There is no risk of Juventus falling from the Serie A mountain top this weekend. There now is some company again, but we know that entering Sunday's trip to Bergamo, saying that Juventus is in second place isn't a possibility. That's a good thing, because while others might not, we like when good things happen to Juventus.
Napoli have just finished off their 3-1 win over Chievo as I finish writing this here match preview. That's fine. Some company atop the Serie A standings for about 18 hours won't mean the world is about to end or anything close to it. However, the only thing that will make that okay to deal with is pretty easy to figure out.
If Juventus beats Atalanta, then Chievo not doing much of anything after scoring two minutes in is all but forgiven. It will be the Jerry Seinfeld type of deal while he's playing poker with his buddies where, after some stupid stuff might happen along the way, you end up breaking even. Napoli wins, Juventus (hopefully) wins, and the three-point difference between first place and second place is the same as it was entering the weekend.
And there's no reason to think that Juve are not overwhelming favorites even though they won't be playing in the snowy but friendly confines of Juventus Stadium this weekend.
You wanna know when the last time Atalanta won a game was? Go ahead take a guess. You might have to go back a bit, though, if you can't figure it out.
If you had the first weekend of December, then you're right on the money. As we hit the month of March, Atalanta have gone 12 games without a win. Over that span, Atalanta has scored more than one goal in a game only once, and were shut out twice in February. And, maybe even worse, they've only won two games in Serie A since the calendar flipped over to November. They're not in total danger of getting caught up in the bottom three and tumbling into the relegation zone, but it's getting close to an emergency kind of situation if this current run of losing form continues.
Sounds like something where the four-time reigning champions should take care of business, right?
Yeah, definitely. Then, when you hear the manager say things like this...
...and you know that Juventus are heading to Bergamo with one objective — win.
As we've known for a couple of days now, Giorgio Chiellini is hurt again.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Does the 4-4-2 stick around?
Short answer: Yeah, probably. This is the world we live in when Juventus are reduced to only three natural center backs available to Max Allegri. I mean, I could break it down further, but I've come to the realization that I'd be wasting my time with saying why something other than a 4-4-2 would be better. Max will do what Max does, and that's not listen to me. /has sad
2. The return of Claudio Marchisio to the starting lineup.
The timetable proved to be right on the money. Juventus said Marchisio would miss seven days — essentially both games against Inter — and then be good to go by the weekend. Well, it's the weekend, and Il Principino is back in action. No matter what the formation may be against Atalanta on Sunday, having Marchisio, arguably Juve's most important player, back in the fold can't be understated enough. Sure, he was only out a couple of games, and would have probably rested the Coppa Italia fixture midweek, but when you have a player of such importance come back from injury, then that's the biggest thing. We all know how much better Juventus are with Marchisio in the starting lineup compared to the alternatives. And even though Hernanes wasn't terrible spelling Marchisio the last couple of games, the latter will just be more consistent and give Juve what it needs.
So, welcome back, Claudio. We've missed you.
3. The impact of Juan Cuadrado.
I guess we can say it about a lot of players, but it just seems to be especially true about Cuadrado this season: He can be really, really good, or he can be the exact opposite of that. It's the hold-and-cold kind of nature of Cuadrado's game. When things are good, they're really good. When things are quiet, he's rarely heard from out on the right wing. How much of that has to do with his game being somewhat limited, I don't know. But one thing is for certain, if Allegri is going to play Patrice Evra whenever he plays Cuadrado, then the man with the big afro's impact offensively will have to be there. As we've noted in many a post-game thread and match recaps, as solid as Evra is offensively, he doesn't offer a ton of offense in the final third of the field. That's why Cuadrado's role is so crucial. And that's why, with Mario Mandzukic back in the starting lineup after his own injury issues, getting quality service into the big guy is just that much more important for Cuadrado to do.
4. Can Juventus shake the midweek performance against Inter?
There were many contributing factors to Juve playing the way they did in the second leg of the Coppa Italia semifinals at the San Siro — the squad rotation, the massive lead after the first leg, and so on and so on and so on. Juventus' game was dreadful. Or, as Leonardo Bonucci described it, "we played the worst match since I joined Juve." That's saying something considering Bonucci, who was the captain on Wednesday night, has been with Juventus for going on six seasons now. With many of the regulars back expected to be back in the starting lineup against Atalanta, the likelihood of what happened against Inter probably isn't very good. But, when you play that poorly, you never want to see it happen again — especially in your next game. Maybe Paulo Dybala should just go out and score a hat trick so we don't have to worry about anything bad happening.
My starting lineup
Juventus XI (4-3-1-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Patrice Evra; Sami Khedira, Claudio Marchisio, Paul Pogba; Roberto Pereyra; Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic
TV: RAI International (United States, Canada); BT Sport 2 (United Kingdom); Sky Calcio 1 (Italy)
Online: beIN Sport CONNET (United States, Canada); BT Sport Live Streaming (United Kingdom); SKY Go Italia (Italy)
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