We're going to be hearing a lot about Inter in the next few days. It's going to be unavoidable. As much as we probably don't want to have our thoughts infested with Inter-related things, it's going to happen because once Sunday's game is over and done with, there's another one a couple of days later against the same team.
While Wednesday's game might just be an unofficial coronation into the Coppa Italia final because Juve has such a big lead, Saturday night will be Juventus starting a new winning streak after the incredibly important 15-game run came to an end last week.
Juventus got a reprieve from their draw against Bologna thanks to Milan pulling the same type of thing in their matchup with Napoli three days later. That allowed Juve to stay atop the Serie A standings entering a second straight week. And while we can't expect Napoli to pull a Roma of last season and draw every week, the name of the game is rather simple as we come ever so close to the amount of games remaining in the 2015-16 season being in single digits.
One step closer and one less victory required to get to a record fifth straight Scudetto. Yeah, I like the sound of that.
It doesn't matter if Inter's struggling like they are right now or playing good football like was the case when Juve visited the San Siro earlier this season. Juventus getting a win over Inter is always music to all of ears no matter what season, what the table position of each club is and how it might impact things.
But this season, with Napoli just one point away and the calendar about to flip from February to March next week, the chance to get three points is just that much more important. A win would put the pressure on Napoli to get all three points for the second straight Monday. And with it being second place vs. fourth place at the Franchi, Napoli aren't going to be the only ones who are going to have a little extra motivation to get three points and move closer to the team that's directly above them in the standings.
And, hey, you know what would be a nice way to go into Wednesday's Coppa Italia game with Inter? Hearing about how Juventus just beat them a couple of days earlier, that's what. (I'm pretty sure you all would be okay with that.)
Remember all those stupid injuries we were fretting about just a week or two ago? Well, look what Max Allegri had to say about all those players who were missing games...
Good injury news? Huh, what a weird concept. I can get used to it, though.
Juventus has a one-point lead atop the Serie A table. I know that's not really a bad thing, but the room for any kind of error really isn't there right now.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Giorgio Chiellini's back. So is the 3-5-2 as well?
Short answer: Yeah, probably.
I mean, the whole reason why Allegri switched back to a four-man backline the last few weeks was because of Chiellini's absence. Allegri was reluctant to throw Daniele Rugani into the starting lineup to keep the 3-5-2 intact, which made some sense seeing as the second-year Juve manager would have been left with no senior squad center back left on the bench. But with Chiellini now healthy and training again, the ability for Allegri to start all three fixtures in Juve's BBC defense is there again. That's the easy part of it to figure out. And the hope is that unlike last time Chiellini returned from injury, we won't be hearing just a day or two later about him re-injuring himself. That sure would be nice, wouldn't it? If there's a time for Juve to not lose one of its best players, I feel safe in saying the next month or two would fit into that category.
2. How Juventus' midfield copes without Claudio Marchisio.
Or, in other words: Can Hernanes replicate his 45-minute cameo against Bayern Munich?
Short answer: I sure as hell hope so.
The good thing is that by this time next week, Marchisio should be back in the squad and healthy to play against Atalanta. That's if the timetable goes according to plan and the seven days in which Marchisio will be out is just that. But, for at least the next game or two, it's expected that Hernanes will be facing his former team and playing in Marchisio's spot in the center of Juventus' midfield. If he plays like the player we saw against Bayern where he had arguably his best game in a Juventus jersey, then there's really nothing to worry about. If it's the Hernanes we've seen for most of his short time with Juve, well ... yeah. I don't want it to be the Hernanes we saw for the first five months of the season, and neither should you.
3. Juventus' Argentine striker against Inter's Argentine striker.
Paulo Dybala and Mauro Icardi may be countrymen and teammates on the international level, but they can put off their friendliness for a few days. We know how Icardi has been a thorn in Juventus' side over the last couple of years. But we also know that Juventus' defense is playing as well as anybody in Serie A right now — which is a pretty good answer to any attack from a team not named Bayern Munich. When it comes to Dybala, I can't help but more good things are to come after he found the back of the net in the Champions League for the first time in his career on Tuesday night. And if that means scoring a goal against Inter just like the last time he played against them, I'm pretty sure nobody here would be objecting to it.
4. Can Juventus' wingbacks give Mario Mandzukic service in the air?
Mandzukic was arguably Juventus' best player midweek against Bayern Munich, but there was one thing missing from a good portion of the game when Juve did attack. Mandzukic had no consistent service when he was in the box. Understandably Patrice Evra's duties were more defensive-minded because of how well Bayern attack on the wings. But now that the 3-5-2 is expected to come back — and with it the return from injury for Alex Sandro — there will be more chances for Juve's wingbacks to not just get up the field, but also get seriously involved in the attack. Juve won't have the height advantage that they did against Bayern, but if Mandzukic gets the crosses that he was getting before he got injured, then good things will continue to happen for Juventus. He's too talented in the air to not take full advantage of Stephan Lichtsteiner and Alex Sandro spinning in cross from the right and left into the big Croatian striker.
My starting lineup
Juventus XI (3-5-2: Gianluigi Buffon; Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Sami Khedira, Hernanes, Paul Pogba, Alex Sandro; Mario Mandzukic, Paulo Dybala
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