How would you describe a 14-point lead in Serie A with 10 games to go? I'm sure something like "relaxing" is under consideration. What about "fantastic" or "extraordinary"? Those are good options, too. There are a lot of different directions we can go with this, and a lot of them would be the right way of describing things right now.
You see, this is the situation Juventus finds itself in right now. As we come out of the final first and only international break in the 2015 portion of the schedule, Juve are bound for their fourth straight title barring any kind of epic collapse. And even with all of the injuries to key players going on right now, that's hard to see happening simply because of how Max Allegri has managed to adapt to whatever roster situation stands in front of him.
So, we're just a short time from yet another step toward consecutive Scudetto No. 4 when Empoli travels to Juventus Stadium on Saturday night. Allegri knows his team is close, probably because the 14-point lead over Roma in the Serie A standings told him so.
The massive lead in Serie A means two things: 1) Juventus can focus more on getting ready for the Champions League and Coppa Italia instead of trying to fend off any close competition and 2) Allegri can choose to tinker with the squad for the games that will truly decide Juventus' season over the next few weeks. Clearly all the injuries will compromise the second part a little bit, but the fact still remains that Juve can focus on bigger things if the need be.
That's the good thing about having such a huge lead over the second-place team in the league right now. Juventus can't afford to become complacent because there are games on the schedule in the next few weeks that will have a much bigger impact than dropping a point or two in Serie A.
.@OfficialAllegri: "Empoli are on an eight-game unbeaten run. It's important for us to swiftly get back into the swing of things."— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) April 3, 2015
I mentioned that 14-point lead, right? Yeah, let's just go with that one. Oh, and the fact that Juve has fared pretty well against Empoli over the years.
Side note: I miss those guys.
Have you seen the names on Juventus' injury list right now?
- Andrea Pirlo (calf)
- Claudio Marchisio (knee)
- Paul Pogba (hamstring)
- Martin Cáceres (ankle)
- Kwadwo Asamoah (knee)
- Romulo (groin)
- Kingsley Coman (muscle fatigue)
Those names above would be a large part of a pretty good team right there, if you ask me. Maybe once they're all healthy Juventus should scrimmage them in a training session one day.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Simone Padoin ... regista?
This is what the Gazzetta dello Sport is thinking Juventus' lineup will look like against Empoli as of Friday night:
You will notice many players playing where they should be. Then there's where Simone Padoin is predicted to be playing against Empoli. LITERALLY SIMONE PADOIN AS JUVE'S REGISTA, PEOPLE. I find this interesting seeing as Roberto Pereyra is healthy and back from international duty with Argentina just like predicted starter Carlos Tévez. But if this is true, then it will be some kind of spinoff of the MVP midfield we've become so accustomed to over the last few years. I mean, it's not like Padoin is going to suddenly become Pirlo and start spraying 50-yard balls all over the field like it's no big deal at all. If it was up to me, like my lineup below says, I'd rather have a midfield of Sturaro, Pereyra and Arturo Vidal play from the opening whistle. But that's just me. Apparently Mister Allegri has a different kind of idea. Like a #PadoinForRegista kind of idea.
2. Stefano Sturaro in the center of Juventus' midfield.
While we can freak out about Padoin being Juve's regista, it seems pretty certain that all the injuries in the midfield is a chance to see Stefano Sturaro get some playing time. He's appeared in all of one game since his move from Genoa at the end of the winter transfer window. I was thinking he would slot in between Pereyra and Vidal in the midfield, but then the Padoin regista situation happened, so maybe my preference on how things should look is different compared to that of Allegri. No matter what, though, the injuries have created an opening for Sturaro — and that's a good thing. Well, the fact that Sturaro gets to play a little bit is a good thing, not the injuries. I think it's pretty well-established at this point that all the injuries Juventus has dealt with this season are all stupid and inconvenient.
3. Daniele Rugani at the center of Empoli's defense.
Many people felt that Rugani, who is in the middle of a truly fantastic first Serie A campaign, should have been part of Antonio Conte's Italy squad during the latest international break. Instead, Rugani was down with the Under-21 squad. No matter what, though, Rugani will be playing against the club so many people expect him to be at next season. And, to be honest with you, he hasn't done anything to tell us he isn't ready to make the jump from Empoli to Juventus. Through 28 games, he still hasn't been shown a yellow card — something that continues to make me shake my head in amazement every time I see it. Even if Carlos Tévez doesn't play from the start tomorrow night, the potential Rugani-Álvaro Morata battle is going to be fun to watch.
4 Can Fernando Llorente lead the line?
No matter if it's for Tévez or Morata, many folks in the Italian media are expecting the big Spaniard to start against Empoli Saturday night. We obviously don't need to go into deep analysis about the struggles Llorente has gone through this season. That's been talked about for months on end at this point. And unsurprisingly, the international break was filled with more the rumors surrounding his future in Turin and a possible move elsewhere this summer. The thinking is that if Tévez isn't too jet lagged he will get the start. If he can't go, then it will be Morata. We haven't seen all that much of the all-Spaniard strike combination this season, with mixed results being the final outcome to date. Maybe a couple weeks away from competitive games will be a good thing for Llorente. Then again, we've said that a decent number of times already this season.
My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Sturaro, Pereyra, Evra; Morata, Llorente
OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 9 P.M. IN ITALY; 3 P.M. ON THE EAST COAST; HIGH NOON ON THE WEST COAST