It's been 18 games in Serie A since Juventus were last on the wrong side of a final score. We've gone from November to December, January to February, and now into the second weekend of March without Antonio Conte's squad losing a game in domestic competition.
Let me just see who that team was...
Ah, right. That Fiorentina team.
And who is coming to Juventus Stadium for a lunchtime kickoff on Sunday afternoon?
Ah, right. That Fiorentina team.
The only team who has handed Juventus a loss in Serie A is coming to town, folks. Since that dreadful day, of course, Juventus has shot up the Serie A table like they have rocket boosters attached to their boots. It just so happens that said loss kicked Juventus' slump into a completely different direction, so maybe we should thank them before kickoff. (Not really.) But it's almost like a meeting of Juventus' present against Juventus' past. It's the team that gave Antonio Conte's squad a much-needed smack in the face that helped turn the season around.
Claudio Marchisio may say that Juve aren't out for revenge against Fiorentina, but you'd like to think the thought of what happened during that day in late October has crept into the players' minds once or twice over the course of the week. It's not often we see Juve self-destruct in that kind of quick, epic fashion like they did in that 4-2 loss — especially so in this day and age where Conte is the man directing the ship.
And did I mention it's also Serie A's best team against the team that is currently fourth in the table? As if this game needed something else added to the table.
The lunchtime table, that is, will be a full one. Feast, shall we?
Giuseppe Rossi is hurt. (Not that I want him to be hurt, but he is. And Fiorentina with Rossi is obviously better than Fiorentina without Rossi.)
Andrea Pirlo is suspended. Stupid yellow cards.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. The status of Giorgio Chiellini.
Until he actually steps onto the field from the opening whistle, we are left to wonder when exactly Chiello will return to the starting lineup. Like has been the case the past couple of games, Chiellini is included in Conte's 21-man squad called up for Fiorentina's visit to Juventus Stadium. In those last couple of games, though, Chiellini has remained on the bench, only getting up out of his seat to celebrate goals and do some running up and down the sidelines. That's cool in the big picture aspect of it all, especially the goal-celebrating part of it. Martin Caceres and Angelo Ogbonna have done a pretty solid job filling the void since Chiellini was injured.
But this is nothing against my favorite high-sock-wearing, long-haired Uruguayan: If Chiellini is fully 100 percent and ready to play, there's no doubt who should start on the left side of Juventus' three-man defense.
2. Kwadwo Asamoah vs. Juan Cuadrado.
There are plenty of one-on-one battles to keep an eye on, but this is the best of the bunch. Cuadrado has been exceptional this season. When you've got a WhoScored rating higher than pre-injury Giuseppe Rossi, then you pretty much know you're doing something right. On the other end of the matchup, Asamoah has been pretty good in his own right the past couple of months. And all the good contributions he's made will have to continue tomorrow for the simple fact of Cuadrado being one of the best wingers going in Serie A — and probably Europe as a whole — these days. Asamoah's defensive contributions will be one of the most important things to Juve's success. They keep Cuadrado quiet, there's even that much more of a chance to beat Fiorentina.
3. Fiorentina's 4-3-3 vs. Juventus' 3-5-2.
The last time Fiorentina came to Juventus Stadium, they had a different look to them. Not just different players in the lineup, but also a completely different formation. But this season, Vincenzo Montella has gone from a three-man defense to a four-man backline. When Juve visited Florence, Montella rolled out a festive 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree formation. But with injuries, he's changed things up a bit. It has allowed players like Cuadrado to really come into their own. And while the results haven't been there lately — Fiorentina has lost three of their last six games — there's no doubting La Viola have the potential to be a very dangerous side.
4. Claudio Marchisio the regista.
With Pirlo suspended for the weekend, Il Principino switches back to his new role of vice-Pirlo. It's a position that he has performed quite well in since Conte moved him there a few weeks back. He's obviously not going to be able to do everything Pirlo does when it comes to passing, but you won't find me panicking because there will be one less majestic beard in the Juventus starting lineup. That's because moving to more of a deep-lying midfield role has snapped Marchisio out of the funk he had for much of the season. This MVP midfield has a little something different than the original version. And while I love both, this one seems to be working quite well.
5. Alessandro Matri against his former team.
From Juventus to Milan, Milan to Fiorentina. Not exactly the stable kind of working conditions you'd like to have as a player, but that's been Ale Matri's reality this season. Since arriving in Florence during the January transfer window, Matri has scored two goals in seven Serie A games — both against his Fiorentina debut against Catania. Other than that, though, it's been a struggle. But because of the respective injury situations with Rossi and Mario Gomez, Matri is going to be the point man yet again in Montella's 4-3-3. The task of trying to break down Juve's defense, no matter who starts alongside Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci, won't be an easy one, either.
If Ale does struggle against Juve tomorrow afternoon, I'm volunteering to give Federica a hug if she needs one.
My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pirlo, Pogba, Asamoah; Llorente, Tevez
OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 12:30 P.M. IN ITALY; 7:30 A.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 4:30 A.M. ON THE WEST COAST
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