For the first time this season, Juventus will be facing a domestic opponent they've already seen. Lazio and Juventus played for the Supercoppa in August and will now meet for the first time with Serie A implications Friday night. The thing is, though, the way Juve were when Lazio saw them three months ago in China — even with the result going their way — ins't quite the same kind of condition as they are in right now.
Little did we know that Juve would have the kind of start they did back when they lifted the Italian Super Cup just a handful of days before the 2015-16 season got underway. But I guess that's beside the point now. We know that the August and September version of Juventus is now a thing of the past. This Juventus is one that has, well, won a lot over the past five weeks. It's got a nice ring to it, doesn't it?
Juventus going for their fifth straight league win has just as much attached to it as the previous four victories. There's the opportunity to continue this rise up the Serie A table — which currently has Juve just three points behind fourth-place Roma. A win over Lazio would obviously see Juve pull even with Roma for 24 hours at the very least depending on how the latter's game against Torino — which is no gimme by any stretch of the imagination — goes down.
No matter what, though, a win would be another sign that this Juventus ship is starting to pick up serious steam.
The importance of this pre-holiday stretch can't be taken for granted. First there was Milan, then Manchester City, now Lazio and soon Sevilla and Fiorentina. They've gotten the Champions League advancement part out of the equation already. Now the Serie A resurgence can — and hopefully will — continue at every given opportunity.
These next few league games aren't easy tasks by any means. But if Juve want to continue to re-establish their Serie A title credentials, beating a couple of quality teams before we all take a break to celebrate Christmas and the new year would certainly be a good way to say that.
.@OfficialAllegri: "Lazio and Fiorentina, two games against title contenders. We're playing catch up and need to be clear headed."— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) December 3, 2015
If having a clear-headed approach is what has been the case over the last four league wins, then by all means continue to do what you've been doing, Juventus. it's working, good times are back and we can finally say that this is a team playing with confidence. I've missed typing that, and I don't feel like saying otherwise come the start of the new year.
So do what you gotta do, Juventus. That sure would be a nice early Christmas present for all of us.
With a win, Juventus can pull even with Roma. But you already knew that. (It did deserve repeating, though, because it's pretty nice to see Juve going up and up and up in the standings.)
These are the names missing from Juventus' midfield on Friday night: Sami Khedira, Paul Pogba and Roberto Pereyra. That's ... a Simone Padoin-in-the-starting-lineup kind of situation!
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Who steps in for Paul Pogba?
I'll go ahead and answer my own question: I've got no freaking clue.
At most, Max Allegri has five players capable of playing as central midfielders available to him tomorrow. However, more than half of those guys are coming off injuries, which means their match fitness is far from any kind of certainty. That's ... not good, if I do say so myself. This is as slim pickings as we've seen in the midfield this season, and it's safe to say that Allegri might have to get a little creative if he wants to field a midfield that can bring the kind of punch that will be missing out of Friday's game. Clearly having an in-form Pogba out due to suspension is one thing, but Pogba-Marchisio-Sturaro has been a really good trio in recent games. Maybe this provides an opportunity for Mario Lemina to get on the field for the first time in a bit of time. Or it could be Padoin time. I think I know which one a lot of people around here would like...
2. The continued growth of Paulo Dybala.
We are now starting to see the full effect of Dybala's impact. He's found his footing, settled in and truly gotten into a nice groove since he's become a consistent starter in Allegri's lineup. Maybe we didn't expect him to be Juventus' goal-scoring leader come the beginning of December, but that's what we've seen happen. So, now where to? I sure hope it's more of the same, mainly because Dybala is playing some really good football at the moment. No matter if it's setting up goals or scoring them, this is the Dybala Juve shelled out a whoooole lot of money on this summer. And no matter if he's playing alongside Mario Mandzukic or Álvaro Morata, Dybala is just being Dybala. That's all good in my book. Like I want to tell Juventus as a whole, just keep on doing what you've been doing, man. It's working.
3. Which Lazio will show up at the Olimpico?
As I started to write this preview, one of the first things that popped up on my Twitter feed was an article saying that Lazio manager Stefano Pioli needed to get a win against Juventus or else the axe might be coming his way. If that's not a clear indication of how things are going at Lazio these days, I don't know what is. They've picked up all of one point in their last five games after a solid start to the season. They've dropped from the top third of the Serie A table to entering the weekend in 10th place. In simple terms, Lazio haven't won a game in over a month and are coming off a 1-0 loss to Empoli on Sunday. It's clear that Lazio aren't playing as well as they were when they faced Juve in the Supercoppa, but there's still talent on that roster to put a good game together. And, if those Pioli exit rumors are true, you gotta think that Lazio are going to have a sense of desperation, too.
My starting lineup
Juventus XI (3-5-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Mario Lemina, Claudio Marchisio, Paul Pogba, Alex Sandro; Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic
TV: beIN Sports en Español (United States); beIN Sports en Español (Canada); BT Sport Europe (United Kingdom); Sky Sport 1 HD Italia, Sky Supercalcio HD, Lazio Style Channel (Italy)
Online: beIN Sports CONNECT (United States); beIN Sports CONNECT (Canada); BT Sport Live Streaming (United Kingdom); Sky Go Italia (Italy)
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