2. Whether or not Arturo Vidal actually plays.
The rumor mill has been going wild ever since the second round of international games were over and done with. Why? Well, in case you don't know what I'm getting at, here's a short recap: Vidal missed his flight back to Italy, was the only player on international duty to show up late and miss a couple of training sessions he was expected to be at and because of all that, is reportedly at risk of being suspended by Conte tomorrow afternoon. It wouldn't be the first time Conte has suspended somebody for being late to training. We've got Paul Pogba as precedent last season. Different circumstances, sure, but general situation remains the same. Whether or not Vidal is disciplined for his untimely return from South America is another matter...
Who knows. It could work out as a blessing in disguise. There won't be the 'what if' factor in the midfield and Vidal will be rested and raring to go against Real Madrid on Wednesday night.
3. Who starts alongside Carlos Tevez?
When I first started writing this preview at the beginning of the week, this is what I had to open this talking point:
In the days leading up to Sunday's match, I've seen these names starting alongside Carlos Tevez: Fabio Quagliarella, Mirko Vucinic and Fernando Llorente. Basically, nobody really has a clue about it.
Yeah, I was assumed that everything was going to go according to plan. There would be five healthy bodies to choose from, thus making things difficult on Conte. Or, at least what I thought would be a difficult decision for Juventus' manager. Then the word came out Mirko Vucinic can't shake off his pre-international break injuries and is a major doubt for both Fiorentina and Real Madrid. Then Fabio Quagliarella picked up a thigh strain in training early this week.
That means Tevez's strike partner is down to two guys — Fernando Llorente and Sebasitian Giovinco. I could go on about who I think should play, or I could just direct you to Friday's post regarding this exact subject. That might be a little easier.
4. Tactical tango: 3-5-2 vs. 3-5-2.
While using a three-man defense has become all the rage in Serie A this season, we'll be looking at two of the men who helped it become such an in-vogue formation. Conte and Montella were two of the architects of what has become what seems like the norm in Italy. And that means it will be a chess match within the chess match which occurs in every game we see being played. The first time Juve and Fiorentina played last season, it was Montella's men who won the battle of the midfield and kept Andrea Pirlo under wraps. Will that be the same kind of deal this time around? I don't know. But it will be interesting to see how the two managers try and draw up a plan to break each other down.
My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Padoin, Vidal, Pogba, Marchisio, Asamoah; Llorente, Tevez
OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 3 P.M. IN ITALY; 9 A.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 6 A.M. ON THE WEST COAST