In the sports world, we like to call this a 'trap game.' Not because there is some kind of net on the field that swoops up an unknowing player or anything like that. The simple reason is that with such a huge game — ahem Champions League vs. Celtic ahem — looming in the near future, the fixture immediately in front of you might not get the same kind of attention it would normally receive.
Juventus could find themselves in that kind of matchup tomorrow when Fiorentina comes to Turin. The emphasis is on 'could,' of course. There's no guarantee that Juve are completely overlooking this game. Actually, I'm pretty sure they aren't, especially with it being such a competitive team like Fiorentina. Yes, that same Fiorentina team that played a brilliant game against Juve when the two teams met in Florence earlier this season.
And if we need any further confirmation of Juventus' current mindset about tomorrow's fixture, Martin Caceres wants to tell you a few things before continuing along with this post. From juventus.com:
"We're conscious of the fundamental week that lies ahead. The Champions League is a fascinating competition, Celtic are a great side and we're playing away from home. But for now wer're purely focused on the Fiorentina game. Regardless of the opposition, we always take to the field to do our best and win."
That's exactly what you want to hear. Now, it's time for the players to actually prove it.
That ultimate judgement will come on Saturday when the Viola roll into the Juventus Stadium for an early-evening encounter that kicks off a big weekend in the calcio world. (That game immediately following Juve-Fiorentina certainly has a few implications, doesn't it? Yep.)
For now, we will think happy thoughts. And I certainly have a lot more happy thoughts than I did this time last week. Amazing what a decent performance and a win cane do to one's mental state. Keep winning, Juventus. It will help.
The last time I wrote a preview, it wasn't very uplifting at all. Juventus were playing like crap and there weren't many reasons to feel — at the time — very optimistic. The month of February was here and Juve weren't playing like a team that was just days away from returning to Europe's biggest club competition.
While Juventus aren't completely out of the January hole that was marked by craptastic games and a whole lot of nothing done in the transfer window, there's some reason to be happy again. And no, it's not because Nicolas Anelka is here to save all the children or anything. But if he wants to score a couple of goals, I'd be cool with that.
Anyways, I go to the Caceres interview from earlier in the post again — mainly because he's saying smart things.
"Results wise, we didn't have a brilliant January, but it's now behind us. Are Napoli our main rivals? There's still a long way to go until the end of the season, we'll see how the next games pan out. Many of our rivals have strengthened, above all Milan with the arrival of Balotelli, but we'll stay focused on what we're doing."
Martin is honest and I like that. And that's the main purpose as to why this is all good news. The squad is saying good things. And saying good things means they're in a good state of mind. But it's not just that they're busting out PR-friendly statements like some other people we know, this is genuine talk coming from a player who has a history of pretty much stating what is on his mind.
So what I'm trying to say is this: Caceres studied at the Gianluigi Buffon School of Interview Taking and Juventus players are feeling upbeat. There we go.
While injuries are getting less and less, they're still hanging around. It's uncertain as to whether Claudio Marchisio will be even included in the match squad. With Celtic on Tuesday, I'm thinking Juve won't risk him and make sure he's good to go in Glasgow. Then again, I'm not Antonio Conte — nor do I claim to be — so the final decision is Il Mister's, not mine.
And in case you were wondering how Conte will celebrate if Juventus do score a number of goals, you're gonna have to wait until Tuesday. Why? Well, Conte still has to serve another game of his two-match suspension following his post-match tirade against Genoa. The same goes for Leonardo Bonucci, but at least we get Mirko Vucinic back, right? Hooray!
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. How amazing Andrea Pirlo's beard looks. Seriously. Okay, maybe not. But that's only because it always looks awesome.
2. 3-5-2 vs. 3-5-2. The midfield will be crowded, but that's pretty a given when two teams that play with five-man midfields square off against one another. And that's exactly what happened earlier this season. Here's what I said in the game recap regarding the midfield:
The midfield got outplayed — badly. It wasn't just Pirlo getting outperformed by his regista counterpart, it was the whole group. Giaccherini struggled mightily and Vidal wasn't his usual dominant self when it comes to taking of the physicality in the center of the park. Marchisio's awesomeness was great missed — and it really did show.
So, basically what I'm trying to say is that Juventus shouldn't do that again. Just a friendly piece of advice.
3. Can Alessandro Matri continue on this comeback trail? It'd been quite a long time since Matri had a game like he did against Chievo last weekend. It was the Matri of old — he was holding up play, getting involved in a majority of Juventus' attacks towards goal, and of course scored a goal to highlight the performance. Obviously he's not completely "back" after consecutive positive outings, but it's a start. The only thing that concerns me is that if he does start alongside Vucinic, the two haven't had all that much productivity up top together. Maybe if Matri truly has gotten back into form things will change, but I'm just going to wait and see.
4. The Paul Pogba Effect. Both Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal had strong games against Chievo last weekend, but it took the young Frenchman quite a bit of time before he truly got into the flow of things. If Marchisio is indeed rested against Fiorentina like some say he will be, then Pogba will likely be playing the same kind of role he did to start out against Chievo. And if that's indeed the case, he's gonna need to impose his impact a whole lot earlier than last weekend.
5. The Luca Marrone Effect. For the second game running, young Luca will be in the starting lineup. You read that correctly. This isn't a typo. No Bonucci means more Marrone. Hey, at least he's playing! Now Saturday's match will be a step up in competition for Juve's young midfielder-turned-centerback. Translation: Stevan Jovetic Time. It's Marrone's biggest test to date and I wouldn't be surprised at all if he does see a lot of Jovetic over the course of the 90-plus minutes on the pitch.
My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Barzagli, Marrone, Caceres; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pirlo, Pogba, Peluso; Vucinic, Matri
OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 6 P.M. IN ITALY; 12 NOON ON THE EAST COAST; 9 A.M. ON THE WEST COAST