With no more Champions League to take part in this season, Serie A is now officially Juventus' No. 1 priority. Or, if you recall any Antonio Conte interview from the preseason buildup, retaining the Scudetto is still his team's No. 1 priority. That means, even though Juventus isn't in the European competition they want to take part in, getting back on the horse and righting the ship is what needs to be done.
Not next weekend, not next month. Right now.
First step: Sunday night against Sassuolo at Juventus Stadium.
The Serie A champs against one of Serie A's newbies in the first ever competitive meeting between the two clubs. Not exactly the headline-grabbing encounter Juventus had the last time they faced a critical point in their season following the 4-2 shocker against Fiorentina two months ago, but these are the cards Conte's squad has been dealt.
Conte: It's not the first time we've had a setback. We need to do well to bounce back and be prepared for #JuveSassuolo.— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) December 14, 2013
Bouncing back is the biggest thing for Conte and his squad. There's no other way around it.
We've seen a craptastic Juventus Champions League exit in recent memory. But that squad wasn't nearly as good — or have the same kind of credentials — as this current one. Expectations were high coming into this season, and one of the biggest targets is now completely out of reach. Does that mean we should be disappointed? Absolutely. Does that mean the season is over and we should all go back to sleeping in on the weekend? Definitely not.
There's still Serie A and the historic potential of winning a third straight title, there's still Conte's No. 1 target. As upsetting as this European exit is, the season isn't over, as hard as that may be to believe right now.
Short attention span reading and writing...
-- Juventus' last seven games in Serie A: Seven wins, seven clean sheets.
-- Sassuolo has allowed the highest amount of goals (31) in Serie A this season.
-- No Domenico Berardi, who is out due to suspension tomorrow against Juve. We'll talk about that in a second or two.
No Domenico Berardi, who is out due to suspension. Even though I won't be rooting for the team Berardi currently plays for, watching one of Juve's best young prospects try and work his magic against a team he could very well be playing for in the near future was something I was looking forward to. I guess we'll just have to watch more Sassuolo games from now on. Or maybe you're already doing so. If that's the case, carry on as you were.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Just how pissed off the Juventus players are.
You would like to think that with the way Juve dropped out of the Champions League, there would be a whole lot of motivation to absolutely destroy their next opponent. That's not just because the field resembled something out of a horror movie, but because all Conte's squad needs to do to figure out why they're not in the Champions League anymore is to just look in a mirror. You know Conte will use the exit from Europe's premier club competition as a motivational tool to get his team amped up tomorrow night. All that's left is to see whether or not they come out of the tunnel ready to get down to business and take no prisoners.
2. If there will be any squad rotation following the Champions League exit.
Conte said in his pre-match press conference on Saturday that he will field the strongest team he has available to him — which is pretty much a sign that he's looking to do some beating up of Sassulo come tomorrow night. Due to injuries and suspensions, it won't the fullest of strength squad that's possible for Conte to roll out there. But if Conte wants to take his anger out on Sassuolo, then it will be, in all likelihood, as full-strength of a lineup as Juventus can possibly field. That's not necessarily a bad thing — especially when you're looking to take out some anger on your opponent.
3. Luca Marrone's mark on the Sassuolo midfield.
As a Luca Marrone fanboy, I'm glad he's finally getting some regular playing time. But with a few guys you may have heard of in front of him in Turin, he's had to go elsewhere to get said minutes on the field. And after shaking off an injury early in the season, the 23-year-old Italian has slotted right into the Sassuolo midfield and shown what he's capable of. He already leads the team in assists despite only starting seven games so far this season. Not bad for a kid who barely saw the field during his two-year stint back at the club he grew up at.
4. Sassuolo's offense minus Domenico Berardi.
For a player in his first Serie A season, seven goals in 10 games is a pretty impressive return. Then you take into account that Berardi is still just 19 years old, and it's even that much more of an eye-catcher. But with his suspension due to yellow card accumulation, Sassuolo won't be with the player who has scored nearly half of their goals this season. The devils advocate would say that the majority of Berardi's goals have come from the penalty spot, and you'd be right. Seven goals are seven goals, though, no matter how you try to spin it. And there's no doubting Sassuolo will miss him come Sunday night in Turin. Simone Zaza time, anybody?
5. The role of Mr. #BOH, Kwadwo Asamoah.
At the beginning of the week, most Italian outlets were thinking that Asabob wouldn't even play. Now, as we're less than 24 hours before kickoff, those same people are saying Asamoah could potentially return to where he played during his Udinese days — as a central midfielder. How bout them apples?
Conte: We're working on various solutions and could deploy Asamoah as one of the three central midfielders. #JuveSassuolo— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) December 14, 2013
"Could" in this sense means that it's a distinct possibility. That's because, as Conte noted during his press conference, both Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio will be out tomorrow due to injury and yellow card accumulation, respectively. Methinks Asamoah will go from left wingback to central midfielder, a place a lot of people around these parts have been wondering when — or if — the Ghanian would return to. And it'll be interesting to see not only who steps in for him on the left wing, but how Asamoah is able to bring his high-energy style into a midfield that might need a little boost considering how things went the last time Juve were on a football pitch.
My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Caceres, Bonucci, Ogbonna; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pogba, Asamoah, De Ceglie; Llorente, Tevez
OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 6:30 P.M. IN ITALY; 12:30 P.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 9:30 A.M. ON THE WEST COAST