For the past five weeks, we’ve been seeing Juventus seemingly playing the bottom third of the Serie A table. One by one, be it a regulation battler or a team sitting in the mid-teens and not too worried about their status for next season, Juventus faced them as a busy but relatively soft domestic schedule has been the bread between the Champions League Round of 16 being the obvious meat in the middle of the sandwich.
Now, as we get closer and closer to being able to count the number of league games Juventus has left with just our two hands, there’s no relegation battlers this time around.
There is another night of Friday football to be had.
And it’s, oh, just a little Juventus-Milan rivalry action happening as well.
Juventus has faced Milan twice since that early-season crapfest at the San Siro. There’s been the Supercoppa loss in Doha. There’s been Juve’s win in the Coppa Italia. So when you think about there being any kind of revenge factor for what went down back on Oct. 22 — and no, I’m not talking about my 30th birthday — it’s not like this is Juve’s first crack at Milan since they lost at the San Siro. It’s a little bit different compared to when they faced Inter at Juventus Stadium a month ago as they avenged a different early-season loss to a Milan-based club at the Giuseppe Meazza.
Juventus did something they hadn’t done in their previous 26 Serie A matches this season over the weekend against Udinese — finished with a draw. It was a pretty forgettable performance, to be honest, and anything close to that kind of effort probably won’t get the job done against a Milan side that is currently on the outside looking in when it comes to one of Serie A’s final European places.
You know Milan will want to come into Juventus Stadium and do what they failed to do when they rolled into Turin for the Coppa Italia.
And we know that another Juventus win will, at least temporarily, put even more distance in between Roma and Napoli as Max Allegri’s squad continue to steam right on toward winning a sixth straight Scudetto.
Speaking of Allegri, what’s his view on the latest game against his former club? Well here it is:
Juventus are getting closer and closer to a fifth straight title. You know what would help? Beating Milan. They would get even closer and closer. That sure would be a nice way to go into the weekend and the showdown with Porto in four days’ time.
Serie A standings even after Juventus drew their first league game of the season.
1) Juventus - 67 points
2) Roma - 59 points
3) Napoli - 57 points
I’ll take that 10 times out of 10.
These players won’t be seen playing on Friday night:
- Giorgio Chiellini (injured)
- Juan Cuadrado (suspended)
- Stefano Sturaro (injured)
Okay, so maybe the first two are a bigger deal than the third name listed above, but injuries are injuries and they will forever be stupid as long as they continue to happen.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Juan Cuadrado is suspended. So does Juan Cuadrado being suspended mean Marko Pjaca gets the start on the right wing?
It seems simple enough, right? One winger is set to miss out due to yellow card accumulation, so the other natural winger on the roster can just slide on into the starting lineup and there will be nothing to worry about. But, as we know, not everything seems logical when it comes to Pjaca’s playing time this season. There have been a handful of games where we thought Pjaca would be in the starting lineup. Then, when the starting lineups are posted on Twitter or this here website an hour before kickoff arrives, and the young Croatian is starting from the bench like he’s done all but one time he’s been available for selection this season. Juventus aren’t playing a relegation battler on Friday night. This is a rivalry game. It’s one where Allegri would go with as full strength of a lineup as he could possibly go with if the squad was brimming with all of its most plentiful and complete options to choose from.
Allegri basically boiled down his options to two choices — either add an extra midfielder (probably Claudio Marchisio and making it a 4-3-1-2) or play Pjaca. A lot of us would want the second option to be the main option, but who knows what Allegri will go with on this one. I guess based on precedent that Option A is the front-runner at this point, but dammit, give us some Pjaca for more than 20 or 30 minutes.
2. Medhi Benatia in place of Giorgio Chiellini.
I name Benatia as the main possibility to step in for the injured Chiellini — who has been officially ruled out for the Milan game, by the way — because Max Allegri told us so much at his pre-match press conference. You might not agree with it, causing your “Daniele Rugani is getting screwed again” alarms to go off with resounding amounts of lights and sirens. Benatia has been the least-used of the five Juventus center backs this season. Some of that is because he was out injured for a good portion of the time. But some of it, I would like to think, is because Rugani has played pretty damn well whenever he’s been called upon to do so. And I guess that’s what makes Allegri going Benatia over Rugani so interesting here. If Rugani was going to be in the starting lineup against Porto, then maybe he would be in the starting lineup against Milan. I wouldn’t throw Rugani in a game as important as Tuesday’s meeting with Porto after not having played in a couple of weeks like what seems like the case. So maybe this is a plan that has visions of Chiellini not being available on Tuesday, too. If that’s the case, I can understand it.
But what I can’t understand is Allegri’s center back rotation. Is there actually some kind of depth chart where if one guy isn’t available, is the next one on the list going to take his place? I really have no idea who’s fourth- or fifth-choice anymore.
3. Can Paulo Dybala get his groove back in a big game?
It sounds weird to say about a guy who has a pair of two-goal games in his last five appearances in all competitions, but to say that Dybala is really firing on all cylinders as he plays in the middle of the ‘3’ of Juve’s 4-2-3-1 isn’t exactly the case. Dybala’s time as an attacking midfielder has been defined with mixed results. He has looked like the Dyabla of last season at times, but he has also struggled to really make his mark in others. It’s certainly not the consistent force of nature that we saw during his first season with Juventus.
Is this formation-related? Is this simply Dybala being out of form? Is one making the other happen? Do I have any more questions to continue this thread of questions?
Either way, Dybala is not the same Dybala we’re used to. At least right now he’s not. We know he can always deliver a moment of magic — see his assist to Leonardo Bonucci against Udinese last weekend as the latest example — so that’s something we can always hang our hat on. But in big games, whether it’s against Serie A rivals or as Juventus hopefully progress into the deep rounds of the Champions League, Dybala needs to be the Dybala we’re used to. The really, really, really good Dybala. I like that guy. And you probably do, too.
4. Battles of the Gigis: Buffon vs. Donnarumma
This one is easy. But when you have a living legend and the guy who is bound to take over for him at the international level — and maybe more, Super Agent Mino? — at the very least, it’s hard to avoid it. Gianluigi Buffon playing against Gianluigi Donnarumma is like every fan of goalkeepers best-case scenario. One guy is half the of the other, but they’re still two of the best this game has to offer. Donnarumma has proven to be more than just a half-season wonder this season. He’s just barely 18 and pretty much wow-ing all of us on what seems like a weekly basis. He’s that good, he’s that naturally talented that you feel like this is just the start. And then there’s Buffon, who at age 39 can still pull of world-class saves whenever he damn well feels like it. That’s just what he does. Because he can.
If it sounds like I’m geeking out for the latest Buffon vs. Donnarumma experience, then you’ve pretty much caught me red-handed. It only seems like one of them, at the very least, is going to make us sit there in amazement, doesn’t it? Those two Gigis do have that effect on people from time to time.
MY STARTING LINEUP
Juventus XI (4-2-3-1): Gianluigi Buffon; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Leonardo Bonucci, Daniele Rugani, Alex Sandro; Sami Khedira, Miralem Pjanic; Marko Pjaca, Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic; Gonzalo Higuain
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: beIN SPORTS USA, RAI International (United States); beIN Sports Canada, RAI International (Canada); BT Sport 3 (United Kingdom); Sky Sport 1 HD Italia, PremiumSport HD, Sky Calcio 1, Sky Supercalcio HD (Italy)
Online: beIN SPORTS CONNECT USA (United States); beIN Sports CONNECT Canada (Canada); BT Sport Live Streaming (United Kingdom); Sky Go Italia (Italy)
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