All of 11 days separates Juventus from the first of two Champions League dates with Borussia Dortmund. That's not a lot of time no matter how you look at it — and maybe even faster when you consider how quickly the 2014-15 season is flying by these days. Time is ticking down, Dortmund has actually won a game in domestic play, and the prospect of facing a Jürgen Klopp-coached team that is all-in on the Champions League is starting to seriously strike fear in the eyes of Juventus tifo.
But before we reach that big European test, there's an away test to one of Serie A's relegation battlers. More specifically, a voyage to Cesena to try and extend the Cavallucci Marini's run of seven losses in their last 10 games.
Translation: It's Serie A's first-place team against the team currently sitting in 19th. There's a point differential of 38 points between the two clubs who don black and white as their primary colors.
I mean, this is a Cesena side that barely — BARELY! — lost to Parma a couple of weeks ago. Yes, that same Parma side that is seemingly being sold to a new ownership group every month and continues to show us new ways to lose points. Yes, that same Parma side that has lost all but four of its league games and is still stuck in single digits when it comes to points this season.
And here's another Cesena-Parma twist: Who has the worst defensive record in Serie of clubs not named Parma? If you guessed Cesena, then you would be correct. Parma's allowed a league-worst 47 goals, Cesena has given up 43 through 22 games this season.
I guess at this point in the season, with the middle of February already upon us, all three points available at any given moment are important. Maybe even more so when you throw into the fact when the team you're the No. 1 team in the league and you're playing a team that is likely to be scratching and clawing not to get relegated at the season's end.
So if Juventus want to replicate what they did in the first game against Cesena this season, they should go right ahead and do it. That'd make me feel a little better with a rather large European game sitting there on the not-so-distant horizon.
To keep things in a Champions League state of mind, I'll give you this: Juventus next two opponents, Cesena and Atalanta, have combined to pick up 38 points this season. If they were one combined club, they would be sitting in fourth place and 15 points behind Juve in the table.
I guess what I'm trying to say is if there was ever a really nice and convenient chance for Juventus to get some serious momentum going against a couple of teams in the bottom third of the table, this is it. The schedule entering the first leg of the Dortmund tie is relatively friendly. Can Juventus take full advantage of it? (Please do so, guys.)
Here's the easiest one of them all: Carlos Tévez is suspended after picking up a yellow just seconds before he was subbed off against Milan last weekend.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. The expected Álvaro Morata-Fernando Llorente partnership.
The aforementioned suspension to Serie A's No. 1 striker means we're getting an all-handsome Spanish striker partnership this weekend. One striker is in fine form, the other one not so much — and I'm pretty sure we don't need to break things down to figure out which one is which. Morata's recent form has him being linked with a return to Real Madrid in the future, something that is probably just stupid paper talk at this point. Regardless, Morata is thriving in recent weeks and coming off a Man of the Match-worthy performance in the win over Milan last weekend. Like I wrote earlier in the week, Morata's taken full advantage of Max Allegri giving him regular playing time the last couple of weeks.
So, Mr. Allegri, what do you think about Morata-Llorente playing alongside one another?
.@OfficialAllegri: "Llorente and Morata as a strike partnership? I still haven't decided on my pairing, Coman's also in with a shout."— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) February 14, 2015
He never makes this easy, does he? I guess, no matter what the Italian press is telling us about tomorrow's starting strikers, we'll have to truly wait and see when the lineups are released.
2. The continued brilliance of Claudio Marchisio.
Marchisio has been good for months now, but lately he's been really good. Like, really, really good. I think the thing that has been so pleasant about Marchisio's performances in recent weeks is the fact of how many scoring chances he's actually had. When Marchisio had his monster 2011-12 season under Antonio Conte, so much of his success came from all of his runs from midfield into the attacking third of the field. As we saw against Milan last weekend, those kinds of runs are becoming a regular thing once again. Marchisio probably should have scored at least one goal in the win over Milan, with one of his burst forward resulting in a shot clanging off the post. An on-form Marchisio makes Juventus' midfield so much more dynamic and dangerous. That's why Marchisio is as good as he is.
3. Nicola Leali Watch, 2015 edition.
I admit that I haven't watched a lot of Cesena games this season, but I am going to go along the line of thinking that not all of those 43 goals his team has surrendered this season is because of Leali screwing up. Based on the fact that Leali is amongst the top save-makers in Serie A this season, this is much more about who's in front of him not being very good rather than Leali absolutely struggling in his first extended stint as a starter in Serie A. Regardless of the strength of the defense in front of him, Cesena playing Juventus is a chance to watch Leali first-hand while going up against the team that owns his contract. And it's the chance to see what he can do against the best team in the country. The defenders in front of him aren't giving him much help, but if all this playing time means Leali could be deemed ready to return next season, then isn't that the point of his current loan spell at Cesena?
4. Building off the Milan win.
It wasn't the kind of scrappy or pull-your-hair-out kind of win last weekend. Juventus actually did play well against Milan at Juventus Stadium, with the 3-1 scoreline pretty reflective of how the game actually was. But as we've seen with Juventus over recent weeks, the overall quality of their play has been rather inconsistent to say the least. Over that time period, it's not like Juve were playing some of the top teams in Italy, either. They grinded out a 2-0 win over Chievo, struggled in a 1-0 win over Parma in the Coppa Italia and then drew away to Udinese. Not exactly something that makes you get up out of your favorite chair and start dancing around the living room. But what the win over Milan did, at least to some extent, was remind us that this Juventus side can play some pretty good football. And I would like them to keep playing said good football. So should you. Unless you love Cesena, of course.
My starting XI (4-3-1-2): Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Bonucci, Chiellini, Evra; Pogba, Pirlo, Marchisio; Vidal; Morata, Llorente
OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 8:45 P.M. IN ITALY; 2:45 P.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 11:45 A.M. ON THE WEST COAST
- Kwadwo Asamoah close to returning to training with Juventus
- VOTD: Andrea Barzagli makes his return to the field with Juventus' primavera
- Maurizio Zamparini says Juventus is interested in signing Palermo striker Paulo Dybala
- Álvaro Morata is making the starting lineup choice an easy one for Max Allegri
- Report: Juventus defender Andrea Barzagli to make long-awaited return against Cesena