The last time we saw Juventus playing on a field, it was two days before Christmas and it was ... not all that great. It wasn’t exactly the way we wanted to see Juventus end the calendar year. When you play for a trophy — and not one of those silly preseason tournaments that are named after former Italian Prime Ministers — you want to win it.
But as much as the loss to Milan in the Supercoppa may have been a disappointment to some, we’re now back to our regularly scheduled programming.
Hope you had a merry Christmas and a happy new year, boys and girls. Juventus is back and ready to try and not frustrate the living hell out of you for the next few months. (That’s, of course, more of a request than an actual fact, but you’ve probably figured that one out by now. Smart, smart kids, all of you.)
The first game of the new year just so happens to get us closer and closer to the midway point of the 2016-17 season. Because of the Super Cup being when it was, Juventus will be a round behind just about everybody else for the next month before the Crotone game, rescheduled for next month, is played. But Bologna’s visit to Juventus Stadium has now become the focus of Max Allegri and Co.
They want to start the year off right.
We want them to start the year off right.
There’s the desire to start the new year off right and continue to pick up points even with the fact that the game in hand over both Roma and Napoli. And that’s exactly what they should do against a Bologna side that is sitting in 15th place entering Sunday’s set of games.
Yes, that is true, Max. But to stay in first place, you must play like a first-place team. We saw glimpses of that in December, and hopefully it carries into the new year. I don’t know about you guys, but I sure would like Juventus’ play to get better as the weeks in the new year go by. But that’s just me.
JUVENTUS BACK! JUVENTUS BACK! JUVENTUS BACK! JUVENTUS BACK!
Alex Sandro is hurt. Leonardo Bonucci is hurt. I don’t like when Alex Sandro and Leonardo Bonucci are hurt.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Paulo Dybala’s return to the starting lineup.
This was one of the first things Max Allegri mentioned during his pre-match press conference on Saturday afternoon. There was no skirting around the topic. Allegri was asked if Dybala was going to play — and, I guess unsurprisingly, about the Real Madrid rumors that are circulating around Spanish tabloids these days — and he left no doubt about it. When Juventus takes the field against Bologna, Dybala is going to be in the starting lineup. No wondering about it. No having to search through predicted lineups. Based on how Dybala played in his handful of substitute appearances after he came back from injury, he is more than ready to hit the ground running in his return to the starting lineup. You combine that with the way Gonzalo Higuain played in the month of December and you have an all-Argentinian strikeforce that is going to be looked up to truly carry the offense to start the new year. Dybala is capable of doing that. Higuain is more than capable of doing that. Put them two together when they’re both on form? Whoa boy, I don’t envy Juventus’ opposition on that game day, that’s for sure.
2. Who starts in the center of defense?
There is no wrong answer here. Giorgio Chiellini is playing well, Daniele Rugani is playing even better and Andrea Barzagli is a fantastic player pretty much every single time he steps onto the field. There is no wrong answer. As much as it would suck to see Rugani not play based on the kind of form he took into the holiday break, you can’t blame Allegri if he decides to use a Barzagli-Chiellini partnership in the center of a four-man defense. Obviously the solution would be go 3-5-2 and everybody gets to play, but it does seem like a 4-3-we’ll-see is what Juve’s third-year manager is going to be using going forward. We’ll see what things are like when Bonucci does come back from injury in the next couple of weeks, but for now, it’s a selection “problem” in the center of the defense that I’m sure just about every other manager in Italy and a whole bunch in Europe wish they had.
3. Kwadwo Asamoah at left back.
No, not wingback, people. LEFT BACK. With Patrice Evra’s status not only for the next game or two but also the next month relatively unknown at this point, it’s pretty much Asamoah as the only option at left back if Allegri is going to use a four-man backline until Alex Sandro comes back from his injury absence. Now, of course, it’s not like we’ve seen Asamoah play a lot as a defender in the last year or so. A lot of that has to do with the fact that he’s missed a lot of that time due to injury. Some of it also has to do with the fact that since he’s been available for selection, he’s mostly been playing in a more natural central midfield role. The one problem is that he hasn’t been all that good this season — which could mean that his only shot at trying to stick around Juventus a little while longer is to convert into a fullback. Based on how he was during the good times as a wingback, he’s shown plenty of potential out wide. Good thing this left back experiment will be happening against a team like Bologna that has one of the lowest-scoring offenses in all of Serie A.
4. Does Tomas Rincon make his Juventus debut?
By the way Allegri talked up Juventus’ newest player, it certainly made it sound like he’s not around just to ride the pine and be some kind of part-time guy who plays every now and then. Allegri had nothing but praise for Rincon, who is being tipped to have his first Juventus appearance also be his first Juventus start on Sunday. Even with Stefano Sturaro playing well heading into the holiday break, that doesn’t seem to necessarily mean that his spot in the starting lineup is all that secure. While they’re both very hard-nosed, gritty kinds of players, maybe Allegri views Rincon as the more proven and known commodity to choose from. We’ll see how the next few weeks shake out as Rincon continues to build up a rapport with his fellow midfielders. But like I said, it doesn’t seem like he’s here to just sit around and play every so often. Allegri knows Rincon is a versatile option in midfield and seems intent on using him as such.
MY STARTING LINEUP
Juventus XI (4-3-1-2): Neto; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Daniele Rugani, Giorgio Chiellini, Kwadwo Asamoah; Sami Khedira, Claudio Marchisio, Tomas Rincon; Miralem Pjanic; Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala
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: RAI International (United States); RAI International (Canada); BT Sport 3 (United Kingdom); Sky Calcio 1, Sky Sport 1 HD Italia, Sky Supercalcio HD (Italy)
Online: fuboTV, beIN SPORTS CONNECT U.S.A. (United States); beIN SPORTS CONNECT Canada (Canada); BT Sport Live Streaming (United Kingdom); SKY Go Italia (Italy)
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