Things were quite a bit different the last time Juventus stepped onto the field at the Mapei Stadium. It was late October of of 2015. The rain seemingly resembled Juventus’ form at that moment — glum, dreary, whatever you wanna call it. They were hovering around mid-table status entering the second-full month of the 2015-16 campaign, and nobody was interested in seeing them stumble once again. And then they did.
Good thing is, that’s not the case this season.
Juventus are in the midst of a midseason rebirth of sorts. Max Allegri’s crazy, crazy idea of switching formation has paid off with two wins in two games. And not only that, but two pretty good showings on top of that. Behold the magic of the 4-2-3-1, people! Behold all of its loveliness! (Almost like we’ve been talking about it in the comment threads for the last two years, but I won’t go there again...)
Now, Juventus return to the scene of that late-October crapfest from nearly a year and a half ago. It’s Juventus vs. Sassuolo weekend, boys and girls.
We say that Juventus aren’t in the same shape they were the last time these two teams played at the Mapei, right? Well, the same can be said about Sassuolo, who after four straight losses in the month of December are now in the bottom third of the Serie A table. Don’t worry, though. Juventus’ official loan party partner isn’t in total danger of getting relegated. It sounds weird that a team that’s three spots away from the relegation zone is also 14 points on the 18th-placed team (Palermo), but it’s true.
Juventus-Sassuolo at the Mapei is always going to be a difficult fixture because of who the opposition is and how tough they can be on their home field. The history of Juventus’ trip to the Mapei ever since Sassuolo joined the big boys in Serie A is there and readily available for anybody to be reminded of.
But with Juventus in a resurgent kind of form the last couple of weeks and players starting to really play up to their potential, this could be the game where all of those oh-so-frustrating Mapei struggles come to an end. Hopefully.
I’d sure like the good times to keep on rolling. Nobody wants the kind of performance that Juventus put forth the last time they were at the Mapei. Well, maybe Sassuolo does, but I can safely say that nobody around these parts want to see that again.
This 4-2-3-1 deal is working out pretty well. Good, very good.
Max Allegri said at his pre-match press conference that Claudio Marchisio will be available, but probably won’t start. For Marchisio fanboys who want to see him play, not having him on the field the last couple of games is just something you don’t want to deal with. (I know we went six months without him playing in a game because of that stupid knee injury of his, but you hush over there.)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Paulo Dybala’s increasingly impressive goal-scoring form.
#DybalaMask celebration photos may well be taking over social media accounts these days, but I feel like the more the merrier if it means young Paulo is continuing to do what he’s currently doing on the field. Dybala has four goals in the first five games of the new year. If a stretch like that sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve seen it a few times during Dybala’s short yet incredibly impressive Juventus career already. This is the Dybala we’ve come to know, though. He’s scoring goals pretty much every time he steps onto the field these days. And, not only that, but the goals look a lot like the ones he scored in his first season with Juventus. They are of the utmost of quality. Hell, he even scored with his right foot the other day, so you know something is going right for Dybala right now.
And for Juventus to continue to have success, it’s pretty obvious that Dybala — as well as Gonzalo Higuain, another Argentine striker you might have heard of who plays for the club — will have to be a big part of that. It’s no secret that it works like that. And if Dybala is really finding his best form right now, then I think the timing, with the Champions League knockout stages quickly approaching next month, couldn’t be much better. Keep doing you, Paulo.
2. Who plays in the center of Juventus’ midfield?
It’s not like there are a lot of options here, considering Allegri has said that both Marchisio and Sami Khedira could very well start on the bench. But there are options, and that is what we’re going to try and discuss. Seems simple enough, right? If it is indeed a ‘2’ in the center of the midfield, then one would like to think that Miralem Pjanic is going to be one of those in the center of the park. That’s where things are easy. Allegri threw out the idea that Tomas Rincon would step in for Khedira if there was going to be a change. And if there’s no Marchisio from the start, that seems like the most logical choice to go with. You’d have your distributor and deep-lying playmaker in the form of Pjanic, then you’d have your tough guy in Rincon who would serve as the destroyer in front of the defense.
I guess if there’s going to be no Marchisio to bless us on a Sunday afternoon at the Mapei we need to have a couple of different ideas to go with. Only makes sense.
3. Will Domenico Berardi actually play against Juventus this time around?
The short answer is: YES.
I know this is hard to believe, but Berardi is actually healthy, not suspended and actually amongst the 23 players called up by Sassuolo manager Euesbio Di Francesco. We won’t get to see another youngster on the Sassuolo roster who is associated with Juventus, fullback Pol Lirola, to complete a right wing with a potential future at Juventus, but that’s okay. Berardi, who has missed a number of games against the team so many people want him to join, won’t be missing out on this one. At least, in theory he won’t. Not unless there’s a last-minute flu bug rolling through the Mapei.
Berardi started the season on absolute fire. And the same can be said about Sassuolo as a whole, too, for that matter. Then he is forced to miss an extended period of time and Sassuolo’s form goes in the tank. These two things may or may not be connected, but there’s a pretty good chance that they are. (Yeah, they are.) But leave it to Berardi to be named WhoScored’s Man of the Match in his first game back in the starting lineup a couple of weeks ago against Palermo. Sassuolo have won both games Berardi has started since his injury return, a sign of just how important he is to their success.
I don’t know about you guys, but seeing Berardi go up against Alex Sandro might be one of the better individual battles we see in Serie A this season.
MY STARTING LINEUP
Juventus XI (4-2-3-1): Gianluigi Buffon; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Tomas Rincon, Miralem Pjanic; Marko Pjaca, Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic; Gonzalo Higuain
Location: Mapei Stadium, Sassuolo, Italy
Kick-off time: 3 p.m. local time in Italy; 2 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 9 a.m. on the East Coast; 6 a.m. on the West Coast
TV: RAI International, beIN SPORTS USA (United States); RAI International, beIN Sports Canada (Canada); Sky Sport 1 HD Italia, Premium Play, Sky Calcio 1, PremiumSport HD (Italy)
Online: fuboTV, beIN SPORTS CONNECT U.S.A. (United States); beIN SPORTS CONNECT Canada, fuboTV Canada (Canada); BT Sport Live Streaming (United Kingdom); SKY Go Italia (Italy)
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