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Coppa Italia Preview: Juventus vs. Hellas Verona — Welcome to Hell(as)

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Hey, look! It's Romulo actually playing!
Hey, look! It's Romulo actually playing!
Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

It's been awhile since we've had to concentrate on the third and final competition Juventus is taking part in this season. So let's sick back and listen to a little music to get us in the right frame of mind, shall we?

Let me start this again...

It's not 'Copa,' it's 'Coppa!' And now that we've gotten our yearly Barry Manilow kick out of our head, we can officially go on and talk about Juventus hopping into the Coppa Italia for the first time this season. And Juve's entrance in the competition, which comes in the tournament's round of 16, comes with a unique twist.

Thursday night, Juventus will be playing Hellas Verona at Juventus Stadium in Turin.

Sunday night, Juventus will be playing ... Hellas Verona ... at Juventus Stadium in Turin.

Two games within four days of one another. That's a ton of Hellas Verona to think about for Max Allegri and his squad. Maybe that's a good thing considering how crammed the schedule is going to be over the course of the next month. Surely the second game will be easier to prepare for compared to the first one. Then you throw in the fact Juventus will be hosting Chievo next weekend, there's just too much Verona-related things to handle right now.

So let's just concentrate on what should matter the most — Thursday night against Hellas Verona in the Coppa Italia.

The winner gets Parma — which beat Cagliari 2-1 on Wednesday — in the quarterfinals on Feb. 4. And we all know what happens the last time Juventus played Parma. It was such a blowout famed WWE announcer Jim Ross might as well been yelling to end the damn match once the flood gates opened up completely.

A second edition of that complete dismantling would be fun. But Juventus must get past Verona first and foremost.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

1. How much squad rotation will there be?

Even if Max Allegri didn't say a damn thing about squad rotation in his pre-match press conference, the list of players he called up is rather indicative that there will be a good number of changes in the starting lineup. There's no Andrea Pirlo, no Carlos Tevez, no Martin Caceres with all three not being among the 21-player squad list for Thursday's game. That's not all that much of a surprise considering the first two have been playing a lot of minutes over the last few rounds of games and the latter has just returned from injury. But there's all this: It's the Coppa Italia, which is the league-wide signal to rotate your squad and show off your depth if you have any. That's just how it goes no matter how serious you are taking the competition.

2. The strike partnership — who will it be?

This is the chance for the reserves to get their shot to play big minutes. And that's especially true for the reserve strikers, who have basically seen Tevez and Fernando Llorente play every game together this season. With no Tevez in the squad, two strikers will sit, two will be on the bench at the opening whistle. But which two? You would have to think Alvaro Morata is getting a start, so that leaves Sebastian Giovinco and Kingsley Coman. If you believe the reports that Coman is ahead of Giovinco in the pecking order, then it will be a Morata-Coman tandem that last played together in the 7-0 beatdown of Parma. I wouldn't be opposed to that combination getting a chance from the start of a game for once. (Not that my starting lineup below is really saying otherwise.)

3. How many of the regular central midfielders get the start?

With Pirlo not being included in the match day squad, that's one fewer option to for Allegri to choose from. While Juventus are not in the same kind of injury situation as, say, four or six weeks ago, it's not like Allegri is swimming in a pool of options right now. There's no Pirlo, Luca Marrone is still out (this time with the flu), and that basically leaves us with the usual three and Simone Padoin. Maybe we can throw in Federico Mattiello if Allegri doesn't use him as a fullback Thursday night. So while other positions on the field are pretty much guaranteed to see plenty of squad rotation, I'm not so convinced that

4. Can Juventus take control of the game early so they're not stressing late?

What has Juventus' problem been in recent games? It's easy — they get the lead, they just can't hold onto it. Obviously we saw a team rebound and beat Napoli on Sunday, but the get-the-lead-only-to-blow-the-lead trend is becoming a regular thing. The gulf in talent — even with squad rotation a formality — between Juventus and Hellas Verona is a big one, and that means there's no reason Juve should be having trouble advancing in the Coppa Italia. But it's about trying to avoid what they have done the first two games of 2015. It'd be nice not to stress about every single thing in the second half, that's for sure.

My starting XI (4-3-1-2): Storari; Padoin, Bonucci, Ogbonna, Mattiello; Vidal, Marchisio, Pogba; Pereyra; Coman, Morata

OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 9 P.M. IN ITALY; 3 P.M. ON THE EAST COAST; HIGH NOON ON THE WEST COAST