In a perfect world, Juventus would be going into their matchup against red-hot Atalanta this weekend playing about as well as they have all season. They would be scoring goals galore and playing picture-perfect defense. You know, the way we have envisioned them playing this season after adding the likes of Dani Alves, Miralem Pjanic and Gonzalo Higuain over the summer.
Except, you know, they aren’t doing much of that.
Juventus is struggling, which was highlighted about as much as it could have possibly been highlighted in the 3-1 loss to Genoa last weekend. It was the first time in over a decade that Juventus trailed 3-0 at halftime, and it was the latest in a long list of performances that showed us this club may be at the top of the Serie A table but is not necessarily playing at a first-place kind of level you all would hope to have happen when December arrives.
So here we are with the first weekend of 2016’s final month upon. Juventus is coming off their worst domestic loss in years. Their overall product this season has left a lot to be desired from pretty much the first game onward. They haven’t needed to dig themselves out of an early-season hole in terms of the standings like a year ago, but the way the team has played hasn’t exactly been all that great when you factor in just how much importance the club placed on this season in the weeks leading up to the opener.
And here comes the hottest team in the league coming into Juventus Stadium to try and continue their rise up the table that has resembled that of Juventus in November, December and January 12 months back.
It’s first place against the unexpected fifth-place team in Serie A. There’s a lot at stake for both teams. Atalanta want to show once more that this early-season rise up the table has been for real. Juventus, on the other hand, just wants to make sure that last weekend’s shambolic showing at the Luigi Ferraris is the thing that was needed to jump-start this team into a much-improved state of play.
Juventus improving how it plays won’t be solved in one week. That sure as hell is true when it comes to all the players missing out due to injury, too. But consider this the first step in hopefully a improvement in form from Juventus that is desperately needed. Why? Because there’s only so much you can say about a team that is struggling. Plus that whole thing about actually showing progress as the middle of the season gets here.
Well, yeah. I would expect that to be the goal — especially how the last game went, Max. But I’m just a guy on the internet with an opinion.
Sorry, folks, but I’m gonna have to get back to you all on this one.
These goddamn injuries will never go away. (And yes, if you were hoping to see some other topic brought up in the bad news segment of our program, you will have to wait another week or two. Or six months.)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. With all the injuries, what the hell is Max Allegri’s formation going to look like?
First things first: Juventus currently has three healthy center backs. Juventus’ base formation uses three center backs. And these players are actually center backs. So, what we’re getting at is here. Pretty much every Italian media outlet is predicting that Allegri goes with a 3-5-2 against Atalanta — which should obviously send this place into euphoria out of excitement. That probably isn’t the choice of many for a variety of reasons. And obviously Allegri has his reasons for sticking with the 3-5-2 despite the lack of natural central defenders. (Stubbornness might come to mind for some of you.) Maybe he will surprise and roll with a trident of Gonzalo Higuain flanked by a couple of dudes who can run fast and cross the ball into him. Or maybe he will just go with the same formation he has for the vast majority of the season and we’ll be grumpy well before kickoff even arrives.
Makes you think, doesn’t it?
2. The impact of Gonzalo Higuain.
This, of course, probably depends on what formation Allegri decides to go with, too. I say that because we’ve seen Higuain’s role change significantly when he’s playing in a 3-5-2 without Paulo Dybala — who Allegri didn’t call up for the game against Atalanta — compared to without his baby-faced countryman. This is what the absence of Dybala and subsequent partnership with Mario Mandzukic has meant to Higuain’s production: One goal in his last seven Serie A appearances. Those aren’t the kind of numbers that we’ve gotten used to seeing from Higuain, and that certainly isn’t the kind of goal-scoring tally that Juventus were thinking of getting from the Argentine tank when they dropped €90 million on him this summer. His role has been much, much different with Dybala out of the lineup, which is obviously why he’s not playing the same kind of out-and-out prima punta spot that he has played in the past.
But, man, it sure would be nice to see Higuain add a goal or two to his tally this weekend. I miss seeing Pipita celebrating after scoring a goal.
3. The impact of Daniele Rugani.
By process of elimination, playing time has almost certainly come young Rugani’s way due to the injuries to Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci. I hope that it’s in a four-man backline, but it probably won’t, so let’s just hope for the best with this.
The rumors of Rugani getting a contract extension are now very much in the realm of public knowledge. That’s obviously a sign of good faith from the Juventus front office. And with all of the injuries to Juventus defenders, it has created the chance for Rugani to show what he can do. Basically, remember the run of games he got last season due to injuries to Barzagli and Martin Caceres? This is pretty much it, except with obvious differences as to who he is replacing in the lineup. Rugani has been quite good in his small number of appearances this season. That should bode well for somebody who hasn’t exactly had very much playing time. Common lines of thinking would make you believe that if he’s been good now, then Rugani should be just as good — if not better — when he finally gets an extended run with regular playing time. Go do just that, Daniele, because the Juventus defense and all of its inconsistencies certainly needs it.
MY STARTING LINEUP
Juventus XI (4-3-3): Gianluigi Buffon; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Daniele Rugani, Medhi Benatia, Patrice Evra; Sami Khedira, Claudio Marchisio, Miralem Pjanic; Juan Cuadrado, Gonzalo Higuain, Alex Sandro
Location: Juventus Stadium, Turin, Italy
Kick-off time: 8:45 p.m. local time in Italy; 7:45 p.m. in England; 2:45 p.m. on the East Coast; 11:45 a.m. on the West Coast
TV: beIN SPORTS USA (United States); beIN Sports Canada (Canada); BT Sport 3 (United Kingdom); Sky Supercalcio HD, SportItalia, PremiumSport HD, Sky Calcio 1, Sky Sport 1 HD Italia (Italy)
Online: fuboTV, beIN SPORTS CONNECT U.S.A. (United States); fuboTV Canada, beIN SPORTS CONNECT Canada (Canada); BT Sport Live Streaming (United Kingdom); SKY Go Italia (Italy)
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