For Juventus, this is game 19 of 38 on the Serie A schedule. The weird thing is, it’s also the second time they’ve played Fiorentina this season, meaning it should, in reality, be the start of the second half of the 2016-17 campaign. The Serie A schedule is weird and can provide these quirks because this is a country that plays a preseason one-off cup final two days before Christmas.
Having a game in hand can make things a little interesting, doesn’t it?
Juventus heads to the Franchi looking to continue their high-scoring start to the 2017 calendar year. Two games played in 2017, six goals scored in 2017. That’s pretty efficient and a trend I’d like to see Juventus continue, but that’s just me. The one thing that Juventus has going for them as they head to Florence: They’re going to be facing a Fiorentina team that has truly been scuffling the last month and a half, with their current ninth-place standing in the Serie A table pretty reflective of how they’ve played of late compared to their solid start to the season.
Do you know what teams have been the opposition in Fiorentina’s last three league wins? Go ahead and guess. I have asked because it somewhat speaks to the current state of where Fiorentina is at. Okay, I’ll just list them for you:
Fiorentina 4, Empoli 0
Fiorentina 2, Palermo 1
Fiorentina 2, Sassuolo 1
Those three wins have come against teams that are currently 16th (Sassuolo), 17th (Empoli) and 18th (Palermo) in the Serie A standings. Those three wins are the only three Fiorentina have been able to record in Serie A play since the END OF OCTOBER.
The tumble down the Serie A table hasn’t been pretty. Fiorentina’s defense has been struggling big time. As you can tell by some of their other results, their offense has either been pretty good or completely non-existent against teams that wouldn’t really been considered tough competition. But there is no doubting that FIorentina will be up for this one. Juventus coming to the Franchi has become one of their biggest fixtures of the season. It doesn’t matter how either team is playing. Juventus comes to Florence and Fiorentina certainly want to upend the top dogs in Serie A.
All that’s left for Juventus to do is silence what is almost certain to be a riled up pack of Viola supporters.
Courtesy of the good folks at WhoScored:
Juventus are undefeated in 32 of their last 35 matches against Fiorentina in all competitions.
That’s good. I like that stat.
Dani Alves is still recovering from his fractured fibula. Stephan Lichtsteiner is suspended after picking up a yellow card against Bologna last weekend. Put two and two together and you’ll see that Juventus has no natural right back available.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. No Lichtsteiner. No Alves. No four-man defense?
If you are sitting in denial and thinking that the 3-5-2 isn’t in play because of the fact that there’s no actual right back available to Max Allegri on Sunday, then you’ve got another thing coming your way. The 3-5-2 is gaining momentum and seems like a certainty to make its unheralded comeback when Juventus head over to Florence. That’s not necessarily because Allegri WANTS it to be in the equation again. But it has more to do with the fact that there’s nobody to truly fill the spot of Lichtsteiner and Alves. We’ve seen Andrea Barzagli fill in as a right back, but it doesn’t seem like that option has come across as a definite possibility against Fiorentina. Juan Cuadrado as a right back? Yeah, I don’t know I’d feel all that great about that one. So, if that means the 3-5-2 or some kind of three-man backline variation is back for one game because there’s no Lichtsteiner and Alves, I won’t get all mad about it.
Which leads us right into...
2. The return of Alex Sandro to the starting lineup.
We’ve missed you, Mr. Sandro. We really have. That’s not a shot at Kwadwo Asamoah, who filled in admirably during the pair of games Sandro was out as he recovered from the injury he suffered in the Super Cup loss to Milan last month. It speaks more to the fact that Sandro was an absolute beast whenever he was on the field in the first four months of the season. He’s been Juventus’ best player this season, and there’s pretty much no doubt about it. He’s been good from the opening game of the year until his last appearance. Very few times have we sat here and thought that Sandro wasn’t very good in the game he just played.
But it’s clear that Juventus needs Sandro to be at their true best, then Sandro is going to have to be the Sandro he’s been for most of his time in Turin. The good thing is that he’s been exactly that and his consistency is one of his greatest assets. And when you throw into account that Sandro is a pretty lethal weapon when he plays more of an advanced role as a wingback, then you’re playing right into the Brazilian’s hands. Good luck to you, shaky Fiorentina defense.
3. Paulo Dybala’s continued improvement and impact as he returns to the starting lineup.
You wouldn’t normally think of a Round of 16 Coppa Italia tie where a player of Dybala’s caliber would be getting a huge chunk of playing time — or any, for that matter. But Allegri made things clear in the lead-up to the game against Atalanta on Wednesday. He said Dybala needs minutes and minutes is what he is going to get. What did Dybala do? Just go about scoring one of the better goals a Juventus player has scored this season. It was his second goal in as many games back in the starting lineup — which is also very good news. Knowing that the Fiorentina defense has not been very good on the defensive end of the field lately, having Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain continue to be extremely dangerous and develop that oh-so-important rapport is going to be something that will be on the eye of many. There’s no denying that both Argentinian strikers are going to be two of the most important players for Juventus going forward into the second half of the season. What better place to show that you’re starting to hit your best form again than against a team that has become one of your biggest rivals over the years?
MY STARTING LINEUP
Juventus XI (3-4-1-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Andrea Barzagli, Daniele Rugani, Giorgio Chiellini; Juan Cuadrado; Sami Khedira, Claudio Marchisio, Alex Sandro; Miralem Pjanic; Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala
Location: Stadio Artemio Franchi, Florence, 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: RAI International (United States); RAI International (Canada); BT Sport 3 (United Kingdom): Sky Supercalcio HD, Sky Sport 1 HD Italia, PremiumSport HD, Sky Calcio 1 (Italy)
Online: beIN SPORTS CONNECT U.S.A., fuboTV (United States); beIN SPORTS CONNECT Canada (Canada); BT Sport Live Streaming (United Kingdom); SKY Go Italia (Italy)
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