It’s hard to forget the last time Juventus played Lazio — both for the good and for the bad. There’s Paulo Dybala’s furious final 10 minutes in which he singlehandedly pulled Juventus even in the Italian Super Cup. But even with Dybala doing Dybala things, the end result and stoppage-time game-winner scored by Alessandro Murgia just a few short moments after Dybala pulled Juve level at 2-2 was a crushing punch to the gut.
And with that, we now tell you with whom Juve face right out of the international break.
Yep, it’s the same Lazio team that celebrated the Super Cup right in front of Juve’s players, coaches and supporters at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome two months ago. That game made us grumpy — and that’s even with Dybala starting what ended up being an insane start to his 2017-18 season. That game made us think of classic television show lines to sum up Juve’s performance rather than celebrating a win.
Basically, it was everything that we didn’t want it to be. Juventus didn’t win their first trophy of the season. Instead, they couldn’t even be completely bailed out be Dybala being absolutely superhuman in the final 15 minutes.
That was two months ago, though. And now we get to see if Juventus is any different compared to where they were at in the middle of August.
Max Allegri may be taking a long-term kind of vision with him into Saturday’s game against Lazio at Allianz Stadium, Juventus’ first game out of the international break. That’s cool. I can respect a guy having a long-term vision while everybody else is focused on what his team is going to do less than 24 hours from now.
Yes, Juventus need to play well now just as they do when February, March and April roll around and they’re still hopefully competing on all three fronts.
There are still obviously kinks that need to be ironed out, roles that Allegri still needs to figure out. This team is not a finished product by any means — and nor should it be considering Juventus will still have 30 league games to play when they roll into next week.
This is what we know for sure, though: Juventus’ record is no longer perfect. They haven’t gotten three points from every game they’ve played in anymore. There’s been a hiccup and, rightly or wrongly, Juve are no longer hanging out at the top of the table with Napoli.
But they can reclaim that top spot with a win over Lazio and then sit back and hope that Roma helps things out a little later in the day when they face Napoli at the Stadio Olimpico.
It’s a pretty good weekend of football in store for us — and a Juventus win to get them back into first place would make it all the more better.
Where’s the Juventus, there be injuries...
- Miralem Pjanic is still not 100 percent fit.
- Claudio Marchisio is still not 100 percent fit.
- Marko Pjaca is back training, but still not 100 percent fit.
- Benedikt Howedes is still hurt and has not played a minute this season.
- Matteo De Sciglio is still hurt and Juve will once again have no natural right back in the Champions League on Wednesday.
- Who the heck knows just how healthy Mario Mandzukic is. (He’s fine, and that’s funny.)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1) Do Daniele Rugani and Federico Bernardeschi get to play?
Trying to predict what Max Allegri is going to do when it comes to Rugani’s and Bernardeschi’s playing time these days is rather difficult. Well, other than Rugani not really playing in big-time matches, that is. Or Bernardeschi playing much at all before he got his first start two weeks ago against Atalanta.
Rugani hasn’t started a game since Juventus’ win over Fiorentina on Sept. 20. That doesn’t seem like all that long ago, and it isn’t necessarily, but Rugani also didn’t appear in three pretty important games — the Derby della Mole against Torino, the Champions League home opener against Olympiacos and Juve’s 2-2 draw in Bergamo.
Basically, ever since Juve beat Fiorentna, Rugani has played more minutes for his country than his club team. That’s ... odd. And if that isn’t a sign that Allegri isn’t strategically planning on when Rugani plays, I don’t really know what is at this point.
With Bernardeschi, who knows what his start against Atalanta means. If it’s just the rare game where he got to play because of squad rotation, then he is bound to come off the bench once again and probably not play all that much. If it was a sign of things to come, then that’s going to be a positive development for a player who was one of the best ones on the field in the first half against Atalanta two weeks ago.
It seems odd based on how playing time has been handed out so far this season, but for some reason my gut is telling me that it’s Bernardeschi who has the better odds of starting against Lazio. They both should play, we all know that. Neither of them could play, we also know that is a very real possibility. But it seems like we just can’t have nice things when it comes to Rugani-related matters right now.
2) Who pairs with Blaise Matuidi in the center of the midfield if Allegri sticks with a 4-2-3-1?
Gut feeling: Sami Khedira.
And that’s not just because folks like La Gazzetta dello Sport are thinking that’s the way it’s going to be on Saturday.
Khedira is healthy for the first time in a decent amount of time. Nearly two months, to be exactly, with Khedira’s last appearance coming in the game right before the first international break of the season in September.
No matter what formation Allegri is planning on using Saturday or when he gets a few more midfielders healthy and available, Khedira is going to be in need of minutes to simply knock off the rust.
Or maybe Max will throw us all a bit of a curveball and roll out a three-man midfield with Khedira and Rodrigo Bentancur flanking Matuidi. I don’t think anybody is going to be objecting to young Rodrigo getting more minutes based on how he’s been playing lately.
3) What kind of Gonzalo Higuain will we see coming out of the international break?
September was certainly an interesting month for Juventus’ No. 9. He not only struggled to find the back of the net, but then saw the bench for a few games in a row as Allegri gave him a bet of a rest.
But for the last two weeks, Higuain has been working at Vinovo after once again not being included in Argentina’s squad.
We’ll see if that helps out.
Allegri seems to think so, heaping some healthy praise on Higuain during Friday afternoon’s pre-match press conference. It’s a little bit of a different tone than what we heard from Allegri heading into the final games before the international break when Higuain was clearly struggling with his goal-scoring form. But now that he’s found the back of the net once again, we get to see where a player who can clearly catch fire at any given moment after he finds the back of the net for the first time in a bit of time.
Higuain catching fire again will certainly take Juventus to another level. You combine an in-form Higuain with how Dybala has played ever since that 10-minute span of greatness in the Supercoppa and Juve’s attack is going to be completely insane.
But, first and foremost, we need to see if Higuain can start resembling the player we saw for much of last season again. I guess we can say that the goal against Higuain was the first step in the right direction. Now we get to see if there are more steps in the process or if it will be the same kind of struggles we saw for much of September.
MY STARTING XI
Juventus XI (4-2-3-1): Gianluigi Buffon; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Daniele Rugani, Giorgio Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Sami Khedira, Blaise Matuidi; Federico Bernardeschi, Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic; Gonzalo Higuain
Location: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy
Kick-off time: 6 p.m. local time in Italy; 5 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 12 p.m. on the East Coast; 9 a.m. on the West Coast
TV: beIN SPORTS USA (United States); beIN Sports Canada (Canada); BT Sport 3 (United Kingdom); Sky Supercalcio HD, Sky Calcio 1 (Italy)
Online/Mobile: beIN SPORTS CONNECT U.S.A., fuboTV (United States); beIN SPORTS CONNECT Canada, fuboTV Canada (Canada); BT Sport Live (United Kingdom); SKY Go Italia (Italy)
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