When we saw the 2016-17 Serie A schedule after it was first released to the general public, it was hard to avoid the mini-gauntlet in the first few weeks of the season. Before the provincial sides arrive at the end of September and early-October, the first few rounds of the schedule had some unquestionable tricky matchups.
Juventus have gotten through the first one in the form of Fiorentina last weekend at Juventus Stadium. Now what awaits Juve is the first trip of the season to the Stadio Olimpico to face Lazio. (The second one, by the way, is on the completely different end of the schedule, which I can’t remember happening in recent memory. Weird schedule is weird.)
The same Lazio squad that Juventus throttled the last time they faced one another in a Serie A game. It’s the same Lazio team that Juve bounced out of the Coppa Italia. And it’s the same Lazio team that has scored all of two goals in their last six games against Juventus. (All Juve wins, by the way.)
Statistics say it’s been a whole lot of Juventus winning against Lazio lately. Then throw in the fact that Lazio just let in three goals against Atalanta and will now be facing an attack that features the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic, there’s plenty to like, really.
Yet the trip to the Olimpico always seems to be a tricky one no matter what kind of form each team is in. That’s why this trip to Rome, especially this early in the season, can be a difficult one to gauge.
For the most part, Juventus played well in the first game of the season. Yes, they needed Higuain to come off the bench and save the day, but the overall product was one that hopefully set a tone going forward. The only downsides, the game-tying Fiorentina goal and the late-game fatigue shown, are hopefully things that Max Allegri can correct before they come true problems.
The good thing? It’s the end of August. If we’re still talking about this stuff in November and December, then it’s probably a problem to take seriously.
As is usually the case, it’s just a couple of games and then it’s a two-week break because an international break after two rounds of the schedule is always such a wonderful idea. So, Juventus, going into the international break with six points out of six is a pretty good thing to go out and try to get.
Juventus point total after one game in the 2015-16 season: Zero
Juventus point total after one game in the 2016-17 season: Three
tfw this season is already better than last season and it has only been one game
As it stands, this season is already better. Facts are facts. We don’t have to wait until the third week of September for Juventus’ first Serie A win this season.
For all the good times we had following Juventus’ first win of the season, they are currently in sixth place and out of a European spot in the standings. What a damn shame, man.
(Okay, that’s a bit of an overreaction.)
Good thing it’s the first week.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Does Gonzalo Higuain keep making his impact off the bench?
This was originally titled “Does Gonzalo Higuain get his first Juventus start?” before I saw what Mr. Allegri had to say at his pre-match press conference.
Whether it’s tomorrow, the next game (after Lazio), next month (which is also the next game after Lazio) or something completely out of the realm of our thought process right now, Higuain will become a regular in the Juventus starting lineup. We all know that will happen. There’s price tag reasons, but also the fact that, ya know, he’s a pretty damn good striker. He’s already shown that, scoring the game-winning goal against Fiorentina last weekend. But it’s starting to look like Allegri wants to slowly integrate Higuain into the starting lineup. Those infamous pictures of Higuain looking not-so-in-shape from the West Ham friendly probably has something to do with that.
Saturday will see Mario Mandzukic start and likely see Higuain come off the bench at some point. It’s nothing against Gonzalo, but hopefully Juve haven’t blown a lead at that point.
2. Does Miralem Pjanic get his first (official) Juventus start?
Short answer: If he’s 100 percent healthy, hopefully.
Another short answer: If he’s not 100 percent healthy, play Mario Lemina.
With a two-week break coming up, the last thing Allegri needs to do is push Pjanic when he’s not totally good to go. There’s no reason, especially this early in the season, to do any kind of damage to Pjanic that would result in him being held out for any longer than he already has been. As much as we want to see Pjanic ball out for the first time and send 100 assists up to Higuain, Dybala and the rest of Juve’s talented attack every single game, Pjanic needs to be 100 percent when he takes the field. He’s the “other” big signing this summer, and to rush him back would be one of the few wrong moves Juve have made lately.
So, Max, let’s make sure that Mire is good go, shall we? It’s not like the guy who will step in for him isn’t capable of filling in for another game if the situation calls for it.
3. Dani Alves or Stephan Lichtsteiner on the right wing?
I don’t know about you, but I always look forward to seeing Lichtsteiner bomb up and down the right wing against his former team. There’s just something about it — and it’s been that way ever since we first saw it back in 2011. Sure, it’s not like a lot of the same Lazio players are around from when Lichtsteiner wore their jersey, but it’s still fun to see Juventus’ resident Swiss tank terrorize his former club.
There’s just one thing, though: As Allegri proved last week, he showed that he’s now willing to team attacking wingback with another attacking wingback. The Alex Sandro-Dani Alves wingback combo is now a legitimate option.
4. Alex Sandro or Patrice Evra on the left wing?
God, Max Allegri has it so good. “Do I go with this quality wingback or do I go with this quality winback? Okay, now same thing goes for the other wing...” Look around Europe at all these teams that are struggling to field even two solid options as their fullbacks or wingbacks and Juventus’ manager knows that he will have two of the best at their respective positions sitting on the bench most days. Must be nice.
MY STARTING LINEUP
Juventus XI (3-5-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Andrea Barzagli, Daniele Rugani, Giorgio Chiellini; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Sami Khedira, Miralem Pjanic, Kwadwo Asamoah, Alex Sandro; Mario Mandzukic, Paulo Dybala
Location: Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy
Kick-off time: 6 p.m. local time in Italy; 5 p.m. in England; 12 noon on the East Coast; 9 a.m. on the West Coast
TV: beIN SPORTS USA, RAI International (United States); beIN Sports Canada, RAI International (Canada); BT Sport ESPN (United Kingdom); Sky Supercalcio HD, PremiumSport HD, Sky Calcio 1 (Italy)
Online: beIN SPORTS CONNECT U.S.A., fuboTV (United States); beIN SPORTS CONNECT Canada (Canada); SKY Go Italia (Italy)
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