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Juventus vs. Lazio Preview: Round 12: Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back!

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Feel free to grab your 'Welcome Back, Kotter' memorabilia, folks. We're about to fire up the YouTube machine and do some singing back Juventus is back.

Paolo Bruno

The last time we saw Juventus on a field in their lovely new blue away/alternate jerseys, they were dismantling a Parma side whose defense had been hysterically bad through the first quarter of the Serie A season. It's not often those of us who get to write about football for a living get to drop the line "three players came away with braces" in a match recap unless we were somehow working in an Under-12 team's trip to the dentist.

And yet, we were forced to wait two weeks for the next Juventus game. "Hey, you loved that last Juventus game?" the football gods said to us. "Well, you'll just have to wait a couple weeks until your next chance to watch those guys!"

Luckily for us who view things with black and white-colored glasses, that next Juventus game is now less than 24 hours away. Nope, this is not a drill, people.

Ah, how nice it is to be typing things like that once again.

Goodbye, international break. Hello, Serie A football, we've missed you oh-so-much. Sound your celebratory horns, Juventus is back once more. Max Allegri and his resurgent Juventus squad travel to the Italian capital to face Lazio in quite an interesting Saturday night showdown at the Stadio Olimpico. Juventus will know by the time they take the Olimpico field whether they have company atop the table or if Atalanta has done Allegri's squad a favor and given Juve the chance to extend their lead over Roma.

Tomorrow night's trip to Rome kicks off what is the final stretch of games before we head into the holiday break. In that time, we'll learn if Juventus will be crowned winter champions, if they get out of their Champions League group, and if Allegri's change in tactics has truly sunk in and given this team new life.

Oh, and if Juventus will have enough defenders to make it to the Christmas break without causing us to have an all-out panic and freakout session. That would be very much appreciated, guys.

So away we go once again. Let the games come fast, let them come furious, and hopefully writing about Juventus getting three points all the damn time — and maybe even more braces! — becomes a regular thing again. How does that sound?

(Good, I hope.)

GOOD NEWS

JUVENTUS BACK.

BAD NEWS

Injuries — because what else is this section for these days, right?

Martín Cáceres, injured. Andrea Barzagli, injured. Angelo Ogbonna, injured. Kwadwo Asamoah, injured. Patrice Evra, injured. Luca Marrone, injured. Notice where pretty much all of these guys play in the same area of the field. Goodness.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

1. The continued development of Max Allegri's Christmas tree.

No, we're not talking ornaments and bright lights. (Although, fellow U.S. residents who frequent Costco on a somewhat regular basis know that the decorations have been out for weeks. Gone are the days when we wonder if it's going to be a three- or four-man defense. We know what to expect now. And while there are injuries everywhere in defense, we pretty much know what the midfield and attack — outside of a Arturo Vidal-or-Roberto Pereyra decision (more on that later) — is going to look like. Despite having a lot of players out on international duty, Allegri has now pretty much put the 3-5-2 formation to bed, unofficially putting his stamp on this Juventus squad. And based on what we've seen from the 4-3-1-2/4-3-2-1 formations thus far, the change in tactics has been welcomed with open arms. I'm not just talking about from those of us who watch the games from afar, either. This team looks to have a pep back in its step.

2. Giorgio Chiellini, under the microscope.

These are the kind of things that happen when you agree to a brand new contract a couple of days prior. It's especially true when you agree to a brand new contract and you're not playing all that well to begin with this season. But it's safe to say that with a new contract in hand, the out-of-form Chiellini will be concentrated on a little more than he normally is. That's especially true considering how ravaged by injuries Juve's defense has been this season. Chiellini is pencilled in to start alongside Leonardo Bonucci — who is coming off a minor muscle strain midweek during international duty — and have the extraordinary Simone Padoin at left back. As you can see, Juventus' defense is not even close to full strength. I think I've mentioned that once or twice already...

3. The impact one a certain Fernando Llorente.

The Fernando Llorente we saw against Parma two weeks ago looked a lot like the Fernando Llorente we saw for a good portion of last season, a campaign where he scored 18 goals in all competitions. One of the biggest reasons as to why Llorente has looked more and more like the Llorente of old after starting the season in such an incredible rut? Because of the contributions of Juve's fullbacks, most notably Stephan Lichtsteiner. Llorente's brace against Parma topped off what was easily one of Llorente's best performances this season. After being one of the few Juventus starters to not go out on international duty over the last two weeks, Llorente is going to be rested and raring to go. So if he wants to score another goal or two against Lazio like he did last season, I think that would be perfectly okay with me.

4. Does Arturo Vidal play or get rested for midweek Champions League action?

King Arturo is one of the 21 players called up for the trip to Rome, and Allegri confirmed that he is available to be selected tomorrow night. However, there's a catch: Vidal was the last player to arrive back in Turin following his international team commitments. After the last few international breaks, Allegri has shown a tendency to rest the players who have arrived back in Turin later than the rest of those who were out on national team duty. So with a crucial European fixture against Malmö on the horizon, does Allegri choose to sit Vidal in favor of somebody like Pereyra and go with a Christmas tree once more? A lot of folks in the Italian media are thinking that's the case, and I'm thinking along the same line.

5. Will Juventus keep the pre-international break momentum going?

As amazing as it would be, Juventus aren't going to score seven goals every game. Although, playing against Parma's defense every week would be pretty cool if you ask me, but who am I to decide these things? I digress. Juventus went into the international break playing close to as well as they have all season. They're on a winning streak, they've adapted to Allegri's new formation swiftly and seemingly without any kind of trouble. Now we watch to see if they can continue to build on the post-Genoa reality check. And like I said, if Atalanta helps Juventus out at all in Saturday's early game, they'll be walking onto the Olimpico field with the chance to stretch their lead atop the table. Sounds good, huh?

My starting XI (4-3-1-2): Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Bonucci, Chiellini, Padoin; Pogba, Pirlo, Marchisio; Pereyra, Tévez; Llorente

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