The build-up to the season opener is always a time that's brim with optimism. Things are new, some of your team's signings haven't flopped yet, the relegation zone isn't occupied by anybody. That's just how it goes for the teams — especially those that are expected to be in contention for one of Serie A's European spots. Your team can either fulfill said opening-week optimism and get three points right off the bat, or be like Roma and do a bunch of Roma things per usual.
I know that Serie A opened up on Saturday. It involved Roma, as the Chiesa Di Totti folks put it so brilliantly, going back and hitting their head against the wall again, which is always good for a couple of slaps on the knee. But, in all fairness, Sunday is the day we've been waiting for ever since that stupid Champions League final against stupid Barcelona ended with a stupid 3-1 loss on that stupid first Saturday in June.
As we've seen develop over the past two-plus months, this Juventus team isn't close to that of last season's squad in terms of how it's constructed. Legendary players like Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Carlos Tévez have come and gone. The squad age has gone down, the amount of young players to build around for the present and future is way, way up. This is what Beppe Marotta and Fabio Paratici set out to do when the summer began, and that's exactly what they've achieved a few short months later.
All of this was in anticipation of this day and those 37 rounds of Serie A action that will follow this season.
Sunday's all-bianconero opener at Juventus Stadium will be the start of Juventus' quest to win five straight league titles. But as much as it would be a continuation of Juve's dominance in Serie A, this is a different Juventus team with different Juventus players. We haven't seen this kind of squad turnover at as many starting spots in quite some time. The starting strikers are new, one of the highest-rated up-and-coming fullbacks was just signed a few days ago and the potential of this team seems as plentiful as everybody else thinks.
That's what early-season optimism does. But unlike some other folks, we have every right to be.
Welcome back, Serie A. It's been an interesting couple of months, but you complete us once again. Even if we're amongst those people who bought a Paul Pogba jersey a week before he switched from No. 6 to No. 10. (I didn't.)
JUVENTUS BACK! JUVENTUS BACK!
Injuries are stupid and therefore should be banned from the general vicinity of Juventus.
- Giorgio Chiellini is back training after his thigh injury, but will likely start from the bench on Sunday.
- Sami Khedira is still weeks away from making his return from a hamstring injury.
- Álvaro Morata is out until after the international break with a calf injury.
- And, most recently, Claudio Marchisio has been ruled out until after the international break with a thigh injury he picked up in training this past week.
So, let's see here ... that's two of Juventus' projected starting midfielders, a starting striker and a defensive stalwart who is also going to be start alongside Leonardo Bonucci. If you think the injury bug is something that's cute and cuddly and worth brining home to meet the parents, think again.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Which formation you going with, Max?
I should really start counting how many match previews in the past 12 months where we haven't talked about what formation Max Allegri is going to use. It doesn't really matter why it's a point of discussion — injury problems, the next day's opponent, the players available on any given match day — but it is and there's nothing we can do about it. Due to the lack of options in the center of the midfield right now, the Italian press is putting their proverbial money Allegri going with a 3-5-2 as Martin Cáceres would become the 'C' in Juve's famed BBC defense. Is that the right move? Based on who Allegri has available this week — and probably next against Roma as well — there's only so much he can do. And while we don't know what formation Allegri will settle on when everybody is available for selection, we know the 3-5-2 is as well known to the players as it gets.
2. Simone Padoin, the regista?
Not very often is Mr. Allegri incredibly direct during his pre-match press conference about where a player will be positioned in the game that will be played a day later. But when it comes to one Simone Padoin, Allegri was as direct as can be.
Simone Padoin, come on down, because you're the man who will start the first Serie A game at regista in the post-Pirlo period. JUST LIKE WE ALL THOUGHT, RIGHT? We've seen Padoin as a holding midfielder before. Not a lot, but it's been done. And with the confidence Allegri has in everybody's favorite human victory cigar, it probably won't be the last. Padoin may be the punchline in a lot of jokes around here, but he's been relatively solid over his last couple of seasons. And if his role is to simply sit in front of the defense and let the playmakers do their thing, then that seems like a good call to me. Padoin won't be Pirlo, but who really can be?
3. Paul Pogba, the new No. 10 debuts in Turin.
It's one thing to have your new number debuted at the Supercoppa, but it's another to wear the Juventus No. 10 in front of the hometown faithful at Juventus Stadium on the opening day of the Serie A season. We all know by now how eager Pogba is to impress in his new jersey number, and it's not like we are going to disagree with him. His value to this team — injury crisis in the midfield or not — is as big as it has ever been. This is Pogba's season to truly establish himself as one of the best in the world, and he will be looked upon to create goals, score goals, and prevent goals. Basically, be the outstanding midfielder he has been during his Juventus career to date, and then maybe take it to another level. He's capable of it, that's for sure.
4. Scouting the Udinese roster because...
...you know Beppe Marotta is about to acquire one of them on loan with an option to buy next summer. We've been down this road before, people.
My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Cáceres; Lichtsteiner, Sturaro, Padoin, Pogba, Evra; Dybala, Mandzukic