How would you feel about looking at the Serie A standings after 25 games and seeing Juventus with a 12-point lead over its closest competition? Pretty good, I would assume, right? There may be 13 fixtures left to play after tomorrow night's trip to the Stadio Olimpico, but a 12-point lead is a 12-point lead no matter how you look at it.
Sure, a nine-point lead atop the table is good in its own right.
But you know what's better? A 12-point lead over Roma. Those are never not a good thing.
That's exactly what kind of chance Juventus has when they renew acquaintances with Roma on Monday night. The same Roma side that can only seem to pick up one single point after another in Serie A in recent weeks. Their domestic form since the calendar flipped to 2015 is further proof of that: W-D-D-D-D-W-D-D. Yuck.
Not really what you expect out of a team that has serious Scudetto aspirations, is it?
But you know exactly what will be on Roma's mind when Juventus step onto the Olimpico pitch Monday night — revenge for what happened when the two teams played back on Oct. 5, as well as trying to re-open a Scudetto race that many will consider over and done with if Juventus claim all three points. Understandable, really. A 12-point gap between first and second place is a serious mountain to overcome, especially with how Roma has struggled to put any kind of consistent form outside of racking up draws one after another.
As much as this is Juve's chance to put major room between themselves and the second-best team in Italy, Roma wants to make things a little more interesting as we get closer to officially hitting the home stretch of the season.
.@OfficialAllegri: "After tomorrow there are still 13 games & 39 points up for grabs. Still a long way to go and Napoli are getting closer."— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) March 1, 2015
I swear Max is such a buzzkill on purpose sometimes. It's like he doesn't want us to have fun? Stop being the party pooper, Mr. Allegri! (He is actually taking a realist's view on things, which isn't so bad at all.)
Plus-9. Sounds good to me.
EMERGENZA A CENTROCAMPO!
No Andrea Pirlo, who was ruled out for three weeks earlier in the week. No Stefano Sturaro, who has picked up a 'light strain to his right knee,' according to the Juventus website. Paul Pogba has been a question mark all week. Same goes for Arturo Vidal. Both of the latter two have been called up and are part of the 22-man traveling squad, but it's a major doubt if either of the two central midfield stars will play against Roma.
So basically everything is fine and dandy, right? Noooooot really.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Will the injuries in the midfield force Max Allegri to go 3-5-2?
The short answer: Probably. I say that because we're seen it before, and we're likely to see it again. As much as Allegri has shown that the 4-3-1-2 is his base formation, he's also shown plenty of willingness to go back to a three-man defense if the situation calls for it. And with two of his most important midfielders' health statuses in doubt, the option of a 3-5-2 is now in serious consideration. So if we see Martin Cáceres playing on the right side of a three-man defense instead of at right back in the starting lineup, I won't be surprised. If there's a 3-5-2 formation announced an hour before kickoff, there shouldn't be any kind of squabbling because of what is currently available to Allegri.
.@OfficialAllegri: "An attacking midfielder behind the front two is a possibility, but I still haven't decided how we'll line up tomorrow."— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) March 1, 2015
Always keeping us guessing, Max. What a trickster.
2. Claudio Marchisio the regista.
No matter what tactical setup will be against Roma, we know that Il Principino will be the man in the heart of Juventus' midfield with Pirlo on the shelf. Marchisio's been playing great for weeks now and has easily been one of Juve's most consistent players throughout the 2014-15 season. He is contributing offensively, he is contributing defensively and he's just been the midfielder that balances things out so much. However, tomorrow night Pirlo won't be there with Marchisio flanking him. It will be Marchisio in the regista role, something he's proven to be plenty capable of doing. This is the beauty — and no, not his stunning good looks, folks — of what Claudio Marchisio brings to the table.
3. Álvaro Morata's continued awesomeness.
I know I've talked about Morata a lot lately, but it's hard not to at this point. Nor is it really all that much of a chore with the way he's playing. Morata has been great since becoming a regular starter, and only continues to get better with the more he plays and develops chemistry with strike partner Carlos Tévez. Morata scored three goals and added two assists in five February games. That's almost as good as you can get when it comes to a player that has still just started nine games in all competitions this season. The way he's playing these days, you can see the confidence growing as the games go by. He's starting to truly show the potential we all heard about when he signed from Real Madrid. And as the goals continue to come, that confidence, always so important for young players at his age, will only go higher and higher.
4. Adem Ljajic and Gervinho vs. Stephan Lichtsteiner and Patrice Evra.
With all the attacking options Roma had at its disposal at the beginning of the season, would you have put your money on Ljajic leading them in goals come the first game in March? I probably would have gone in a direction, but that by no means is diminishing Ljajic's breakout 2014-15 season in his second year with Roma. Ljajic and Gervinho — and all the pace that comes with the Ivorian winger — are expected to flank captain Francesco Totti tomorrow night. (Just don't ask him about any of the refereeing decisions in the last Juve-Roma game, okay?) This will be the latest challenge for a Juventus defense that has been a little wobbly in recent weeks. I guess it's pretty easy to say that it's time for Juve to show why they have the top-ranked defense in all of Serie A.
My starting XI: (3-5-2): Buffon; Cáceres, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Pereyra, Marchisio, Pogba, Evra; Tévez, Morata
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
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