Suddenly, Juventus vs. Lazio is a top of the table clash. Max Allegri describes it as "a match that could decide the Scudetto." In terms of when Juventus officially win the title, it certainly could. But when it comes to a title-defining clash where the champion hinges on the outcome, not so much simply because of the 12-point gap between Serie A's top club and the team that currently resides in second place.
Yes, Lazio is in second place with eight games left in the season. Just like we all thought we be happening back at the beginning of the season, right?
Well, not quite.
.@OfficialAllegri: "Lazio are having an extraordinary season. Nobody would have predicted they'd do so well at the start of the term."— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) April 17, 2015
Consider myself one of those who didn't expect this club from Roma as the second-place team in Serie A when the middle of April rolled around. Yeah, it was the other Roman club. (To be fair, I didn't expect Roma to record 1,000 straight draws and see their fine first-half form go straight into the toilet.)
We expected Juventus to be where they are right now because they're the best that Serie A has to offer. But seeing Lazio in second place as the home stretch of the season quickly approaches? That's not exactly something a lot of us predicted seven months ago before the opening round kicked off.
Simply put, Lazio are the hottest team in all of Italy at the moment. Their eight-game winning streak is better than any other club in Italy's top flight, including the only team they're currently looking up at. A win over Juventus on Saturday night would give Lazio a club-record ninth consecutive win and continue their upward trend in recent months.
But something tells me, even with the second leg against Monaco looming in the distance, that Juventus won't be putting out an effort like they did the last time the Champions League quarterfinals were a few days away.
There's a 12-point lead atop Serie A. Juventus is up 1-0 over Monaco in the Champions League quarterfinals. And, like Allegri said, a win would essentially get Juve into position to win the Scudetto in the next couple of weeks. Start planning the party, folks.
All the injury absences are long-term ones. So no Paul Pogba, no Martin Cáceres, no Kwadwo Asamoah.
Then again, we've pretty much known this for a few weeks now. Essentially, nothing new to see here.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Who starts, who sits?
The thing is, Juventus aren't playing a last-place team like Parma this weekend. Therefore, the vast array of squad rotation almost certainly won't happen against Lazio tomorrow night. So, let's think about it for a second. If there's no starting lineup overhaul, who actually gets rest with Monaco on the horizon? I guess that's the million dollar question right now. There will probably be a couple of changes at the very minimum because some players haven't had much time off since returning from the international break earlier this month. The squad being mostly healthy gives Allegri some options to rotate if he really wants to do some things. Either way, I'm sure it won't be a totally full-strength squad. (And it's not like Max would give us any hints at his pre-match press conference, right?)
2. Who is Juventus' regista, Andrea Pirlo or Claudio Marchisio?
The tricky thing about having such a monumental game in the very near future is that you want your best players to be as rested as they can possibly get. Yet, at the same time, Allegri freely admits that Pirlo needs minutes to get back into form because he's just returning from a lengthy injury absence. So, do you play Pirlo against Lazio even though it's pretty much assumed he'll play on Wednesday in the second leg against Monaco? The positive of having Pirlo play will be the fact that he'll have a chance to shake off the rust while also giving Marchisio — whose ACL isn't torn last time I checked — a much-needed rest ahead of Monaco at the same time. Because Pogba is still weeks away from returning, the options for Allegri in the midfield aren't as plentiful as they could be. That means Mad Max will likely have to choose one or the other if he wants somebody to get some rest ahead of the midweek trip to France.
3. Keeping Felipe Anderson (somewhat) quiet.
Come this summer, a team with a lot of money in its bank account will be trying like hell to spend a good portion of cash on the 22-year-old Brazilian winger. And, it will be for good reason. It's safe to say that Anderson has been one of Serie A's best players this season. He's tied for the team lead in goals with 10, is second behind Antonio Candreva in assists with six, and has been an all-out force in the attacking third for Lazio. When the two teams met at the Olimpico back in late November, it was right before Anderson caught absolute fire and started the racking up Man of the Match honors like it's going out of style. You want one of the biggest reasons as to why Lazio are where they current are in the standings, you don't have to name too many things before you get to Felipe Anderson, that's for sure.
4. Avoiding another result like what happened against Parma.
The good thing about this weekend? Juventus aren't playing Parma — which can be translated to something along the lines of "Now you actually have a reason to play and not go through the motions." Even with the Champions League a few days away, the Champions League is rightfully Juve's most important thing going right now. But with that being said, playing against the hottest team in Italy, one that has shot up into second place in the standings, should be enough motivation right there to not repeat what went down against Parma last weekend. At least you would hope so. I thought it would be a piece of cake against Parma because of how downtrodden they've been this season. So much for that.
My starting XI (4-3-1-2): Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Barzagli, Chiellini, Padoin; Vidal, Pirlo, Sturaro; Pereyra; Llorente, Tévez
OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 8:45 P.M. IN ITALY; 2:45 P.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 11:45 P.M. ON THE WEST COAST