Normally, a matchup between the first-place and last-place teams in Serie A would be easy to figure out and thought about as rather straightforward. You know, the kind of thing that makes you think something like, "This team is no good. Juventus are about to stomp all over them." Easy to say, easy to predict the outcome.
But Juventus vs. Sassuolo has a bit of a different feel to it. At least from here it does. Not because of where each team is in the standings, but who's actually playing in the game. Over the past two summers, Sassuolo has seemingly become a the minor-league baseball team equivalent to Juventus. Got a promising player? Send 'em to Sassuolo! It's seemed to work out pretty well so far, so why stop now, right? Exactly. Keep 'em coming, guys!
Those kids are Sassuolo's present, but also looked at as Juventus' future.
Go ahead and name them if you'd like. There's Domenico Berardi, Simone Zaza and the likes. Instead of watching them play for Juventus like a lot of us want to see happen, they're going to try and slow down the only team still to not lose a game in Serie A so far this season.
Heavy task to ask of them?
Sure, mainly because — even with the injuries — Juventus are still the best team in Italy and playing good football. Well, at least they're playing good football domestically. We will talk about the Champions League in a couple of days when we're ready to mix up a Greek salad and get away from all these crooked Italian referees. (Hi, Mr. Totti.) I mean, up until the 3-2 win over Roma, Juventus' goals allowed column read a big, fat goose egg.
In short: Step on up, Sassuolo. You're the next team to try and slow the train down.
I must say, that's a damn good quote. Right on, Max, right on.
Points after six rounds of the Serie A season: Juventus 18, Roma 15.
Three points worth of difference and alone at the top of the table for the first time all season. A little room to maneuver never hurt anybody. Well, anybody who is port of and/or roots for the team that's in first place, that is.
Might as well just change the 'Bad News' section to the 'Who's Injured?' at this point. Martin Cáceres remains out with a hamstring injury he picked up against Roma, same goes for Andrea Barzagli, Romulo and Luca Marrone. There's also no Álvaro Morata as he serves his one-game red card suspension. At least Simone Padoin is 100 percent healthy, right?
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Domenico Berardi.
You can tell that Domenico Berardi really does love Sassuolo, and they obviously love him back. That definitely played a big-time roll in his decision to stay around another season despite Juventus reportedly being quite interested in bringing the 20-year-old starlet to Turin this summer. But he clearly decided to repay the club that has given him so much the last couple of years and, for the first time in his career, he will play against the club that owns half of his contract after being suspended for both Juventus-Sassuolo meetings last season. There will be a spotlight on Berardi, and rightfully so. You name the best prospects Juve have right now, and Berardi is the first or second name out of somebody's mouth every single time. In other words, the kid is good. Really, really good.
2. Simone Zaza.
Zaza isn't officially on Juventus' books this season, but he could very well be this time next season. He doesn't have the kind of hype surrounding himself as Berardi does, but he's still one of the best young Italian players going these days. And guess who's been starting for Italy's senior squad these past few months? It's not Berardi, it's Zaza. It hasn't completely clicked for Zaza on the club level, scoring just one goal in five games (413 minutes). Then again, you could say that about the Sassuolo squad as a whole, with Berardi (2) and Zaza (1) scoring all of the club's goals so far this season. Not exactly good news that Serie A's best defense is coming to town, I guess.
3. Federico Peluso.
Nah, just kidding. Guy is suspended tomorrow night anyway after receiving a red card against Lazio. Moving on...
4. Angelo Ogbonna.
This point was originally slotted for a brief discussion about all of Juve's four stellar central midfielders being available for selection, but apparently Max Allegri — and a travel agent in Chile — had other ideas. So, we've called an audible, and will focus our intention on one of the guys who will be looked upon to slow down Berardi, Zaza, and the rest of the talented Sassuolo attack.
This has been a sort of mini-redemption tour for Ogbonna, wo struggled both for playing time and on the field when he did get the chance to play during the 2013-14 campaign. This season has been a completely different story for the former Torino defender. He's been good, maybe the best and most consistent Juventus defender not named Martin Cáceres through the first two months of the season. With Cáceres out injured for at least the next couple of weeks, Ogbonna isn't going to find himself in a situation where he isn't playing much at all. It's going to be the exact opposition. And the way he's playing right now, it's not a bad thing to him Ogbonna in the starting lineup.
5. Can the other half of The Beauty & The Beast striker partnership break his duck?
We know Carlos Tévez has been in fine form to begin the 2014-15 season. We also know Fernando Llorente hasn't been in very good form to begin the 2014-15 season. Thanks to Allegri's words on Friday afternoon, we pretty much know — whether you agree with it or not — that it will be Llorente and Tévez starting alongside one another against Sassuolo. There goes any kind of thoughts that we'd see Kingsley Coman's mohawk from the opening kickoff.
What does Llorente have going for him even though he's not in a good vein of form right now? Through six games, Sassuolo has one of the worst defense in Serie A, allowing 12 goals (seven of which came against Inter last month). If there was a defense to score against when you're in need of a goal, Sassuolo would probably be one of the top teams you'd throw up there. You know, just like he did last season. (I miss that Llorente, for the record.)
My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon;
Cáceres Ogbonna, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Pogba, Pirlo, Marchisio, Evra; Tévez, Coman
OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 8:45 P.M. IN ITALY; 2:45 P.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 11:45 A.M. ON THE WEST COAST
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