In years past, seeing Juventus play all of two days before Christmas was never going to be possible. The Serie A holiday break would arrive, we would subsequently get bored because we’d be left to treat the absence of calcio just like it was an international break — or even worse because there’d be no football at all.
But not this year.
So, thank you, Serie A. Maybe.
Juventus’ Christmas Eve Eve game is quite a big one. The one BIG game before the schedule gets a little easier and filled with mid-table teams and relegation battlers has a Roma team without Francesco Totti as its No. 10 visit Turin for the first time in two decades. Daniele De Rossi is still there, same goes for good old a few other names from the past that still call the Giallorossi of the Italian capital home.
But there’s one big thing that Juventus haven’t seen with this Roma.
That would be facing this Roma with Eusebio Di Francesco as its manager.
The former Sassuolo manager has Roma amongst the four-team pack atop the Serie A standings that is separated by all of four points. Say what you want about being the fourth team out of the four is just typical Roma, but they’ve started the season relatively strong and picked up some nice results along the way.
Or ... we can see what they’ve done in Serie A recently.
Nov. 26: 1-1 draw against Genoa
Dec. 1: 3-1 win over S.P.A.L.
Dec. 10: 0-0 draw against Chievo
Dec. 16: 1-0 win over Cagliari (on a stoppage-time game-winning goal by Federico Fazio)
Throw in a 2-1 loss to Torino in the Coppa Italia earlier in the week and ... you could say that the last month or so hasn’t been all that great for Roma.
And you would be pretty much right on the money.
Juventus, on the other hand, have started to look, well, like a complete team over the last month or so. The defense has gotten its act together and hasn’t allowed a goal since that oh-so-memorable 3-2 loss to Sampdoria on Nov. 19.
If that served as the gut-check game where Max Allegri threw things in the locker room after the game and demanded that his team get better from that point forward, then it’s starting to pay off. (He probably didn’t do that, but don’t kill my dreams.)
The point is, Juventus have improved in the exactly areas as to where they needed to improve upon dating back to the Sampdoria loss and beyond.
And based on who’s coming to town this weekend, Juventus starting to play some pretty good football isn’t the worst thing to have happen. It would certainly make for a merry Christmas, indeed.
Juventus’ defense looks good again!
INJURIES ARE THE DUMBEST THING EVER AND THEY NEED TO BE BANNED FOR THE REST OF ETERNITY. SERIOUSLY, THEY CAN GO AWAY FOREVER.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1) Is the game where Paulo Dybala returns to the starting lineup?
He could. Or Juve’s attack could very well look a lot like it did this past weekend against Bolgona. There are two very distinct possibilities, people.
If the latter is the case, it means that Dybala will be sitting on the home bench at Allianz Stadium just as he did during the Derby d’Italia against Inter Milan two weeks ago.
The person who only knows the answer to this question is somebody by the name of Max Allegri. You might know who he is. He’s the same guy who’s seen screaming his head off on the sidelines pretty much every other minute that Juventus plays. It’s not a new sight to see, so you’re probably used to it.
What we’re not used to is Dybala’s status in the starting lineup being relatively uncertain.
With the injuries and players available that currently faces Allegri — and we’ll have more on that in a little bit — Dybala could very well return to the starting lineup more out of necessity rather than based on pure performance. Or, depending on how Allegri felt like Dybala played as a false 9 against against Genoa in the Coppa Italia, then that could have earned Juve’s No. 10 a starting spot this weekend.
No matter what, though, there will be a point where Dybala being in the starting lineup won’t even be something we talk about. It will be a no-brainer and it will hopefully come as he gets back to being the player we know he’s capable of being.
We just don’t know when that time will come. And the same goes for him looking like the Dybala of old, too.
2) Who the heck is going to be healthy enough to play?
Not that we’re completely used to him being injured, but Gigi Buffon missing out on the Roma fixture won’t be a surprise knowing how the last month or so has gone.
Mattia De Sciglio is not even called up.
Mario Mandzukic is called up but his starting status is uncertain.
Juan Cuadrado is called up but his starting status is uncertain.
That’s four potential starters right there, with the likes of Mandzukic and De Sciglio having played key roles in some of Juventus’ most recent victories. (Yes, that also includes Mr. Inconsistent himself, otherwise known as Juan Cuadrado.)
When it comes to the attack, it’s not exactly as dire as when it comes to trying to replace a suddenly-in-form De Sciglio, who has really settled in the past few weeks. There’s Dybala, there’s Douglas Costa, there are options if Mandzukic and/or Cuadrado aren’t available to play from the start against Roma.
But an underrated part of Juve’s success the past month has been De Sciglio’s stability at right back. And judging by how up and down Stephan Lichtsteiner has been this season, “stability” is not exactly something that comes to mind when describing how he’s played in recent months.
For all we know, Lichtsteiner will go all Hulk smash against a team that he has terrorized for years going back to his days with Lazio. Or maybe one of Roma’s many wingers will take advantage of Lichtsteiner’s game finally showing signs of age.
I hope it’s good news. I’m maybe preparing for not-so-good news. We’ll see what happens on Saturday night. folks.
3) Miralem Pjanic against his former team.
So it doesn’t have as much spice as last season’s first meeting with Roma due to the fact that it won’t be the first time that Pjanic has faced Roma while wearing a Juventus uniform. But don’t you know that Pjanic will want to ball out just the same.
Still, Pjanic playing against Roma could be fun.
And Pjanic doing awesome things against Roma would be even more fun!
(Another blog on SB Nation might disagree with that, but so it goes.)
We’ve seen Pjanic start to find some really good form as Allegri has switched from the double pivot to a three-man midfield. I would like to think that having Blaise Matuidi providing a lot of defensive cover and basically covering the amount of space that 100 midfielders can has a lot to do with it. But no matter what, seeing Pjanic serving up beautiful passes and having them lead to scoring chances.
So, with Roma coming to town, it’s a pretty good thing that he’s finding good form.
And who wouldn’t want to see Pjanic do some Pjanic-like things against his old team? Well, probably not Roma fans, but that’s pretty much a given at this point.
MY STARTING LINEUP
Juventus XI (4-3-2-1): Wojciech Szczesny; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Medhi Benatia, Giorgio Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Blaise Matuidi, Miralem Pjanic, Claudio Marchisio; Paulo Dybala, Douglas Costa; 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: beIN SPORTS USA, beIN SPORTS en Español, Rai Italia America (United States); beIN Sports Canada, beIN SPORTS en Español, Rai Italia America (Canada); BT Sport 2 (United Kingdom); PremiumSport HD, Sky Supercalcio HD, Sky Sport 1 HD Italia, Sky Calcio 1 (Italy)
Online/Mobile: beIN SPORTS CONNECT U.S.A., fuboTV (United States); beIN SPORTS CONNECT Canada, DAZN Canada, fuboTV Canada (Canada); BT Sport Live (United Kingdom); Premium Play, SKY Go Italia (Italy)
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