Sometimes at the beginning of a preview, I like to focus on the two teams that will be playing. Or try to be funny in some kind of way. Or maybe both. This time, though, I'm going to go in a little bit of a different direction.
When Hellas Verona came to Juventus Stadium in late September, it was the beginning of something new. No, Juve were still playing consistently inconsistent at the time. They were coming off 1-1 draws with Inter and FC Copenhagen. Not exactly what you'd call building serious momentum at the beginning of the season.
Why am I bringing up the last time Juventus played Hellas Verona?
Because it's the first game Fernando Llorente started in a Juventus jersey.
I'm not talking about when he started against Everton in the International Champions Cup at AT&T Park. Although, I can say I was there, so that's kinda cool, I guess. But the first official game Llorente started as a Juve player was Juve's 2-1 win over Hellas at Juventus Stadium on Sept. 22.
Since that game in September, Juventus have done exactly what pretty much everybody who follows calcio expected them to do when the season began — show why they're the top team in all of the country. They might not have taken the best of routes — like, you know, getting smacked in the face by Fiorentina — but they're playing they way they should right now. What people didn't expect, though, is that Verona would be chillin' four spots behind Juve in the table. If the season ended today, Hellas Verona — yes, that has Luca Toni leading them in scoring with 10 goals — would finish in fifth place and go into the Europa League.
Now, as things come full circle for Llorente against Hellas Verona, his team looks to do exactly what they've been doing lately — winning. They've done that quite a bit in the last three-plus months. Well, in Serie A anyway as they look to win an unprecedented third straight league title.
That'd be cool with me. You, too, I assume. Then again, who am I to judge?
Juventus unbeaten streak update: 14 games, 38 goals scored, 6 goals allowed.
This has been a Juventus unbeaten streak update.
Oh, and one more thing...
With 59 points, Conte's Juve equals Capello's 2005-06 points total after 22 matches. It's a record for the three-point era. (GdS)
— Luca Cetta (@l_cetta) February 3, 2014
That's pretty good, right?
Let's see here...
Outside of maybe Andrea Barzagli, everybody who will be wearing a Juventus jersey is healthy. Juventus enter Sunday's action nine points up on second-place Roma. They haven't been beaten in a league game since the middle of October.
I'd say there's not really much of anything bad news-worthy going on right now.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. What role, if any, will Dani Osvaldo play?
Rumors at the beginning of the week had Juventus' newest player impressing in training and, so much so, that he'd possibly getting some serious playing time because of it. While I don't doubt that Osvaldo has been working hard to make a good first impression on Antonio Conte, I find it highly unlikely that the Juve manager will break up his No. 1 partnership of Carlos Tevez and Llorente. That means, if logic prevails, Osvaldo will be starting from the bench Sunday afternoon. Whether he stays there for the whole 90 minutes is another matter entirely.
2. Leonardo Bonucci and the search for a mistake-free game.
I'm not talking about a bad pass here and there that don't mean much at all or anything like that. I'm talking about the mishaps that turn into something big for the other team. It happened against Inter last weekend in the Derby d'Italia — and that's not the first time this season a Bonucci miscue has lead to something happening in Juve's third of the field. This doesn't mean Bonucci is playing poorly, because he's not. But there's only so many times one can play with fire until they get seriously burned, right? I'd say so.
3. Will it be Andrea Barzagli or Martin Caceres on the right side of Juve's three-man defense?
If the Great Wall of Barzagli isn't available to start, then having Caceres play is the next best option. Not just because he has high socks and a rockin' hairstyle, but because he's actually quite good at this football thing. And Caceres' presence also signifies another thing besides high-sock lovefests — just how the world doesn't end when Barzagli can't take the field. Do Juve start conceding goals at a crazy rate when Caceres plays? Nope. And that's what Conte will be hoping for again if Barzagli isn't a go.
4. Can Juventus slow down Vernoa's good vibes at home?
How good have Hellas Verona been at home this season? Juventus' official website will tell us.
There have been no half measures in Verona's home record this season: eight victories, three defeats and not a single draw are the results they've recorded at the Bentegodi.
I'd say that's rather successful. The list of clubs who have more wins than Hellas Verona at home this season is a pretty short one. First is Juventus, second is Roma. That's it. Just two teams have been better at home than Verona. Even with three losses in their last four games, home has been a happy place for Verona. That's not a surprise based on where they are in the table. If you're in the top third, you're almost always successful on your home ground. Verona is definitely following that line of reasoning. The one bad note of Verona's home record: They've allowed 14 goals in 11 home matches this season. Not exactly rock-solid defense to have when Serie A's best attack is coming to town.
5. What Verona's midfield is like minus Jorginho.
Since the talented 22-year-old Brazilian midfielder left for Napoli, things haven't exactly been so good for Verona. They've lost three out of their last four, with the only win coming against a Sassuolo side that has seemingly changed over half of its regular starting lineup to try and stave off relegation. Some of it may be that be the Verona train slowing down from its first-half surge, but some of it certainly has to do with the fact that Jorginho — one of Serie A's revelations this season — isn't in their midfield anymore.
My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pirlo, Pogba, Asamoah; Llorente, Tevez
OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 3 P.M. IN ITALY; 9 A.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 6 A.M. ON THE WEST COAST
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