Max Allegri has continuously stated over the past couple of weeks that he wants his Juventus team to build, not peak, during the early months of the season. He’d rather have his team playing its best ball when it’s March and April, with the assumed notion that Juve would very well be competing on all three fronts and trying to hold off the closest competition for the Scudetto.
As we’ve seen, Juventus are far from their best football right now, and the last two league games — a 2-2 draw against Atalanta and last weekend’s 2-1 loss at home to Lazio — obviously confirm that notion.
Does that mean more meh is in store?
As much as I don’t want Juventus to peak too soon and flub their form during the late-season months, I want to see them play good football right now. Not 15 or 20 minutes of some random game. Not for a half and then pack things in and go into a defensive shell with a 1-0 lead.
I want Juventus to play well from the opening whistle until the final whistle.
As we sit here on the third weekend of October, Juventus hasn’t really done that yet. Facing Udinese on Sunday afternoon is there chance to do so — even more of a possibility against a team that has struggled and has won all of two of their first eight games of the 2017-18 campaign.
“We are disappointed with the results of the last two games. We also had some misfortune, but that is part of football and we have to accept that. We know that we need to improve, both individually and collectively, and to show more conviction in our matches.”
Those are the words of Miralem Pjanic, somebody who played a prominent role in Juve’s 2-1 win over Sporting a few days ago. He went on to talk about how hard him and his teammates will work to get back to being the team they know they can be and yada-yada-yada, but the main thing is that they know they’re not playing very well at all.
It should start against Udinese because that’s what title contenders do. If Juventus wants to take advantage of the schedule where they face Udinese and Spal in back-to-back games, then six points are just out there begging to be snatched up.
The first three of those points may well come on Sunday afternoon.
If they don’t, Pjanic and his teammates will have some more explaining to do
If we’re waiting for Juventus’ offense to break out a little bit, it could very well come against Udinese on Sunday. Why? Because through the first eight games of the season, Udinese have allowed 15 goals, which is tied for third-worst in Serie A.
I mean, I’d sure fancy my chances when Paulo Dybala’s playing against a bad defense.
Just as Miralem Pjanic and a certain No. 8 get back into the squad...
Goddammit. One or two steps forward, another one back. Injuries are stupid.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1) DANIELE RUGANI IS GONNA PLAY. DANIELE RUGANI IS GONNA PLAY.
I’m not here to get clicks and spread hashtag fake news.
None of that.
I have gone all caps because we know this to be true. Read:
You only need the slightest of an understanding of Italian to get what those three words Allegri has said above means. For the first time in over a month, we will get to see Daniele Rugani on the field wearing a Juventus jersey and playing in the center of defense.
The devil sitting on my shoulder will tell me that it’s because Udinese are not very good and are sitting toward the bottom of the table. I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only person to throw that line of reasoning out. Somebody else might say that it’s because Medhi Benatia wasn’t called up to the match day squad following the injury he picked up midweek against Sporting.
But here’s the thing: For one weekend we won’t have to start the game wondering why Daniele Rugani’s name is not on the starting lineup sheet.
This is good. This is what we’ve wanted to see happen for weeks on end now. And now Rugani is going to get his chance — the first time he has appeared in a Juventus game since Juventus’ 1-0 win over Fiorentina on Sept. 20.
Say, on the same day that Rugani was in the lineup, Juve recorded a clean sheet. Funny how that seems to work itself out...
For whatever the reason, Rugani has found himself in the kind of situation that a player as talented as he is shouldn’t be dealing with. We all know he needs to be playing and deserves to do so simply based on who the other choices not named Giorgio Chiellini are around him. And the argument that Rugani has played just as many minutes as any other central defender isn’t exactly the case anymore.
But now all of that is moot and we get to watch Rugani play. I might sound like an absolute fanboy on this one, but I’m going to guess that Juventus’ defense looks a little bit better against Udinese than it has in recent games. I wonder why that may be the case...
2) Can Juventus start to get back on track in Serie A?
Knowing that Udinese have had their struggles this season, I don’t see why not.
But, regardless if it’s in Serie A or the Champions League, the logical Juventus happenings don’t always turn out to be just that.
Like I said above, Juventus aren’t playing very well right now. That’s not the verdict of some vast investigation that took weeks upon weeks to discover. This is common knowledge at this point.
The thing is, though, at some point they’ll need to start turning this thing in the right direction. And it’s not like they’re going to be lacking for chances to do so.
The schedule is busy again. After the Spal fixture midweek, there’s the first reunion with Leonardo Bonucci when Juve face Milan and then the return match in Portugal against Sporting. You want to find a quick way to build some momentum, it’s right now against Udinese and Spal, who enter the weekend sitting in 16th and 19th, respectively.
That’s a pretty good opportunity to try and get right. And hey, maybe it will mean Daniele Rugani gets to play more, too. Wouldn’t that be nice...
3) Will Douglas Costa or Federico Bernardeschi get a start?
I have no idea.
I’d like to think so, but I have no idea.
(Some kind of expert who runs a popular Juventus blog, huh?)
It’s pretty much the same kind of deal as it usually is. Meaning, if there were to be some kind of starting lineup change take place, it’s almost certainly going to happen on the right wing based on the fact that Mario Mandzukic is so damn entrenched on the left. (Not that it’s a bad thing. Mario guut, very guut.)
Maybe a game against a struggling defense would be the right one for Bernardeschi to get some game time in. Or maybe after serving up an absolute peach of a cross to help Juve beat Sporting on Wednesday that it will be enough for Douglas Costa to get himself a start and show some more of his Brazilian flare.
I just know one thing is for certain: After the game he had midweek against Sporting, seeing another stinker from Juan Cuadrado is going to probably make me quite grumpy. And knowing that a lot of us will be on the finally-Rugani-is-playing high of emotions, seeing Cuadrado spoil that probably won’t sit well with many.
The only problem with that is this: We know how much Allegri loves him some Cuadrado and how hot the Colombian can be just a few days after throwing an absolute stinker of a performance out there on the field.
Who knows which direction Allegri may go in, but the Winger Wars have only just begun.
MY STARTING XI
Juventus XI (4-2-3-1): Gianluigi Buffon; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Daniele Rugani, Giorgio Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Miralem Pjanic, Sami Khedira; Federico Bernardeschi, Paulo Dybala, Douglas Costa; Mario Mandzukic
Location: Dacia Arena, Udine, 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 1 (United Kingdom); Sky Calcio 1, Sky Sport 1 HD Italia, Sky Supercalcio HD (Italy)
Online/Mobile: fuboTV, beIN SPORTS CONNECT U.S.A. (United States) beIN SPORTS CONNECT Canada, fuboTV Canada, DAZN Canada (Canada); BT Sport Live (United Kingdom); SKY Go Italia (Italy)
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