Back when Juventus were making their mid-season charge up the standings, we talked about how they needed to get some help from others to leapfrog one team after another. Jumping over Inter, jumping over Roma and finally jumping over Napoli, it all needed something else to happen to allow the main piece in the puzzle to take place.
It's been no different with Juventus atop the table the past handful of Serie A fixtures. Once they've gotten to the top of the table, Juve have stayed there. The lead has always been a slim one, as we all eagerly awaited a potential Napoli slip up that would have resulted in things getting a little more comfortable atop the standings.
That was before last Sunday happened.
Juventus got the help they needed from their bianconero buddies Udinese to double up on their lead over their closest competition, Napoli. Now, with seven games to go, Juve sit six points clear of their rivals to the south. That's undoubtedly huge shift regardless of how you felt about the final stretch of games or when the four-time champions would potentially become history-making five-time winners.
It's obviously crucial that Juventus not let their largest lead of the season suddenly go to waste. Max Allegri heads to his old stomping grounds at the San Siro looking to extend Milan's late-season troubles. (Or maybe they're all-season troubles. It's hard to keep up with these fallen giants that reside in Milan these days.)
But Juventus' goal for the day is as clear as it's ever been, really. They got the help they needed to turn that three-point lead into a six-point lead. And now, the desire, at the very minimum it should stay that way.
It sure would be nice to get a win over Milan to help get a step closer to one big trophy just a little over a month before the two teams play for another piece of hefty hardware. One win, two win, three win, all the more. That's a pretty good pattern to develop.
Juventus entered last weekend with a three-point lead atop Serie A.
Juventus enter this weekend with a six-point lead atop Serie A.
This is never not going to be a good thing.
Paulo Dybala is still hurt. Sami Khedira is still suspended. Giorgio Chiellini is hurt again. Roberto Pereyra is now hurt again.
Stop getting hurt, Juventus players.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. No Paulo Dybala means more Alvaro Morata.
And with the way he's playing, that's certainly a good thing. At least I think it is. You can disagree if you want.
But I feel safe in saying that Morata and Mario Mandzukic will be the starting tandem up front against Milan on Saturday night. If it isn't, then maybe Allegri sees something in Milan where Simone Zaza will be useful, but the combination of Mandzukic-Morata seems to be the odds-on favorite to play from the start. So, let's just focus on Morata, because that's what the topic above tells us. He's been playing damn well lately. The thing that has caught my eye the most is just how explosive some of his runs have been. They have always been there, but now they're seemingly going from defensive third to attacking third in the blink of an eye. Combine that with a player who has been creating scoring chances for himself and teammates, then you have a guy who's resembling the player from last season, not the one from the beginning of the 2015-16 campaign.
Or, we can just go ahead and see what Max had to say about his striker situation...
He's such a silly goose. Even when we think things are pretty simple to figure out, Max feels like throwing us a quote like this to keep all of us on our toes. What a guy.
2. Who steps into the starting lineup for Sami Khedira?
If the 3-5-2 is the way Allegri goes, and it's looking very likely based on what he's done lately despite having three available center backs, then that means a couple of things.
- Paul Pogba won't be used asa quasi-left winger who is out of position.
- There will be three central midfielders, with some added balance in the hub of the squad.
- The Italian folks seem to think that it's Stefano Sturaro who will step in for Khedira.
Honestly, I'm okay with that. Maybe somebody like Kwadwo Asamoah would also make sense in a game like this, but having Sturaro play against Milan would be that added steel in the midfield that maybe other folks wouldn't be able to provide. What's the thought that always pops into my head whenever Sturaro comes off the bench in the second half? "Go and run around for 30 minutes, my man." Now, who knows if Sturaro has a complete 90 minutes in his legs because he hasn't played much lately. But to have that physical presence in the midfield, along with Claudio Marchisio doing his thing and Paul Pogba hopefully replicating that Empoli performance, then things are set up quite nicely as Juve look to keep their six-point lead.
3. Left (wing)back battle royale: Alex Sandro or Patrice Evra?
As I say just about every time this is a talking point, there is no bad option here. Evra is good. Sandro is good. They are different kinds of fullbacks, yet still very good in their own right. So maybe the "battle royale" is more of a friendly competition between two very good players. But, the thing is, who's the better pick to play against Milan? Many in Italy seem to think that said pick is Alex Sandro, who should be more than just a little well rested after being suspended last weekend. I can't imagine how fresh Sandro's legs are feeling after not appearing in a game in weeks. And knowing who will likely be starting up front for Juventus against Milan, it's also pretty safe in assuming that Sandro will be quite eager to spin in a cross or two to Morata and Mandzukic. (Even though I feel like he would feel like that regardless, but oh well.)
Either way, I feel good at the left wing. Yes, quite good.
4. What exactly does Milan have to offer?
I could sit here and say "Derbies mean you throw out records and form!" or something like that. HOWEVER, this Milan team hasn't been on the right side of the final score in a Serie A game since late-February. They're done when it comes to the Champions League spots, and any more further setbacks would put a massive dent in their European aspirations as a whole. Milan went into ritiro after its 2-1 loss to Atalanta over the weekend — which wasn't exactly welcomed with open arms by some of the club's former greats. Or some of Milan's current players, for that matter. Now we get to see if the ritiro will have any kind of impact. Based on how up and down the Milan season has been, it could either turn out to be a blessing in disguise for them or completely crash and burn. Welcome to the New Milan, boys and girls!
My starting lineup
Juventus XI (3-5-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Daniele Rugani, Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Stefano Sturaro, Claudio Marchisio, Paul Pogba, Alex Sandro; Mario Mandzukic, Álvaro Morata
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