The thing about the Coppa Italia is we always consider it the “other” competition. If you power rank Serie A, the Champions League and the Coppa Italia, what is currently listed as third in that list of competitions would finish exactly there. It’s kind of like playing for the Supercoppa, you know? If you win it, that’s cool. But if you were to come up short in some form, then it’s not necessarily the end of the world.
With all that said, let’s Coppa Italia.
We sit here one day before Juventus jumps into the Coppa Italia fray. All that stands within Juve and another defense in the tournament they have won two years running is a handful of wins against teams that are still unknown right now. Well, except for one, of course. That would be Wednesday night’s Round of 16 opponent, Atlanata, which makes it way up to Juventus Stadium for the second time in the last five weeks.
That game was about Atalanta attempting to show that their then-red-hot form can match the best team Italy has to offer. It ended with Juventus building a 3-0 lead after all of about 65 minutes and the Italian champions slowing down what had been the most in-form team in all of Serie A when the two teams played.
Players have said that they want to do well in the tournament. Max Allegri, unsurprisingly, has said that Juventus want to do well in the tournament. This should not surprise anybody because Juventus like winning games, like advancing far in tournaments and like celebrating with trophies as they are showered with confetti.
See? No surprise there. We’d expect Allegri to say something like that because it’s pretty clear that he’s not going to come out and declare that his team doesn’t care about it. Juventus obviously care about the Coppa Italia. As much as the Champions League? Well, I don’t know about that. But Allegri is expected to field a pretty strong starting lineup on Wednesday night, so that’s a pretty good sign that they care.
Juventus are playing at home. Last time I checked, Juventus are pretty damn good when they play a game at home.
Juventus have now only lost ONCE in 76 Serie A home games...— bet365 (@bet365) January 8, 2017
That's four years and two days.
Oh, yeah. That’s pretty good.
Because of injuries (Alex Sandro) and players JUST back from injury (Leonardo Bonucci) as well as the Africa Cup of Nations-related absence of Medhi Benatia, Juventus won’t be able to do much squad rotation in defense. That seems like it’s breaking some kind of unwritten Coppa Italia rule, doesn’t it?
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Is Coppa Italia time also Marko Pjaca time?
Because of obvious reasons, the chances to see Pjaca have been limited this season. There were brief cameos, then his extremely lengthy injury absence that nobody expected to drag on as long as it did. But from everything we can tell, Pjaca — who has been limited to under 100 minutes of game time this season — is completely healthy and eagerly awaiting his chance to see the field for the first time since Juve’s 3-0 win over Empoli on Jan. 2.
If Pjaca were to start on Wednesday night, it would be the first time Max Allegri has included in a starting XI since his move to Juventus. It’s easy to figure out that in such a small amount of field time, not one of Pjaca’s seven Juventus appearances have come from the start. But in those brief appearances, Pjaca has shown plenty of potential. You can tell he’s a player with immense talent and one that loves to take on a defender or two as he cuts in from the left wing. If we do see Pjaca play from the start, which doesn’t seem like a certainty after Allegri’s pre-match press conference comments, then it would easily be Pjaca’s biggest chance to shine since coming to Turin this past summer. Even if he doesn’t start, Pjaca better be playing. This is the kind of game, the kind of opponent, where you can let the young Croatian loose and see what he can do.
Or, better yet, it will be nice just to see Pjaca on the field based on how little we have through the first half of the season. You know, 76 minutes worth of playing time this season.
2. Mattia Caldara against his future team.
Juventus and Atalanta only played one another just a little over a month ago. That’s not much time at all, really. But in that time we’ve gone from considering the 22-year-old Caldara as one of Italy’s bright young players to also one of Juventus’ bright young players. The deal for Caldara isn’t official yet, but everything that has come out about it — including quotes from Beppe Marotta in recent days — has it becoming official this month. Caldara, of course, won’t be a Juventus player right off the bat, but he will likely be playing against a defender in Daniele Rugani who many will be tipping him to partner with when his time at Juventus begins in the fall of 2018.
All of this is a moot point if Caldara is rested on Wednesday night. (It is the Coppa Italia after all, so I guess we can never truly rule out a regular starter being rested no matter what team they do play for.) But considering Juventus are expected to field a strong starting lineup, I wouldn’t put it past Atalanta manager Gian Piero Gasperini to do the same thing. Atalanta do care about the Coppa Italia, right? And they have to think that they have a better chance of winning with Caldara in the starting lineup, right? I know we’re thinking of watching Caldara because he’s going to be a Juventus player and that’s the sole reason why we want to see him play, so call me selfish. I don’t really care. This is the situation now — and Juventus signing one of the best young defenders the country has to offer is a pretty good decision, too.
3. Can Mario Mandzukic pick up where Gonzalo Higuain has left off?
Recent games have seen Higuain show that he’s seriously rounding into form. (No, that’s not a fat joke. Gonzalo is actually looking quite svelte these days, folks.) The recent goal-scoring numbers have seen him zoom up the Serie A scoring chart. All that said, the Coppa Italia rolling through Turin likely means a night off — at least at the start of the game — for Juve’s No. 9. And that means, regardless of what the formation Allegri ends up going with, that Mandzukic will be leading the line.
If you were to simply look at the stats, then Mandzukic isn’t having the impressive season that Higuain is starting to put together. However, as we know, Mandzukic’s game is more than just goals scored and assists recorded — which might seem a little odd considering he is a prima punta who is known for being a pretty good goal scorer. Mandzukic has been playing pretty damn well lately as he helped fill the void left by the injury absence to a certain Paulo Dybala, who is expected to start on Wednesday night. He has garnered a lot of attention for the work he has put in on both sides of the field — especially on the defensive side of the ball. Seriously, is there anything better than seeing Mandzukic block three shots within the span of 10 seconds? I don’t know. (Well, maybe Gigi Buffon making insane saves, but that’s just me.)
We’ll see what Mr. No Good can do when when the attack is centered around him on Wednesday night. If Dybala wants to drop one of those fancy assists he’s capable of producing Mandzukic’s way, I don’t think I’d be opposed to any of that going down.
MY STARTING LINEUP
Juventus XI (4-3-3): Neto; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Daniele Rugani, Andrea Barzagli, Kwadwo Asamoah; Mario Lemina, Hernanes, Tomas Rincon; Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic, Marko Pjaca
Location: Juventus Stadium, Turin, Italy
Kick-off time: 8:45 p.m. local time in Italy; 7:45 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 2:45 p.m. on the East Coast; 11:45 a.m. on the West Coast
TV: GOLTV USA (United States); RAI Uno (Italy)
Online: fuboTV (United States)
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