The lead up to Juventus' first game after a very good showing against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu can be summed up in one question: "What's next?"
No, really. That could be it. I could just drop the mic right here and be done with this preview. That sounds like a great idea. Sure hope they listen. But for the sake of this space of the internet and the valued visitors, I will continue to ramble.
Juventus play their first home game in 21 days tomorrow afternoon in Turin when Genoa comes to town as the Old Lady gets back to the chase for a third straight Scudetto. The same Genoa team that has already changed managers — bringing back Gian Piero Gasperini to the club after Fabio Liverani was sacked at the end of September — starting the season around the same place in the Serie A table where they finished the 2012-13 campaign.
Sounds like a pretty good situation for Juve, doesn't it?
Well, yeah. And it's not just because Genoa's last five games read as D-L-L-D-W, either. Juventus are coming off a game they feel they should have done better in on the scoreboard. They certainly deserved more than getting a loss with the way they played. What does that mean? That they're going to be angry. And who wants to face Juventus when they're angry?
Don't answer that. You know what I mean. At least I hope you know what I mean.
Back to the topic: What's the key to being at the top of the table? Beating the teams you're supposed to beat.
I think it's safe to say the way Genoa are going to begin the season, Juventus want to not just win it, but show that Wednesday's performance was just the start of something new rather than a one-time thing amidst a string of so-so performances. Or, maybe in this case, they're getting back to being the Juve of old.
Juventus are playing in front of the hometown crowd for the first time in what seems like a long time. Sure, it was only three weeks ago, but it seems like much longer than that. Juventus fans have had to go elsewhere to see their squad in action. But now, for the first time in three weeks, they won't have to go all that far at all.
You think Conte is happy to be playing at Juventus Stadium again?
Conte: Our fans are also vital to us and must support us with enthusiasm, hunger and verve from the stands. #JuveGenoa— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) October 26, 2013
Yeah, I think he is. Welcome home, guys.
Injuries are still here and making their presence be known. No Stephan Lichtsteiner again. No Mirko Vucinic again. No Fabio Quagliarella again. We've kinda figured that would be the case for the time being, but it still limits Conte's options. And, according to Conte at his pre-match press conference, Sebastian Giovinco has been battling to regain full fitness ever since his heroics against Milan three weeks ago. Great.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Post-Champions League letdown.
We've been down this road before. And sometimes it hasn't been the most pleasant of trips. But the reality tells us all that whenever Juventus play in the Champions League, the next league game doesn't go as well as it probably should. That doesn't mean Juve won't take the field and beat Genoa 5-0, but history tells us things might not be as great as we might hope. For whatever reason, the game after the Champions League the past year and change has been an issue for Conte and his squad.
2. Back to the 3-5-2 in Serie A?
To answer my own question: Yeah, that's exactly what it seems like. Sky Italia is reporting it, same with another one of the other media outlets in Italy. The 4-3-3 may be something Conte goes back to down the road, but for the time being in Serie A, it's back to the norm aka 3-5-2. Obviously the end product — outside of the result — against Real Madrid was very good, one we've been waiting weeks to actually see come to fruition. But with everything pointing to Conte returning to his base three-man defense, it probably shouldn't be all that surprising.
You gotta admit, though, the thought of a three-man attack with Tevez and Giovinco flanking Llorente is enticing in the immediate future. We'll just have to be patient, I guess.
3. The continued development of Fernando Llorente.
By his own admission, adapting to everything that comes with being a Juventus player wasn't exactly the easiest thing to do for Mr. Llorente. There was learning tactics, learning the system and just shaking off the rust after barely playing at all last season. But since Juventus have come out of the international break, Llorente has played a lot of minutes and showed that he is starting to really get "it." Who knows if this was all the plan or the injuries to Quagliarella and Vucinic helped accelerate his introduction to life as a starting striker at Juventus, but it's nice to see Llorente playing and being productive.
But all of this doesn't matter because Llorente's going to Arsenal in the January transfer window, right?
4. What kind of squad rotation there will be.
The game following a physical battle in Madrid makes for a perfect time to do some squad rotation. And if you don't think it should be that way, maybe we should go ask Arturo Vidal how he was feeling in the hours following the 2-1 loss in Madrid. Regardless, every indication is that on top of a return to the 3-5-2, there will be some new faces in the starting lineup. Who exactly will rotated in and/or out is obviously still to be determined, but the impression Conte gave during Saturday's presser was that changes are going to happen. Just as long as Marco Motta stays very far away from actually stepping on the field...
5. The impact of Juventus' wingers.
With an expected switch back to the 3-5-2, that means it's back to having wingbacks in the lineup. That also means trying to keep track of how many crosses actually are on target. So get excited folks! But with somebody like Llorente expected to be on the field, having somebody who can send the ball in from the wing could prove to be valuable. Rumblings say Mauricio Isla is going to start on the right wing with Kwadwo Asamoah on the left, so it still remains to be seen if Juve actually do get production from the two wide players. It'd be nice, I'll tell you that much.
My starting XI (3-5-2): Storari; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Caceres, Pogba, Pirlo, Marchisio, Asamoah; Llorente, Tevez
OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 3 P.M. IN ITALY; 10 A.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 7 A.M. ON THE WEST COAST