Here we are. The end of 2016. One final game for this calendar year that has certainly seen its fair share of interesting things take place over the last 12 months. Juventus will take the field at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha knowing that their lead atop the Serie A table is still a comfortable one no matter how the results have gone in the days leading up to the Italian Super Cup against Milan. It’s a nice little situation to be in — and that’s not even taking into account that they’re going to be playing for their first trophy of the season in just a short amount of time.
Juventus playing Milan is quite an interesting way to wrap up the calendar year. Not only because they’re playing Milan, folks, but a Rossoneri team that just so happened to beat the five-time defending Serie A champions the last time they played one another two months ago.
Juventus were in a bad place then. Right now? I think it’s safe to say that things are looking a bit better compared to late-October when everything was an absolute mess and the injury list was almost as long as the collection of sub-par performances for a team that was expected to dominate from the opening weekend onward.
That’s a pretty good thing to have happen.
There’s obviously still a game to be played and at least 90 minutes to make sure that what happened two months ago doesn’t repeat itself. Outside of Leonardo Bonucci, Juventus are as healthy as they have been all season long, so they’ve got them going for them, which is nice. They’ve won four straight games in all competitions after the embarrassment that was the 3-1 loss to Genoa to start out the month.
This is the kind of response we wanted. They’re winning again, and more importantly they’re playing some pretty decent ball along the way. There’s still plenty to improve upon, but the big thing is that they haven’t looked like the same squad that was present at the Marassi a few weeks ago. Let’s be thankful for that.
Max likes presents. And not just presents that involve seeing Valentina crack a smile while posting another part to her latest Instagram story. I like presents, too. So, Juventus, go on and give your manager — and your fans watching all around the world — one final present for the 2016 calendar year. It only makes sense with Christmas two days away, you know.
Milan have actually showed up in Doha, so that’s pretty good news based on how the Italian media was making it seem like there may not be a game played at all.
The last time Juventus and Milan played, the bad guys won, not the good guys. At the same time, the good guys looked like absolute crap. That’s not very good.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Can Juventus avoid what happened the last time they played Milan?
I did not drink heavily back on Oct. 22, my 30th birthday, therefore I remember pretty much everything that happened at the San Siro. That means I remember what happened the last time these two clubs played one another two months ago. And let’s just say that I wish I didn’t have to remember that game because it was an absolute crapfest and only continued the notion that Juventus isn’t going to run away with the Serie A title this season. “Toothless” was a pretty good way to describe that game — which is not a reason for you all to go back and read our match report even though Chuks did his usual quality work with that one despite the blood pressure rivaling mine. I guess it’s only natural after a game like that. (But look on the bright side, Chuks, at least it wasn’t on your birthday, so you got that going for you, buddy.) What can Juventus avoid losing to Milan for the second time in as many meetings this season? Well, the easy answer is to say “Don’t play like crap, guys,” but you probably want a little more substance than that.
2. What will Stefano Sturaro do for an encore?
For the first time in a long time, Sturaro was one of Juventus’ highest-rated players in one of our match recaps. No, seriously, it happened. I haven’t gone back and looked through each and every one, but that’s just a relatively rough estimation on my part. I would like to go on, but I need to post something from the Twitter machine first.
Sturaro's best performance in Juve shirt. Let's hope he can build on this.— J D Angkasa (@JDAngkasa) December 17, 2016
This is what I’m wondering as well. And it’s what I’ve been wondering about Sturaro’s performance against Roma ever since it all went down over the weekend. Sturaro was really, really good — something that we can’t always say about the midfielder that only seems to split opinions around here. This is Sturaro’s chance to show that the increase in playing time is paying off and he’s proving that he can contribute. Or, this will be Sturaro showing that the maybe, just maybe, his performance against Roma was more of the exception rather than the rule. If he can play like he did against Roma, he certainly will add something that Juventus’ midfield doesn’t get with other options they have on the bench right now. And hey, no matter when Axel Witsel arrives, having a solid performer as a place-filler wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, either.
3. What can Gonzalo Higuain do for an(other) encore?
I know I’ve talked about Higuain a lot lately, but I don’t care. It’s fun. Watching Higuain play at his best, the kind of best that saw him score a bazillion goals last season, is fun. It’s really, really fun. Therefore, the more he scores goals, the more fun I will have and the more I will be talking about him here. At this point, I think it’s very safe to say that Higuain is starting to really find his goal-scoring touch in front of goal. Four goals in his last three games certainly supports that, but it’s the fact of the matter of how he’s going about scoring said goals. They aren’t just good goals, but they’re goals that only a select number of strikers could pull off. And yet, here’s Higuain doing it more often than not. His recent return to form has made his season stats look quite pretty — 22 appearances, 13 goals in all competitions — and you have to think that if he continues at this current rate that they’re going to look even better when the second half of the Serie A season arrives next month.
4. Is this the game where Paulo Dybala makes his comeback to the starting lineup?
It’s not like the curiosity has changed all that much from when we talked about this same topic in the Turin derby preview last week. And much like in that post, I will say this: Dybala, in his short time on the field since coming back from injury, has shown that he’s pretty much picked up right where he left off before he got hurt in terms of how he’s playing. The one big thing that remains in Dybala’s comeback is that first start — which some thought might come against Roma but obviously didn’t. The difference this week compared to over the weekend is that Dybala’s status in the starting lineup might depend on the injury status of one of his teammates, Miralem Pjanic, who had to leave the showdown with his former team, Roma, in the second half this past weekend. Now, Pjanic has made the trip to Doha, so it’s either a move to mess with Milan’s head or actually say that he’s fit enough to play. If Pjanic isn’t 100 percent good to go, does that mean we’ll potentially get a Dybala-Higuain-Mandzukic trident? I wouldn’t rule it out. But, above all else, I just want to see Dybala play some solid amount of minutes — especially with there being two weeks until Juventus’ next game. Give our Dybala fix, Max, we need it for one last time this calendar year.
MY STARTING LINEUP
Juventus XI (4-3-1-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Daniele Rugani, Giorgio Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Sami Khedira, Claudio Marchisio, Stefano Sturaro; Miralem Pjanic; Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala
Location: Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium, Doha, Qatar
Kick-off time: 7:30 p.m. local time in Doha, Qatar; 5:30 p.m. in Italy; 4:30 p.m. in England; 11:30 p.m. on the East Coast; 8:30 a.m. on the West Coast
TV: GOLTV USA (United States); Sky Sports 4/HD UK, NOW TV UK, Sky Go UK (United Kingdom); RAI Uno (Italy)
Online: fuboTV, beIN SPORTS CONNECT U.S.A. (United States); beIN SPORTS CONNECT Canada (Canada); SKY GO Extra (United Kingdom)
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