The last time my Sassuolo-related writing didn't involve a Domenico Berardi transfer rumor, it wasn't a very pleasant post. Juventus had just lost 1-0 at the Mapei and played like complete crap in the process. It was, for all intents and purposes, Juventus hitting another frustrating Serie A game in a two-month stretch that seemed to be filled with one of those games after another.
Little did we know that day would be the end of the struggles and the start of something much, much more pleasant to talk about. Funny how some of these things work out, isn't it?
Since that rainy and flat-out stupid night in which Juve lost 1-0 to Sassuolo and sent the four-time defending champions down to 12th place in the league standings, Max Allegri's squad hasn't been on the wrong side of a final score in Serie A. Seventeen wins, one draw, zero losses. That's 52 points out of a possible 54, you guys. That's the quick and simple version of it all. It's what's allowed Juve to go from bottom third of the table to middle of the table to on the brink of a European spot and now top of the whole damn league with just 10 games to play.
It's probably a rise that some didn't think could happen so soon and so swiftly after they watched Nicola Sansone spin in an absolutely beautiful free kick and Juventus subsequently did absolutely nothing to even the score.
But here we are, on the second Friday of March, and Juventus is sitting on first place as Sassuolo prepares to make the trip over to Turin for some Friday night football. The whole 'This Juventus ain't like that Juventus' rule certainly applies here, without a doubt. Juve might not be playing great football right now, but they're picking up results. And with the way the Serie A table is situated right now, that's the best thing going for them.
A win over Sassuolo would keep the train rolling and, at least for the next couple of days, give Juve more than just a three-point lead atop the standings. As much as we want to pay attention to what Napoli is doing and how their results will impact Juventus' lead, that lead won't exist if they suddenly slip up against a team they've had trouble with in the past.
At least we know Juventus are a completely different animal than back on Oct. 28 when they were frustrating the living hell out of us. I don't miss those days. Nope, not one bit.
With Napoli not playing until late Sunday night, Juventus has the chance to be six points up on its closest competition for a couple of days. It might only be temporary, but "Juventus beats Sassuolo and goes six points clear of Napoli at the top!" does have a nice ring to it.
It's Sassuolo. They're good. And they always give Juventus a good game. Cakewalk, I'm not expecting one.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Does anybody rest with Bayern Munich on the horizon?
With Juventus having four days off between Sassuolo and Bayern Munich, I don't know. Pretty much all of the predicted lineups floating around Twitter on Thursday had Juventus playing a pretty full-strength starting lineup and Allegri going with the 4-4-2 he's used most of the last month. We may not like that second part of the equation, but that seems to be what people think will happen. Maybe Allegri will flip the script like he did last weekend against Atalanta and start Roberto Pereyra and the accompanying 4-3-1-2 formation. But when it comes to rest, it seems as though what most think will happen is maybe a change here or there, and that's about it. I mean, if this was a Sunday game and then Juve had the quick turnaround to play Wednesday then I think there would be something. But since Allegri has an extra 48 hours to work with and a squad that is healthy outside of Giorgio Chiellini and Martin Cáceres, there's not much reason to take it easy on anybody in particular despite Bayern being Juve's next opponent.
2. Can Juventus' defense contain Domenico Berardi ... if he plays?
It wouldn't be a Juventus-Sassuolo unless we talked about Berardi in some kind of capacity. And with the way he has been playing the last couple of weeks, he's bound to be a very large talking point when it comes to Juventus' defensive game plan. But entering this meeting with Sassuolo, we're not even sure Berardi will be playing after it has been reported that the 21-year-old Italian has come down with the flu. Let's assume that he's able to play because it helps support my talking point here. In Berardi's last three games, he's got two goals and two assists. It's no surprise that with Berardi playing so well the last three games, Sassuolo have won all three of those. It also makes sense that one of those good showings came against Milan because Berardi always seems to ball out against them. He hasn't posted the same kind of numbers against Juventus, but there's always the chance for him to go crazy against the team that so many of us hopes he is playing for next season. (Count me in as one of those people.)
3. Can Paulo Dybala get back on the scoresheet in Serie A?
We were spoiled at the beginning of the season when it seemed as though Dybala was scoring in every game imaginable. But if Dybala doesn't score a goal against Sassuolo, then it will be five straight Serie A games where he hasn't found the back of the net. That's not a huge slump compared to others we've seen happen this season (like Alvaro Morata, for one), but it's a definitely a sign that his goal-scoring form has cooled off from earlier in the season. I'll just say this right now: I'm not worried about Dybala whatsoever. He's too good not to explode for something like six goals in his next four or five games. Then all of this would be a moot point and I'll be claiming that I'm the guy who turned Dybala's goal-scoring form around.
My starting lineup
Juventus XI (4-3-1-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli, Patrice Evra; Sami Khedira, Claudio Marchisio, Paul Pogba; Roberto Pereyra; Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic
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