The lead at the top of the Serie A table is comfortable and completely manageable. And it just so happens that the fixture list is telling us there's one incredibly important match a few days from now, while the one directly in front of Juventus is a little more manageable thanks to the double-digit margin there currently is in the league itself.
If you were to compare the importance of Juventus' visit to Sicily and Palermo on Saturday, and Tuesday's Juventus vs. Borussia Dortmund game, I'm pretty sure even the most casual of fans can figure out which one has the greater priority and importance.
So, once again, we sit here just like we did a few weeks ago. This is the official calm before the storm. Champions League football and a trip to Germany is just a few days away. Everything that comes along with the flight to Dortmund is just a short 24-hour wait after Juve's chartered flight touches down.
That is about as straightforward and honest of a quote as you will ever get from Max Allegri during a pre-match press conference. He knows the importance of the next couple of fixtures before another international break arrives, and so we do we — even if one definitely outweighs the other thanks to the big Serie A lead.
I just have a couple of requests for Juventus-Palermo. Here they are, in short order:
- Nobody gets hurt.
- Nobody gets hurt.
- Nobody gets hurt.
- Nobody gets hurt.
- Juventus wins and further extends the Serie A lead.
Sounds like a pretty good plan, doesn't it? Yeah, I think so, too.
So if somebody asks, we can just say Juventus vs. Palermo is the chance for both teams to play one another, maybe have it be in a good looking kind of game, and not have it result in anybody actually getting injured or a Juventus loss. Most importantly, no injuries to those who line up in black and white or blue jerseys, please. That's what I'm asking for.
Simple enough. Oh-so-very-sim...nah, not really easy. But it's a legit idea, that's for sure.
If Juventus beats Palermo on Saturday, they'll have a 13-point atop the Serie A table lead after Roma's eventual draw against Sampdoria two days later. Wait, you mean Roma are allowed to do something other than pick up draws? Okay, so maybe I should re-think this one.
After his latest and greatest wondergoal, you'd want to see more of Paul Pogba being awesome, right? Well, you'll have to wait until Juve roll into Germany next week to see Pogba and his latest hairstyle step onto the field. The young Frenchman, who turns 22 years old on Saturday, will miss the trip to Sicily due to suspension after picking up a yellow card against Sassuolo earlier in the week.
Just don't celebrate too much, Paul. There's something pretty important going down on Tuesday night.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. How many players will be rested ahead of the second leg against Borussia Dortmund?
In a way, this feels like a Coppa Italia game. We know there will be squad rotation. It's a foregone conclusion at this point as we sit less than 24 hours away from kickoff. The only thing is that we don't know how many players will actually be rested with Borussia Dortmund on the horizon. There is speculation that Juve's defense may look completely different compared to who played against Sassuolo on Monday night. That could mean a long-awaited return to the starting lineup for Andrea Barzagli, who made his official comeback in the Sassuolo win. The same may as well said about Juve's starting strikers, which might have been a better bet to happen if Kingsley Coman was healthy and able to make the trip to Sicily. It will be interesting to see what really happens, though. If some of this talk ends up being true, this might be the one of the most turned over squad from one game to the next we've seen since Allegri has taken over as manager.
2. Is this the game Stefano Sturaro makes his Juventus debut?
Amongst those rumored to be in line for a start Saturday night is the young Juve midfielder who was recalled from Genoa in the winter transfer window. Since then, the only visual evidence of Sturaro being a Juventus player are those occasional pictures of him from the team's training sessions. Sturaro hasn't appeared in an official game since his final one with Genoa, a 1-1 draw against Fiorentina, on the final day of January. Since then, he's been a safety option and nothing more. But with the injury to Andrea Pirlo and the suspension to Pogba, the odds of Sturaro finally getting off the bench and logging serious minutes in a game are as good as ever. The other midfield absentees likely mean Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal or Roberto Pereyra will play alongside the 22-year-old Sturaro — possibly in a 3-5-2 formation, too! — so it's not like the rumored turnover in other areas of the starting lineup will be applicable to the center of the park as well.
3. How Palermo approaches the game.
Palermo are comfortably sitting in 10th place through 26 games, a pretty good spot to be in for a team that was storming through Serie B this time last season. This game is at the Renzo Barbera in Sicily rather than in the craziness that is Juventus Stadium. Does it make a difference in how Palermo actually look at it? We've seen teams lower in the table come right at Juventus no matter what the situation was in the last couple of months. And there's no doubting Palermo has the attacking talent to give Juve's consistent inconsistent defense some issues if they choose to not sit back and defense the entire game. Or maybe they'll just do the typical kind of hit-Juventus-on-the-counter-attack kind of trick. That seems to be working pretty well lately for opposing teams.
4. Containing Palermo striker Paulo Dybala.
And here we have the No. 1 problem for Juventus' defense. I don't think it's even close. Dybala has been one of Serie A's biggest and brightest youngsters this season, with 12 league goals this season ranking fifth only behind some of his talented countrymen from Argentina. He has five goals in nine Serie A games since the calendar flipped over to 2015. The only thing better than Dybala in the new year is the fact that he's being surrounded with nothing but a ton of transfer speculation as the always-crazy Maurizio Zamparini is almost certain to cash in on the 21-year-old striker this summer. Let's just hope Dybala doesn't have the chance to score from a dead ball situation. We all know how great Juventus has been defending those the last couple of weeks.
My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Ogbonna; Lichtsteiner, Pereyra, Marchisio, Sturaro, Evra; Tévez, Llorente
OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 6 P.M. IN ITALY; 1 P.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 10 A.M. ON THE WEST COAST
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