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Juventus set to sail on stranger tides

After the international break ends, crucial fixtures in quick succession will challenge the Old Lady's cruise.

Valerio Pennicino

You only need fingers from one hand to count the things in football more boring than international breaks. Debatable, I know, but as a supporter of a particular national team which in recent years gave me more reasons to feel bad than not, and more importantly as a Juventino, I feel deprived of the right to get my weekly dose I’m addicted to. The simple idea of spending a fortnight without listening to Storia di un grande amore before a game in which the Bianconeri give their best on the pitch, could have lasting effects on my well-being.

And to twist the knife in the wound already opened by this break, a thought keeps haunting me, whispering in my brain that Juventus have five crucial fixtures in the space of 17 days. Shortly after a trip in Rome to face Lazio, the Old Lady travels to Sweden for the fifth fixture of the Champions’ League group stages against Malmö. It may seem as an easy one for the Italian champions, but the truth is I am terrified by the game. Recent similar travels to northern Europe didn’t end too well. Anyone remember Jesper Hansen and Johan Wiland, the Scandinavian goalkeepers who sold their souls to the devil, turning to the dark side, before playing the games of their lives against Juve? I still see them in my nightmares now and then.

And there are more things that go against Bianconeri ahead of the penultimate fixture of the group stages. But before reading the next phrase, make sure you are seated comfortably and have something to grip in case you’re fainting. Juventus have lost five of their last six away matches in UEFA Champions’ League, drawing one against Copenhagen and scoring only two goals in the process. Actually, after returning to the big scene of European football, Juventus have only won two of their ten away games. It is not the kind of stat we have gotten used to in the last three years, no. This is the reality though. The club underperforms in Europe — big time. That is why the Malmö game is already giving me shivers.

So how can a supporter live through a two-week international break knowing such crucial times await his team? He cannot. To make things worse, Juventus are also hosting the Derby della Mole and shortly after, traveling to Florence for another encounter that sparked a huge rivalry throughout the years — two games which every Juventino expects to be won. Then comes the icing on the cake: the Bianconeri welcome Atletico Madrid to Turin knowing they would probably need a win to qualify from the group stages. There is no need to emphasize how important that game could be — essential. Aside from the physical level needed to get past all these tests, the players’ mental state has to be flawless. This is the moment when all the eyes are turned to Max Allegri. This is his job and arguably his chance to prove himself as a manager.

After the last international break, Juve only registered one win out of four games, losing away to Olympiakos and Genoa, playing some poor, lackluster football, relying entirely on individual performances. However, the squad was somehow revived before the wheels of the bandwagon came off and Allegri, no doubt, deserves credit for that. After the fantastic comeback against the Greeks and the utterly brilliant performance against Parma, momentum was with his team's side, only for the break to come and cut it short. The players must pick-up their game from where they had left it when they return to Vinovo and it is Allegri’s responsibility to make sure this happens.

When all is said and done, there might be a tiny little positive to take away from this round of internationals, leaving aside the stereotypical "players fulfill their duty of representing the national side" idea, which is just fine for them, in the end. But what is of interest for us, are the call-ups for Alvaro Morata and Carlos Tévez and the impact they could make on the players’ morale. In his first three months at Juventus, Morata demonstrated great technique and goalscoring instincts, and was rewarded with his first appearance for Spain’s senior side. For a young player in development, this could be just the catalyst needed to become a top footballer.

Justice was finally made as Tévez was called-up for Argentina after almost three and a half years and he was more than delighted to be playing a part in the national team again. Alejandro Sabella’s decision to leave Tévez out of the squad for the World Cup in Brazil because of reasons that only made sense in his head, made me watch the final on my knees, praying Germany wins it. I truly believed Sabella needed a punishment for leaving a top player like Tévez out of the squad for a final tournament. You don’t treat champions that way.

So the prospect of having both players with morale high flying upfront on the pitch for the upcoming paramount fixtures is a small relief for the next week which might seem an eternity. And there is another Spanish-speaking striker lurking around, waiting to be thrown into action after finally gaining the confidence he lacked so far this season. Things are not looking that bad, but there is a huge, terrifying wave ready to hit this ship called Juventus and Allegri has to make sure Old Lady’s crew hold on tight for this season-defining period.