These days, it's common place to go back and compare and contrast what happened at the beginning of the season to what is going down right now. When we look at the respective worlds of Juventus and Roma, it's certainly a case of scripts being flipped compared to how things were back in late-August.
By now, Juventus' Serie A winning streak, which currently sits at 10 games, is a secret to nobody. Thirty of the 42 points Juve have picked up this season have come from the Derby della Mole win over Torino on Halloween and beyond. The uptick in form is significant, and has enabled Juve to get back into the Scudetto race almost as fast as it took some of us to finally spell "Borussia Mönchengladbach" during the Champions League group stage.
Basically what I'm trying to say is that Juventus is in totally different shape than they were when they lost at the Olimpico in the second game of the season.
Of course, one of the teams Juventus has subsequently caught up with and passed in the standings will be their opponent on Sunday night at Juventus Stadium. That Roma side that seemed to be soaring after their 2-1 win over Juve at the Olimpico back on Aug. 30. Since then, they've dropped down from third to fourth and now fifth and brought back and old friend in the form of Luciano Spalletti, who replaced Rudi Garcia nearly two weeks ago.
The two scenarios out there for both teams are clear. Juventus can either keep pace with or jump over Napoli depending on each result this weekend. Roma, on the other hand, are probably done and dusted when it comes to the Scudetto if they were to lose to Juve on Sunday. Those are two different, but two very important things can happen with a Juventus win this weekend, that's for sure.
But Juventus have taking the approach — and rightfully so — that this race is far from over. No matter how you feel about Roma being in the race for a title or a top three/Champions League spot, Juventus still have work to do. For all of Juve's winning, Napoli have yet to drop many points lately, either. Maybe that begins with all the controversy surrounding their manager these days, but we don't know that for sure until something actually happens.
So, even more than in August, this Juventus-Roma game has a whole lot riding on it. And this no matter what happens in the game that involves the current Serie A leaders just a few hours earlier.
Difficult, sure, seeing as we don't know for sure what Spalletti 2.0 is all about. But we do know what Juventus has been all about over the past three months. It involves winning — and a lot of it, I might add.
The Serie A standings entering the weekend...
1. Napoli 44 points
2. Juventus 42 points
3. Inter 40 points
4. Fiorentina 38 points
5. Roma 35 points
Basically, let's go Sampdoria!
BAD MORE GOOD NEWS
Andrea Barzagli is back. In short time, the same thing will be said about longtime absentee Roberto Pereyra, so the usual section of bad news that resides in this portion of every match preview can shove it.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. What the second edition of Spalletti is all about.
The beginning looked a lot like the end of the Rudi Garcia Experience. Maybe Roma is cool with that seeing as they figured the immediate gratification wouldn't be there because of how inconsistent the squad has been for the better part of the last 12 months. Or maybe it's something completely, I dunno. But when a team gets a new manager and looks almost exactly like they did under the previous manager in the first game out, then maybe there's some kind of deeper lying issue. That's obviously what Spalletti is trying to find out in his second stint with Roma. As Juventus themselves found out earlier this season, it takes time to right the wrongs of what has happened a month or two earlier. But when it comes to the two situations, they're a little different. Either way, as pointed out in our Q&A with Mr. Bren, Roma fans have their hearts and heads filled with nostalgia right now. Now it's time to see if the guy can coach this team out all those draw-happy bad habits they picked up under his predecessor.
2. Can Paulo Dybala keep his hot streak going?
In his last six Serie A games, Dybala has scored five goals. Over that same period of time, Dybala has continued to be an absolute terror for opposing defenses to try and stop. Seeing as Dybala has his paychecks signed by Andrea Agnelli, this is a very, very good thing for all of us. It's probably not as good news for Roma seeing as they've only recorded two shutouts in their last eight Serie A games. That usually stingy Roma defense of the past couple of seasons is now allowing over a goal a game on average. Dybala, who will likely partner with Mario Mandzukic up front, will enter Sunday's showdown in Turin relatively rested after not starting against Lazio in the Coppa Italia midweek. So you have Dybala rested and in the midst of an incredible run of form ... I certainly do like the sound of that, my friends.
3. Daniele Rugani, Martin Caceres or ... Andrea Barzagli?
No, this isn't a choice between who you want to see leave during the January transfer window. (Although the Italian press would probably spin it that way if it meant selling more papers.)
Barzagli is included in the 23-man squad list called up for Sunday's match, which means his recovery from his injury that has kept him out of 2016's first three matches is officially a thing of the past. And it's been a pretty easy thing to figure out this season — when Barzagli is fit, he's going to play. With the importance of this game simply because of the opponent, that's reason right there to have the Great Wall return to the starting lineup. But there's also this little quote from Max Allegri's pre-match press conference, which has me thinking that may it's not so cut and dry when it comes to Barzagli making his first appearance since the win over Carpi to close out 2015.
He never makes it easy, does he? No, of course not.
4. Alessandro Florenzi vs. Patrice Evra/Alex Sandro.
As is the case these days, Allegri can't really go wrong when choosing a left wingback. Evra is good, Alex Sandro is good, and when either of them shows up in the starting lineup, there's no real disagreement either way because of it. Florenzi, on the other hand, is just as easy of a selection for Spalletti. If Roma's new (yet old) manager decides go to with a three-man backline like he did against Hellas Verona last weekend, then Florenzi will likely be used as a wingback. But, as we discussed in Friday's Q&A, there's a possibility of the 24-year-old Italian also having a role higher up the field — something that would probably suit his game a little more these days. Knowing how Florenzi is such a high-energy, run-run-run kind of winger, would one Juve fullback make more sense over the other? Like I said, Allegri can't really go wrong because both options are both very good. Just something to think about.
My starting lineup
Juventus XI (3-5-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Sami Khedira, Claudio Marchisio, Paul Pogba, Alex Sandro; Mario Mandzukic, Paulo Dybala
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