Same opponent, different competition, different location. It's still Juventus vs. Inter Milan, still Serie A's top dog against the team that was atop the table just two months ago like we had on Sunday night, but all the other intricacies are just a little bit different than a few days ago.
We can now take a break from Serie A for a couple of days, boys and girls. It's Coppa Italia time once again, boys and girls. Enjoy it while it's here mainly because after Wednesday night, there's all of one last Coppa game for the 2015-16 season.
And, with the way the first leg of the semifinal went against Inter back at the end of January, it's more than just somewhat likely that this isn't the end of the road for the reigning Coppa Italia winners. Yes, that one last Coppa Italia hurrah for the current season will likely have plenty of black and white jerseys in the crowd for one very obvious and joyous reason.
Probably. Yeah, probably.
Only a major Inter rally at the San Siro in Wednesday's second leg will see them beat Juventus on aggregate and advance to the Coppa Italia final against the other team from Milan. Juventus keeps the aggregate lead like everybody pretty much expects them to, and they'll get to do something that I'm sure will be perfectly okay with a lot of people — defend that other trophy they won last season.
Being up 3-0 after the first leg certainly means that Juve have had one foot in the Coppa Italia final for the past five weeks. That's never going to be a bad thing. Juve, in typical Coppa fashion, can now seriously afford to rotate its squad and give some of their regular starters with the fixture list so freaking busy these days.
And now that a good amount of Juve's depth isn't knocked out due to injury, that can actually be a distinct possibility.
No, no, Juventus probably won't field a starting lineup full of primavera players. As much as it would be amusing to us, it's a little out of the question at this point, folks. But we know this — Juventus are almost in the Coppa Italia final. Or, depending who you talk to, already there even though there's still a second leg to play.
Either way, you couldn't have drawn up a better situation for Juventus to be in after the first 90 minutes of the Coppa Italia semifinals. And it's even better when you consider who the opponent is. Sorry, but not really that sorry.
Inter's defense is a mess due to suspensions picked up in the first leg. Things seem to be going really well for them right now, huh? /insert maximum levels of facetiousness here/
Let's see here...
Juventus are basically in the Coppa Italia final already. Inter will be the team Juve knocks out and prevents from advancing to said final. Inter are coming off a game where Juventus beat them 2-0 just two days ago.
What's the bad news in that? Carry on.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. So just how much squad rotation will happen, Max?
In short: Probably a damn good amount.
And, you know what? That's totally okay. Juventus being up 3-0 after the first leg have afforded them this luxury. Last season, Allegri was basically forced to field his strongest starting lineup in the second leg of the semifinals against Fiorentina if he wanted to make the final. That worked out pretty well, methinks. This season, though, Juve are a little more than just comfortably ahead of their opponent. The good thing is that unlike the last time Juventus played Inter in the Coppa, injuries were happening up and down the roster. This time, the only new injury Allegri is dealing with is Giorgio Chiellini, who's not really a "new" injury based on he has barely been able to stay healthy the last six weeks. But Allegri has options to do some serious rotating in the midfield, and he hinted at Simone Zaza and Álvaro Morata starting up front during his pre-match press conference on Tuesday morning.
So, yeah, Coppa Italia squad rotation is likely going to happen. And that's totally okay with me. Amazing what being ahead 3-0 after the first leg will have you looking at things, isn't it?
2. The impact of Álvaro Morata.
Morata played all of about 15 minutes against Inter on Sunday. And, to be completely honest, it was one of his best appearances of the season. He won a penalty and subsequently scored it within two minutes of coming on the field. It was an impressive display without a doubt. That simply built off the last time Morata played Inter in the first leg of the Coppa Italia semifinals where he broke out of his scoring slump and bagged the first of back-to-back two-goal games. So, basically, Morata likes playing against Inter. And he likes scoring goals against Inter. He did that last season, and he's doing it this season. Hey, for a guy who built a reputation last season for scoring goals in big games, finding the back of the net whenever Juventus plays Inter definitely isn't a bad secondary option.
And, for Álvaro's sake, let's hope his practicing of a new celebration pays off rather quickly.
3. The impact of Simone Zaza.
With one striker, you have the other. Basically, if either of Paulo Dybala or Mario Mandzukic play from the start Wednesday night. I won't just be extremely surprising, but also kinda grumpy when it comes to Allegri's squad selection. Zaza's in a unique situation here. He obviously hasn't started much all season, so trying to stay on consistent form isn't the easiest thing to do. Despite that, he's been able to score five goals in his last eight appearances. And I don't think it's a stretch to say that some of his better performances in a Juventus shirt this season have come in games where he's come off the bench and made an immediate impact. As a starter, though, it's been a little different. I think that's going to be a key for Zaza as he seems set to start against Inter. He has proven he can be a quality sub, but it's been a little different playing from the opening whistle. He's got the talent to get the job done as a starter, now it's simply a matter of producing.
4. Does Inter show any kind of life at all?
Juventus beat Inter 3-0 in the Coppa Italia, then toppled then 2-0 over the weekend. Basically, Inter are becoming Juventus' punching bag after their first meeting of the 2015-16 season. And don't forget, this the same Inter team that began the calendar year as the Serie A leaders and are now sitting 13 points behind Juve with 12 rounds to go. So, in a round about way of saying it outright and in the open, things aren't going well for Roberto Mancini right now. (And it couldn't happen to a better guy!) Inter's form is crap, their best players not named Samir Handanovic have mostly been crap in their last two games against Juventus. And, trailing big time entering Wednesday's second leg at the San Siro, it's not they can look toward the Coppa as a way to suddenly salvage something as March begins.
My starting lineup
Juventus XI (4-3-1-2): Neto; Simone Padoin, Daniele Rugani, Leonardo Bonucci, Alex Sandro; Stefano Sturaro, Mario Lemina, Kwadwo Asamoah; Roberto Pereyra; Simone Zaza, Álvaro Morata
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