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Italian Super Cup Preview: Juventus vs. Lazio — Let the games begin

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To say this Juventus team hasn't exactly impressed this preseason wouldn't be a stretch. Their three friendlies have been, well, uninspiring to say the least. But it's not like they can do anything about them now — especially with what is next up on the schedule.

Juventus vs. Lazio:Saturday, August 8 2 P.M. CET, 8 A.M. ET, 5 A.M. PT Shanghai StadiumShanghai, China

Juventus has made trips to Germany and Switzerland in weeks prior, but now the travel schedule has taken Max Allegri and the 2015-16 squad over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house in ... Shanghai? Yeah, yeah, Shanghai it is. And it's Shanghai Juve hope will be the trick as they look to take a trophy from Lazio for the second straight meeting between the two top-3 finishers.

You see, the last time Juventus and Lazio played, there was a trophy on the line. This next time Juventus and Lazio play — which will be in less than 24 hours — there will be a trophy on the line. We're talking about two different trophies, sure, but they're still trophies. And last time I checked, winning trophies is a good thing and pretty much a way to evaluate just how successful a season was for a big-time club like Juventus is.

Saturday night's result — good or completely bad — won't determine the fate of Juventus' upcoming season. But you know what would quell a lot of those fears about how Juventus are playing during their current preseason friendlies? A nice and shiny trophy for them to take back with them to Turin. You know, kinda like they did with the Coppa Italia — strap it into a seat next to somebody important on the team plane and the rest is pretty much self explanatory.

Yes, Juve haven't played well, but that's okay. I'd rather Juventus struggle now when it's perfectly acceptable instead of, say. during the middle of the Champions League group stage when they need goals and points or when Serie A games truly matter. Maybe the Supercoppa is something that will make things click heading into the season. That would be okay, too.

Let's just hope there's no typhoon. That would screw everything up.

GOOD NEWS

Juve's playing for another trophy. And trophies are cool, which is always good to remember.

BAD NEWS

Injuries are stupid. This is why:

  • Giorgio Chiellini out with a thigh injury.
  • Sami Khedira out two months with a hamstring injury.
  • Álvaro Morata out a month with a calf injury.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

1. Which formation will Allegri go with?

New season, same old decisions for Mad Max. Ah, how things kinda change, but not really change. (Okay, so things have changed at Juventus this season, you've got me there. There's no skating around that one.)

But the internal debate within all our of minds will roll on until further notice. Does Allegri go with the 3-5-2 since Andrea Barzagli seems healthy enough to play? Or will Juventus' second-year manager go  with his four-man backline, with a 4-3-1-2 likely to follow? I guess, like it was in the second half of last season, that it's dependent on how Barzagli truly does feel and if Allegri thinks he's up for a full 90 minutes worth of game time. At this point in time, is it smart to even risk Barzagli if he's not fully capable of playing a full game? Maybe the plan for Allegri is to do exactly what he did last season — start with a four-man defense and then use the 3-5-2 as the closer in the second half. Maybe.

2. Paul Pogba's first game wearing Juventus' No. 10 jersey.

At the tender age of 22, Paul Pogba has taken on all the pressure and responsibility that comes with one of the most recognizable numbers in all of European football. And you thought you couldn't love the guy any more than you already do. Well, think again.

There will be an even larger microscope on Pogba during the Supercoppa because of the number he has just taken. There's always going to be attention on Pogba because of who he is and what kind of magic he can deliver, but that's even more of the case now that he's Juve's No. 10. Wouldn't it be lovely if Pogba had one of those classic Pogba games on Saturday just as a sort of christening this new chapter in his Juventus career? I think it would be fitting of a player who has become so crucial to Juve's success the last couple of years. (And that's even before Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal decided to go elsewhere this summer.)

3. The Paulo Dybala-Mario Mandzukic partnership.

With Morata missing out on game time action for the next four weeks, it's pretty much a lock that it's going to be Dybala and Mandzukic leading the line for Allegri. So any hopes that people had of seeing Morata-Mandzukic-Dybala unleashed against Lazio will just have to cool their jets until the middle of September in all likelihood. And while I'm looking forward to seeing Mandzukic grow into the Juventus system, Dybala and all of his talent top that easily. Maybe it's the fact that he's 21 years old and has plenty of room to grow as a player compared to Mandzukic, who is obviously the much more proven and certain commodity. So while we may have to wait to see what Dybala and Morata can do on the field together, at least we've got the other two pieces of Juve's big three available. And there's plenty of firepower there to do some things, too.

4. Juventus' fullbacks/wingbacks vs. Antonio Candreva and Felipe Anderson.

No matter where or how they are deployed, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Patrice Evra will be busy for the simple fact of who they are going to be matched up against on Saturday. So much of Lazio's success comes when Candreva and Felipe Anderson are firing on all cylinders and causing complete havoc up and down the wings that it's impossible to ignore. It was pretty much the same kind of thing as when the two teams met in the Coppa Italia final back in late May. Pretty surprising that if you shut down two of a certain team's best players it will be easier to get the win, right? That's some gosh-darn impressive insight right there.

My starting XI (4-3-1-2): Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Rugani, Bonucci, Evra; Sturaro, Marchisio, Pogba; Pereyra; Mandzukic, Dybala