When I enter the words “Juventus” and “Crotone” into our photo tool, the first 12 pages — yes, TWELVE — are results that have to do with Juve’s post-game Scudetto party at J-Stadium last season. It was a festive atmosphere in Turin that day, my friends, and certainly one that I’m sure few Juventus players will forget. (Even with all of the champagne that was likely consumed during and after Gigi Buffon hoisting the trophy over his head as confetti shot out of cannons.)
We sit here just over six months later and Juventus aren’t exactly being celebrated for what they’ve recently accomplished either domestically or in Europe.
Heck, they’re not even a win away from regaining first place in the Serie A table.
Instead, the last time we saw Juventus face Italian opposition we witnessed a second-half defensive meltdown while, not far long after that, seeing a pair of talented Argentinian strikers bail their team out.
But unlike last weekend Juventus aren’t facing a team that is currently sitting in one of Serie A’s six European spots for next season. No, this is the same Crotone side that somehow went from being a surefire relegation candidate with only a handful of fixtures to go to suddenly saving their Serie A status on the final day of the 2016-17 campaign with a win. (They also lost just once in their final six fixtures of the season, by the way.)
Crotone aren’t sitting in the relegation zone like they were this time last season. But they aren’t too far away from it — which, based on how most of last season went for the Serie A newcomers isn’t really much of a surprise. They’re struggling like most newly-promoted sides do ... except this is their second straight season in Italy’s top flight.
Does this mean anything for Juventus?
Does this mean we’re going to be suddenly talking about Juventus playing well?
Honestly, with the way this team is going these days, I have no idea.
When Juventus faced Benevento right before the most recent international break, I thought that it would be the perfect opportunity for them to lay down the hammer and go into the two-week period without any club football with plenty of good vibes surrounding the team. Instead, what we got was the need to come back against a team that still doesn’t have a league win to its name this season as December quickly approaches.
I sure as hell hope that there’s not a repeat of the overall quality of performance from Benevento to Crotone. Just I hope there’s not a repeat of a lot of things Juventus has done on the field in recent weeks mostly because they haven;’t been very good.
But here’s the thing, let’s just go ahead and look at Juventus’ next three fixtures after Crotone’s visit to Turin this weekend:
- Friday, Dec. 1: Juventus at Napoili
- Tuesday, Dec. 5: Juventus at Olympiacos
- Saturday, Dec. 9: Juventus vs. Inter Milan
If there was ever a point in the year for Juventus to start playing well consistently for the first time all season, this would most certainly be it. We desperately want them to, but we’re so very uncertain whether that can actually happen with the way the first three months of the season have gone.
Feel free to prove us wrong, guys. I’m okay with that.
Juventus are at home.
Crotone are not very good.
Usually that ends up in three points for Juventus no matter how they play.
Do I need to remind you all what nearly happened the last time Juventus faced a relegation battler at Allianz Stadium? Yeah, no need to repeat all of that again.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1) What can Douglas Costa do in his (likely) second straight start?
There’s no Cuadrado. Bernardeschi is likely to miss the game as well, meaning Allegri only has one genuine and natural winger up for selection and that is Mr. Costa.
Coming off what I would say was an overall positive showing against Barcelona, I think there are a lot of people — including yours truly — who believe that the amount of playing time Costa should be receiving this days is much more than he’s actually gotten in the first three months of the season. While Cuadrado has ridden his customary roller coaster of match ratings, Costa has been the player I think a lot of us hope Cuadrado can be. (They do have a decent amount of characteristics in common...)
I think the biggest thing the Costa showed in his start against Barcelona was how he can, no pun intended here, quickly change the shape of an attack with the pace he has. Not saying that Juve are going to counterattack against Crotone because there’s no way in hell Max Allegri should even consider it, but that’s just another element of Costa’s game that, with his limited minutes, hasn’t been seen much this season.
Injuries or no injuries, that should change soon.
