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Five things to look forward to in Juventus’ International Champions Cup opener

Juventus open up the International Champions Cup against Melbourne Victory on Saturday. We look at a few things that could happen.

AC Milan v Juventus FC - TIM Cup Final Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Juventus arrive in Australia far from the full-strength monster many are expecting them to be come the start of the 2016-17 domestic campaign. Euro 2016 has a lot to do with that, as nearly every one of Juve’s projected starting XI are still on extended holiday following the tournament’s conclusion.

That’s no surprise, though. With Juventus’ bevy of representatives at the European Championship, seeing players getting extended holidays was to be expected. And once most of those saw their country’s make relatively deep runs in the tournament, the unfortunate truth for those in Australia and Hong Kong was that a full-strength Juventus squad wasn’t going to happen.

(But Paul Pogba is not called up for the International Champions Cup for some other reasons. It has nothing to do with the fact that France made it to the Euro 2016 final. Not a damn thing.)

(That is sarcasm. And you should treat it as such.)

The bright of all of this? Some players that we might not have gotten to see make the trip halfway around the world if Juventus were at full strength got to pack their bags and accompany the first teamers over to Australia. You look up and down the 25-man squad Max Allegri has brought with him for the International Champions Cup matches against Melbourne Victory and Tottenham and see names that are either from Juve’s primavera squad or those who were out on loan a season ago.

It might not be a full-strength Juventus squad, but it’s our beloved Juventus nonetheless. And with a summer that has been filled with transfer rumors galore, it will be nice to actually watch a game for a change. It might not mean anything in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a game and I like when Juventus plays.

What do we get to see other than the general notion of Juventus being back on the field once again and playing in a game, albeit a friendly?

Miralem Pjanic making his unofficial Juventus debut

When you boil down to it all, I think this is the thing I’m most looking forward to about Saturday’s International Champions Cup opener. Dani Alves may get some of the bigger and flashier headlines because of what he’s accomplished in his career and where he’s coming from, but Pjanic is Juventus’ No. 1 signing this summer. (Barring the acquisition of any world-class No. 9, of course.)

While the other main parts to the center of the Juventus midfield are either rehabbing from injury (Claudio Marchisio), off on a beach somewhere with supermodels (Sami Khedira) or seeing his name linked to the team he used to play for about once every five seconds while on holiday (Pogba), Pjanic has been training and adapting to his new club. That’s huge. And not just so that he adapts to his new teammates, but he also settles into Allegri’s system.

Pjanic has already spoken about the understanding he’s starting to develop with Paulo Dybala, something that should just make your mouth water at the possibilities of what that connection will look like come October, November and December as things really do start to click.

Watching Pjanic develop in this Juventus team is going to be fun because he provides the club with another weapon in an already talented midfield. No matter who he may be playing alongside against Melbourne Victory, Saturday will be the first step in that.

We get to see Paulo Dybala and his lovely smile again

The summer of 2016 for one Mr. Dybala started with disappointment after not being included in Argentina’s squad for both Copa America and the 2016 Summer Olympics. Judging by all of the smiling pictures we’ve seen of young Paulo over the course of the last week or two, he’s over it and ready to get the season going.

And based on the way his first season went at Juventus, his second season is filled with just that much more in terms of expectations. He’s shown he can handle it before, so it’s not like this is suddenly newfound territory for the young Argentian with the boyish good looks. He was the star of the show for a good portion of the 2015-16 campaign that saw Juve capture a fifth straight Scudetto.

A lot like Pjanic adapting to his new surroundings, this is the first step in Dybala building off what was an incredible first season with Juventus.

Daniele Rugani leading Juventus’ defense

With Juventus’ other Italian defenders sitting on a beach somewhere and enjoying their respective post-Euro 2016 vacations, the amount of central defenders currently in Australia who were on the roster last season is only at one. And that would be Rugani, Juventus’ soon-to-be 22-year-old who so much is expected of in the future.

We don’t know how many starts Rugani will get come the Serie A season, but him playing against Melbourne Victory is a certainty. And no matter what formation Allegri goes with Saturday night, Rugani will be in the middle of it all. That feels good to type, and it will be even better to see considering we sat through a first half of the 2015-16 campaign that saw very little in terms of Rugani playing time.

Rugani will likely be a regular starter on this trip considering who else has made the flight to Australia. That’s good. We like Daniele Rugani and the player a lot of us think he can develop into. Why not continue to remind us of that over the next couple of games, right?

An appearance by another former Roma player, Medhi Benatia

Again, the fact that Bonucci, Barzagli and Chiellini aren’t around means that the chances of Benatia getting playing time are just that much higher. Seeing as he’s been training with the squad for the better part of the last week-plus since his arrival from Bayern Munich was finalized, I wouldn’t be surprised if Allegri rolls with a four-man backline with Rugani and Benatia at the center of the defense.

Benatia, while also expected to be a bench player like Rugani, is in a completely different situation than the young Italian. Benatia, who left Italy two summers ago as one of the best defenders in Serie A, is looking to reboot his career after a pair of disappointing seasons with Bayern. He’s battled bad form, he’s battled injuries. And he’s battled the fact that he wasn’t the No. 1 option on a team flush with talent.

While that last part is going to be present at Juventus, too, he’s going to be in a country where he’s familiar and with a group of players that know him as well. His lone deal does not have mandatory buy option worked into it, so this is massively important year for Benatia. He’s got something to prove, without a doubt.

With so many regulars missing, what youngsters will get to play?

Short answer: It’s the first noteworthy friendly of the season and everybody will probably get at least some kind of playing time. Unless Allegri feels like Neto needs a full 90 minutes in goal and none of the primavera goalkeepers beside Emil Audero on the trip get to play.

Allegri has said that everybody will play, which shouldn’t be all too surprising seeing as the limited first team options and the fact that it’s the first major friendly of the summer. There will be a lot of faces that we aren’t all that familiar with considering watching primavera games outside of Italy isn’t the easiest thing to do. But there are names we know outside of the Dybala, Pjanic, Alex Sandro likes in the squad.

Not only do these friendlies prepare the squad for the upcoming season, but we also do get a glimpse of who may be trying to make a name for themselves in a year or two. It’s always nice to see youngsters try and do some things this time of year.

I believe Mr. Pjanic is right. No matter how much playing time so of the younger players do end up getting, this is a pretty great experience for them.