Understandably, there has been a lot of attention given in regard to Gigi Buffon's recently-completed shutout streak. All 973 minutes worth of it has been talked about, written about, even made the subject of a YouTube video by the Juventus social media team of the same length of time. (Tell me if you've watched the whole thing because that's dedication.)
I bring this up not just because of what San Gigi just accomplished, but it puts thing in perspective, too. That's mainly because when Juventus and Empoli kickoff on Saturday, there will be fewer minutes remaining in the Serie A season than how long Buffon's streak ended up going.
Eight games is all that's left between now and the end of the 2015-16 season. A lot can happen over the next six weeks, but that's certainly something we don't simply take lightly because of where Juventus are when it comes to the league standings.
.@OfficialAllegri: "#JuveEmpoli marks the beginning of a mini eight-game championship. Our job is to maintain our lead at the top."— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) April 1, 2016
Eight games. That's it. That's all the separates Juventus from making even more history — a fifth straight Serie A title and another party at Juventus Stadium to close out the season. Juventus have the slightest of room for error because of the three-point lead over Napoli. But I can safely say that one misstep, a Napoli win, and things are back on even terms with only a handful of games remaining.
Of course, as we've outlined, nothing is going to be a cakewalk from here on out. Even with Empoli cooling off and entering Saturday night's game without a win in its last six games, they've proven to be a tough out for plenty of teams this season. Until the recent slide, finishing in the top third of the table was a conceivable possibility.
But now that Empoli are in the situation it finds itself in form-wise, it's another chance for Juve to solidify their three-point lead atop the standings at the very least. Taking care of business, right? That's what we like to call it sometimes.
Fernando Llorente is confident Juventus can close things out and win a fifth consecutive Scudetto. If they get things done against Empoli, then they'd be one step closer to making Nando look like a freakin' genius.
JUVENTUS BACK JUVENTUS BACK
Leonardo Bonucci is suspended. Alex Sandro is suspended.
Claudio Marchisio is injured. Paulo Dybala is injured. Sami Khedira is injured. Andrea Barzagli is called up by Max Allegri, but not expected to start after picking up a muscle injury at the start of the international break. Hey, if you didn't notice, that's nearly 50 percent of Juventus' usual starting lineup. This stinks.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. What formation does Allegri go with?
In all likelihood, the limited options in the center of defense rules out the 3-5-2. Does the limited options in the center of the midfield mean that a 4-3-1-2 or 4-3-3 is out of the equation, too? Look at the list of the 21 players called up for Empoli's visit to Juventus Stadium, and you'll see that options are limited for Allegri. And when options have been limited either in defense or midfield lately, it's been a 4-4-2 formation with Paul Pogba on quasi left winger but not totally a left winger. Or, in shorter terms, Pogba has played as a mezzala while Juan Cuadrado has bombed up and down the right wing. Is that the right move? I guess with all things considered it's not like Allegri can really do a lot. The way Juve have played when Allegri fields the 4-4-2 hasn't exactly been completely inspiring, but they've continued to win, so I guess I can't complain too much.
Or, you know, we can just see what Max said about his starting lineup at his latest pre-match press conference...
.@OfficialAllegri: "If we played as a three in defence, who would take @bonucci_leo19's place? How about @gianluigibuffon!" #JuveEmpoli— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) April 1, 2016
Hey, that's funny! Max made a funny!
2. Can Álvaro Morata keep his good run of form going?
Fun with small sample sizes: Who has been Juventus' best player the last two games going into the international break? If Morata isn't the No. 1 option, then he's certainly up there. He has certainly taken advantage of playing time in recent games — and that's even if he's not scheduled to start, too. Much like his national team as a whole, Morata didn't do much of anything during the international break. Not that it means much of anything mainly because Spain were pretty meh as a whole. Morata has been explosive while wearing a Juve jersey over the last couple of weeks. That run against Bayern Munich will be something that will never leave my brain. And to come on for Dybala in the Turin derby and deliver the last two nails to Torino's coffin, that's two very good performances to build off of. So with no Dybala in the lineup, it's going to be interesting to see how Morata and Mario Mandzukic play off one another. If anything, we know that Morata's got some confidence going again. And knowing how streaky of a striker he can be doesn't hurt, either.
3. Daniele Rugani against his former club.
Rugani is expected to get the start with Bonucci suspended and Barzagli likely starting on the bench after being in a race to be healthy for the weekend, and it will undoubtedly be a special kind of game for the 21-year-old defender if that is the case. It was at Empoli where Rugani truly broke onto the calcio scene and established himself as one of the brightest prospects in all of Italy. And after not playing in the first Juve-Empoli game, Rugani will now get to play against his former team on his home turf. We know this because Allegri all but guaranteed Rugani will start against Empoli at Friday's pre-match press conference. Based on the way Rugani has played lately, he fully deserves a little boost in playing time. What better way to show that you're playing like the guy from last season while playing against the team you were with last season? Only makes sense to me.
My starting lineup
Juventus XI (4-4-2-ish): Gianluigi Buffon; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Daniele Rugani, Giorgio Chiellini, Patrice Evra; Juan Cuadrado, Stefano Sturaro, Hernanes, Paul Pogba; Mario Mandzukic, Álvaro Morata
TV: BT Sport Europe (United Kingdom); Sky Calcio 1, PremiumSport HD, Sky Supercalcio HD, Sky Sport 1 HD Italia (Italy)
Online: beIN Sports CONNECT (United States); Sky Go Italia (Italy)
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