It was too long ago that Juventus was the lunchtime kickoff on a Sunday. Things got a little interesting — or a lotta depending on how you look at how it went down — against Carpi back in the final game of the 2015 calendar year. Yet Juventus won that game, and got to head into the new year knowing that their winning streak was still intact despite the scare from one of Serie A's bottom dwellers.
Here we are again, about six weeks later, at the lunchtime kickoff table. It's not against a team that will be fighting off relegation this season — or least that's what we think right now. Instead, Juventus make the trip over to the Bentegodi as they face their second opponent from Verona in the span of three and a half weeks. That one, however, was at Juventus Stadium and resulted in the good guys recording an easy 3-0 win behind the awesomeness that is Paulo Dybala.
But here we are, back at the place where Max Allegri made his Juventus managerial debut at the start of last season.
Juventus have the chance to be in first place for the first time all season with their 12th consecutive Serie A win. With Napoli playing Empoli just a short time after the final whistle will blow at the Bentegodi, that stay atop the table may be a short-lived one for the time being if Napoli pick up another three points. Or maybe Empoli will be a help when it comes to this possible scenario and prevent Napoli from picking up the full share.
You know, Max might be on to something here, people. Knowing that we're in the same kind of situation as we have been the past few weekends, it sure would be nice thinking something other than "Juventus kept pace with Napoli" after Sunday's games are over and done with. Sure, they need some help from our friends over at Empoli, but going into February with something other than a two-point difference between Napoli and Juve would sure be nice.
And I'm not talking about Napoli extending their lead atop the standings, so stop it right there.
Chievo just sold their leading goal scorer, Alberto Paloschi, to Swansea City on Friday. No, seriously. They did that even though the three remaining strikers on the roster have a combined eight goals. That's not good.
It's hard to say anything other than the injury news we heard about on Friday that involved Kwadwo Asamoah and Mario Mandzukic missing three weeks and one month, respectively. Not a good time for it to happen, I gotta say. (Not that injuries happening are good regardless of their timing.)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Can Álvaro Morata build off his brace against Inter?
With no Mandzukic, it means there will be plenty of Morata playing alongside Paulo Dybala for the next month. If Morata looks anything close to the way he did against Inter, then that's a perfectly okay development given that we won't be seeing Mandzukic until late-February or early March. We know what Morata did in the second half of the season last year when he became a regular starter. Surely those two things had to at least be somewhat related. And while Mandzukic was in pretty good form before his injury, Morata is one of those strikers where when the goals do come, they come in bunches. Morata might have ended his 20-game goal drought, but he still hasn't scored a goal in Serie A since the fourth day in October. It sure would be nice to change that relatively soon, wouldn't it?
I find it pretty hard to argue with that one, Max. Now let's just hope Álvaro goes out there and shows that his brace against Inter wasn't just a one-game wonder.
2. Alex Sandro on the left wing.
With Patrice Evra starting both last weekend against Roma and midweek against Inter, it's a pretty safe assumption to think that there will be a little more Brazilian flavor at left wingback this weekend. Barring any kind of last-minute setback to Alex Sandro, that's the way it should be. Allegri has done well to ensure that both both Evra and Sandro have gotten a good chunk of playing time in the last month or two. I don't know if it can be considered a full-on platoon at this point, but it's pretty close to it seeing as Allegri seems pretty comfortable playing either of them in games of importance. And as interested as I am to see the Dybala-Morata partnership get consistent run over the next month, I'm also quite looking forward to seeing what such a technically-gifted left back like Sandro can add to that combination. I imagine a few dangerous cross will be sent in on Sunday afternoon. Let's hope Morata and Dybala can get on the end of a few of them.
3. Can Juventus take advantage of Chievo's inconsistency at home?
We have this piece of information thanks to the good folks who put together Juventus' website. And it's a pretty good piece of information seeing as it made my job a lot easier to do.
While outperforming the majority of their Serie A rivals outside the walls of the Stadio Bentegodi, the Gialloblu find themselves in the bottom five for their home form that has been inconsistent at best: seven of their 13 home points came before October, while five have come in the last three matches.
So, basically Chievo were really good at home to start the season, then weren't, and are now kinda okay again. The back-and-forth kind of form situation would be something you'd expect out of a team that is sitting mid-table right now. There's some good, some bad, some okay. Playing Chievo is always going to be tricky because they seem to be like that annoying little gnat that won't go away while you're trying to go to sleep. The same can usually be said when it comes to playing games at the Bentegodi — they're never truly a thing that can be compared to something that's easy to do. Maybe we get the struggle home version of Chievo, maybe those Flying Donkeys will be as pesky as ever. It's tough to put a finger on it at this point.
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; Álvaro Morata, Paulo Dybala
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