The last time we saw Juventus, they were making things a little too close for comfort against one of the bottom dwellers of Serie A. Not to say that getting our respective heart rates going during a lunchtime kickoff is the idea of a day in paradise, but making things interesting is one of the the last things you want to see Juve do against a team sitting towards the bottom of the table.
I bring this up because Juventus are opening the 2016 calendar year against the one team that sits below Carpi in the Serie A standings. While it may not be hitting Parma of last season levels just yet, Hellas Verona has gone the first 17 rounds of Serie A action without winning a single game. Not one, people. No wins, nine losses and eight draws. That's it. Juve, on the other side of things, has won its past seven league games and looked rather good most of the time, too.
Let's just go ahead and do another one of those quick comparisons between the two clubs, shall we? Yes, we shall.
- Hellas Verona has scored 12 goals in 17 Serie A games this season.
- Juventus' No. 1 striker tandem and all around good guys, Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic, have combined to score 14 goals in 17 Serie A games this season.
The differences and success the two clubs are experiencing entering the first game of the calendar year are basically night and day at this point. Juventus are on the rise and flying high coming out of the holiday break while Hellas Verona are just trying to fight for anything kind of positive these days.
Everybody and their best friend will be picking Juventus to win, and probably win with some kind of comfortability. Juan Cuadrado and his world-class afro has described the meeting with Verona as "perhaps the most difficult match out of those coming up, because it is the very first one after the Christmas holidays." That is, of course, a very fair point, seeing as Juventus haven't played since that win over Carpi over two weeks ago. And how teams playing well before the break come out of it can be tricky sometimes, which is obviously something Juve are well aware of.
The good thing is, based solely on table position, you couldn't have asked for a better matchup to begin 2016 with.
Then again, we said that before Juve played Carpi. And before our heart rates when shooting through the roof.
Shut up, stupid. Juventus is back.
Actual bad news: Both Andrea Barzagli and Mario Mandzukic haven't been called up after not recovering from their respective pre-holiday break muscle injuries in time.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. How Juventus looks after not playing since Dec. 20.
It's the easy thing to wonder about as Juve comes out of the holiday break. We know all about their winning streak in Serie A already, and we know how they've used it to shoot up the league table over the last two months. But how they will do after such a lengthy layoff — 17 days in total once they kick things off at Juventus Stadium on Wednesday afternoon — will of course be an important piece to the puzzle. Juventus are pretty much as healthy as they can be outside of Barzagli and Mandzukic missing out. (Roberto Pereyra and Mario Lemina are also out, but that's been the case for weeks now.) So, in that respect, things are relatively okay. But you sometimes wonder if the break comes at a good or a bad time when you're team is playing well. And we know that Juventus got the ball rolling consistently when the games were coming at them fast and furious. That's the way things are going to be to star the new year, so there's going to be plenty of chances to pick up points right off the bat.
2. Simone Zaza or Álvaro Morata up top next to Paulo Dybala?
We know Mandzukic is out injured. If he were healthy, this discussion wouldn't be taking place because he was playing so damn well heading into the holidays. So, if were to choose based solely on who has played better so far this season, then it would easily be Zaza getting the start. But we know it's not easy as that. I would like to think that the holiday break came at a good time for Morata, who now has some nice Christmas presents to go along with his contract extension. The Morata-Dybala combination up front has been one a lot of us have looked forward to, yet one that hasn't exactly created the kind of happy thoughts we all envisioned considering the talent of the two strikers. Maybe Wednesday will be the day where things start to click for Morata. Man, it sure would be nice to have him back on form.
3. How Daniele Rugani does stepping in for Andrea Barzagli.
Max Allegri might have floated out Martin Cáceres' name when it came to who's potentially playing in Barzagli's spot, but every Italian outlet is sticking with what they've been saying for the last few days — it's Rugani starting on the right side of Juventus' three-man backline against Hellas Verona. And if that's the case, it will be nice knowing we didn't have to wait as long to see his second Juventus start as we had to when it came to his first one. That first start, against Torino in the Coppa Italia last month, went quite well. Rugani, for not playing in a game outside of a brief cameo against Sevilla, showed no signs of rust whatsoever. He came off the bench and replaced Barzagli in the second half against Carpi. That game has been well-chronicled, so we won't go there again. But seeing as Rugani is looked as being in consideration for more playing time is quite the nice development. And that is coming from somebody who loves himself some Cáceres.
4. Can Juventus keep the worst attack in Serie A off the scoreboard?
Luca Toni has scored three goals in Serie A this season. He leads the team in goals. It sounds weird to type that a team's leading goal scorer has three goals, but that is Hellas Verona's situation. Only one other Hellas player, Eros Pisano, has more than one goal this season. That's ... not very good. Because of that, you see Juventus' defense and how they've played (sans-Carpi) and how Hellas has struggled to put any kind of consistent offense going and put two and two together. But all of that can be deceiving. Allegri made it a note to point out during his pre-match press conference on Tuesday that Juve need to have a proper approach against smaller clubs. Last time I checked, Hellas Verona is one of those smaller clubs. And they're sitting dead last in Serie A right now. Pretty easy to know what's next.
Cannolloni, Luca Toni, Pepperoni. Luca sei per me ... Okay, I'll stop now.
My starting lineup
Juventus XI (3-5-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Stefano Sturaro, Claudio Marchisio, Paul Pogba, Patrice Evra; Álvaro Morata, Paulo Dybala
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