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Juventus vs. Chievo Preview: Round 1 — Let the games begin

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Valerio Pennicino

Step aside, transfer window. Your job is done — for now, at least.

Okay, maybe not totally done in some cases. There's still a few days for rumors and all the insane stuff that comes with the final days of the summer transfer window being open. But in less than 24 hours, Juventus will begin their season — the third straight year with the objective of "Let's defend our gosh darn Scudetto" pounded into their head by their manager.

Of course, that manager is different from the guy we all thought would be losing his damn mind on the Juventus sideline this time six weeks ago when the club started preseason training. No more Antonio Conte for us as he's off on his new adventure with the Italian national team. That means we have to say hello to Max Allegri and all the expected mockery from folks that comes along with it.

While the preseason gave us a glimpse at what Allegri is trying to do, Saturday night's season opener against Chievo in Verona will be his first official match in charge of Juventus. It equals more pressure, more eyeballs on what his team succeeds or fails at, the latest chance for him to ditch the reputation that his teams start the season incredibly slow.

Even with the injuries and everything going on personnel-wise right now, this is still the same squad that has won three straight Serie A titles. The core is still there. Arturo Vidal hasn't flown off to Manchester like so many people thought would happen this summer. There's still Paul Pogba, Gigi Buffon and the rest of the players we scream at for good reasons and bad yet can't help but watch every week from August to May.

Juventus are the champions for a reason. And just because there's a new man writing the lineup and screaming his head off on the sidelines, the objectives haven't suddenly changed.

It all starts Saturday night in Verona. Round 1 of 38 is just about upon us, folks.

GOOD NEWS

Don't know if you've noticed, but the long summer of waiting is over. There's less than 24 hours before Juventus start their season. I'll just repeat: Juventus, season opener, pretty good times.

BAD NEWS

Andrea Barzagli injured. Álvaro Morata injured. Andrea Pirlo injured. Giorgio Chiellini suspended. A few others battling the flu. Not exactly how you want to go into your season opener, now is it? But that's just the obstacles Allegri will be looking to overcome Saturday night in Verona. And luckily for him, Juve have some pretty solid options for him to turn to.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

1. What formation Max Allegri goes with.

Juventus' new manager has shown no fear in shaking up the tactics this preseason. But at the same time, he may have been giving us a hint in regard to what formation he's going with for Juve's season opener. Here's the thing: Look at how often Allegri used a 3-5-2 at the beginning of the preseason compared to when Juve took the field in the Trofeo TIM last weekend against Milan and Sassuolo. If the 3-5-2 was in the mind of Allegri when he first took over for Conte, it might not be there as much a month later. That means some kind of formation with a four-man defense is a realistic possibility. What the attack looks like is a totally different matter.

2. The health of Juventus' strikers.

I'm not a doctor, but it seems as though it's flu season around Vinovo these days. Allegri has dealt with the flu over the course of the last week. So have Fernando Llorente and Sebastian Giovinco. While both Llorente and Giovinco have been called up by Allegri for tomorrow's season opener, many folks in Italy are thinking they won't start at the very least. We know Carlos Tévez will start because he's healthy and raring to go. Who will be starting with him in attack is still a mystery to us all. Allegri playing Tévez at the top of a Christmas Tree formation seems like a distinct possibility because of the health — or lack there of — when it comes to Juve's other strikers. THat might mean Roberto Pereyra and Kingsley Coman get a start alongside or behind Carlitos, which is a rather unexpected development from what the usual starting attack will probably look like when every is healthy.

3. How many minutes Arturo Vidal plays.

Max Allegri wasn't keeping any secrets at his pre-match press conference on Friday afternoon.

Mystery over. Who needs to enter Saturday's game wondering about Vidal's status when Allegri cleared everything up for us a little over 24 hours before kickoff. The result of Allegri's words is that Vidal and his surgically-repaired knee are all good to go. However, how match fit Vidal may actually be remains to be seen. His lone appearance this preseason, last Saturday against Milan in the Trofeo TIM, was only 45 minutes. That's it for match time for Vidal since coming back from his post-World Cup vacation. Do I expect him to play 90 minutes? Nah, not really. Do I expect him to be Arturo Vidal, Juventus' resident badass? Oh, absolutely.

4. How does the defense looks without Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli?

If you were produce a list of things that haven't looked all that great during Juventus' preseason friendlies, the way their defense has looked for a good chunk of the time hasn't been anything close to convincing. There have been mistakes, and a lot of them. You could chalk it up to being the middle of August and just a month into preseason training. Or, you could stress out about it because it's not exactly setting a good trend for the upcoming season. Three-man or four-man defense it doesn't really matter, Juve will miss Chiellini because he's damn good at his job.

5. Claudio Marchisio the regista.

With Andrea Pirlo being ruled out for the next month with a bruised hip, Marchisio is the man who will be filling the bearded maestro's shoes. In a small yet not too small sample size last season, Marchisio playing as a deep-lying midfielder went rather well. He obviously brings better defensive characteristics to the table than Pirlo, and the reigsta position allows him to do his thing while Vidal and Paul Pogba give opposing teams absolute nightmares. That's how I like to envision it, at least. Marchisio the regista is not a bad thing because he's such a talented player. He's shown he can handle it in the past, so I have no doubts about him this time around.

The M-V-P midfield is back. Just with a slight tweak to the original version, that's all.

My starting XI (4-3-2-1): Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Bonucci, Ogbonna, Asamoah; Vidal, Marchisio, Pogba; Pereyra, Coman; Tévez

OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 6 P.M. IN ITALY; HIGH NOON ON THE EAST COAST; 9 A.M. ON THE WEST COAST