Douglas Costa is a very good player. He has done some very good things in a Juventus jersey even though he hasn’t played all that much. Now with a chance to potentially get himself some regular minutes, this is where he can show Allegri in an in-game scenario what he can bring to this team from the start.
It sure would be nice to see Costa hit a nice little patch of form and get some more minutes under his belt. And that’s not just because Cuadrado continues to annoy us with his current form or his constant decision-making issues, either.
2) Claudio Marchisio’s (likely) return to the starting lineup.
In his post-Barcelona talking points article, Sam advocated for Miralem Pjanic to be given a Gonzalo Higuain-like mental day of rest (or two) based on how he’s looked in recent games. And, if predicted lineups for the Juventus-Crotone game that are coming out of the Italian press on Saturday morning are to be believed, that looks to be the case.
Which is good, folks.
Most Italian media outlets are tipping Marchisio to start alongside Blaise Matuidi in the double pivot of Allegri’s 4-2-3-1 formation on Sunday. While neither will be able to provide the kind of creativity that an in-form Pjanic would when everything is going right, there’s some things to certainly like about that pairing in the center of the park. Like the work rate both Marchisio and Matuidi will provide. Or the defensive cover both players will likely provide.
Or, simply put, just have Marchisio starting again will be enough for you.
We know what Marchisio can bring to the table when everything is right. His calm style of play and his tactical intelligence add something that few Juve midfielders have. But the thing is, with all of his time missed due to injury again this season, we haven’t been able to see him on the field all that much — and it’s been missed.
But now, in all likelihood, Marchisio will get only his third start of the season no matter what formation Allegri ends up going with.
That will be a welcome sight for a variety of reasons. Most importantly that Marchisio is healthy enough to log some heavy minutes and hopefully start to contribute on a regular basis again.
3) Is this the game where Benedikt Howedes makes his long-awaited Juventus debut?
As of Saturday morning in Italy when this match preview is being written — although I would love to be actually in Italy writing this match preview — the Italian press seems to think that is the case.
Now, some of those have changed following Allegri’s pre-match press conference where he didn’t necessarily commit to Howedes getting his first start in a Juventus uniform. Some Italian media outlets think that it will be Andrea Barzagli pairing with Medhi Benatia instead of Howedes, which means that there’s obviously some kind of uncertainty amongst those in the lineup predicting business about what Allegri is going to do.
At some point, though, Howedes is going to make his Juve debut.
We just don’t know when.
But you would think that having it come against a team like Crotone that has scored all of 11 goals in 13 league games thus far would be a good kind of situation in which Howedes could get his first playing time as a Juventus player. And especially with that game being in Turin, too. There’s going to be no kind of hostile environment. None of that. It will be in the friendly confines of Allianz Arena, which means the only thing Howedes would have going against him would be the fact that he doesn’t have much in-game chemistry going with his new teammates.
There’s only one way to get rid of that, and that’s to let the guy get some minutes. He’s healthy, he’s ready to go, now it’s just a matter of knowing when he will officially make his debut. Tick, tock ... tick, tock ... tick, tock ...
MY STARTING XI
Juventus XI (4-2-3-1): Gianluigi Buffon; Mattia De Sciglio, Benedikt Howedes, Medhi Benatia, Kwadwo Asamoah; Claudio Marchisio, Blaise Matuidi; Douglas Costa, Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic; Gonzalo Higuain
Location: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy
Kickoff 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 Italia America (United States); RAI Italia America (Canada); BT Sport 3 (United Kingdom); Sky Supercalcio HD, Sky Sport 1 HD Italia, Sky Calcio 1, PremiumSport HD (Italy)
Online/Mobile: beIN SPORTS CONNECT U.S.A., fuboTV (United States); DAZN Canada, beIN SPORTS CONNECT Canada (Canada); BT Sport Live (United Kingdom); SKY Go Italia, Premium Play (Italy)
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