Back in the dark days of August when Juventus weren't playing so well, they opened up the season with a pair of disappointing losses. Most people remember the no-show against Roma, but what about the week before? Yeah, that one was frustrating, too — especially considering it was on the Juventus Stadium turf and was the exact opposite of how we wanted this new-look squad to begin their season.
With the first half coming to an end last weekend, Juventus now get the chance to right some of their early-season wrongs. That involves going to the newly remodeled Stadio Friuli and trying to win in a not-so-easy place to win.
But the good thing going for us is easy to figure out.
Think about what Juventus was like back in mid-August.
Now, go ahead and think about what Juventus is like entering the third game of the new year here in January.
See, isn't that better? Yes, yes it is.
Juventus' season-changing winning streak is on the brink of hitting double digits. And knowing that Sassuolo wasn't able to beat Napoli on Saturday — mainly because Gonzalo Higuain continues to be an absolutely destructive force against opposing defenses — then the onus is now on Juventus to keep pace in the Scudetto race. You get three more points and extend the winning streak to an impressive 10 games, then it means Napoli is still just two points ahead of the reining champions.
So much of this surge up the standings has been picking up points whenever it's possible. And while Udinese might not be in the kind of shape of teams like Hellas Verona or Carpi, it's still a team Juventus should beat.
You know, the opposite of what they did back in August.
Thank goodness that version of this team is a thing of the past. I like the winning one a lot better. So should you.
Claudio Marchisio is back from his one-game yellow card-related suspension. It's hard not to miss the guy's face when he's not in the starting lineup, folks.
Still no Andrea Barzagli, Roberto Pereyra or Mario Lemina. Hey, at least Mario Mandzukic is back!
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. The return of Mario Mandzukic.
Surprise! The big Croatian is back in the fold after missing the first two games of 2016. Considering how Mandzukic closed 2015, I would say that seeing him return to the starting lineup is a welcome addition. Let's just go ahead and look at Mandzukic's stats the last seven games in all competitions he's appeared in
Seven goals, one assist, three WhoScored MOTM awards
You see, that's pretty impressive. In that run of form has been his game-winner against Manchester CIty and the brace against Carpi to round out the calendar year. If Mandzukic resembles anything like how he played in November and December, then things are in good shape. Combine that with how Paulo Dybala is playing these days and there's no denying that the Dybala-Mandzukic duo is one of the most potent in Serie A right now.
2. The return of Claudio Marchisio.
Out with the Hernanes, in with the Marchisio! Seeing Marchisio return to the starting lineup isn't a big deal considering he was out last week due to yellow card accumulation. It's not that Hernanes was terrible last weekend against Sampdoria because after a tough first half in which he was kinda just there he did make some plays in the second half. It's the simple fact that Marchisio, with over a week and a half of rest, will be back in the center of the midfield. Based on how he's played this season, that's a wonderful thing. Juventus has been a better team both offensively and defensively with Marchisio in the lineup. I'll stop gushing about the guy now. Until the next thread, that is.
3. Another start for Daniele Rugani?
This is how helpful Max Allegri was during his pre-match press conference on Saturday.
See? Helpful! (No, not helpful.)
While Allegri pretty much tried to play it off that he's not sure who's going to start on the right side of Juventus' three-man backline, almost everybody who's involved with publishing predicted lineups in the Italian media is saying that Rugani will be the man to replace Barzagli. It would mean, for the first time ever, we get to see Rugani start back-to-back games in a Juventus shirt. If it does happen Sunday, it will probably cause people to speculate even more about what Caceres' future at Juventus both this month and beyond. But if it is indeed Rugani, then it's another sign that Allegri is starting to work in the 21-year-old defender and all that praise in the first half of the season despite the lack of playing time was truth, not something else. And let's be honest, the more Rugani plays, the more we get to see the kid's potential develop right in front of our eyes.
4. Antonio Di Natale vs. Juventus' defense.
And so it was declared by Udinese manager Stefano Colantuono that the 38-year-old striker will get the starting against Juventus on Sunday afternoon. This is a surprise to so because they were the same people thinking that Toto would be one of the strikers coming off the bench, not start, against Juve. It obviously hasn't been one of those big-time seasons for Di Natale with him accepting more of a substitute kind of role this season. His lone Serie A goal of the season came way back in October when Udinese played out a 1-1 draw against Genoa. Since then, his playing has been what you would expect from a role player — sometimes he starts, sometimes he plays less than 20 minutes. But as we know with Di Natale, he has a knack for scoring just when we think he's not gonna do much of anything.
My starting lineup
Juventus XI (3-5-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Daniele Rugani, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Sami Khedira, Claudio Marchisio, Paul Pogba, Alex Sandro; Mario Mandzukic, Paulo Dybala
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