The last time Juventus had a domestic game between a pair of massive Champions League fixtures it came against a team that was destined for Serie B. Juventus barely had to kick it into second gear, if it all, to beat Pescara, a clear sign that one team was headed toward a Serie A title and the other straight toward relegation. (Which happened just a few days later, I might add.)
Something tells me that Juventus’ next game between the first and second legs of a Champions League tie will be just a tad bit more interesting. Or challenging. Or probably both considering who the competition is.
Ah, that’s because it will be.
This isn’t top of the table playing near-bottom of the table. Nor is it Juventus playing a team that has suddenly come up a rough patch and has fallen down the league table in relatively quick order. Saturday is different. Saturday is the second and final Derby della Mole of the 2016-17 season. Turin-based club against Turin-based club. City supremacy on the line. And for what could very well be one of the last times this season, with a little bit of help from or Milanese “friends” on Sunday, this could be the last week we refer to Juventus as the “five-time Serie A champions.”
Just sounds like your average Turin derby, right?
Juventus’ sixth straight Scudetto is close to becoming a reality. Very, very close. A win against their city rivals doesn’t clinch the title outright. Juventus needs to win on Saturday and then see Milan beat Roma at the San Siro all of about 24 hours later to have there be title celebrations during the first weekend of May.
But the first order of business is to make sure that the opening half of that equation is actually taken care of.
We’ve seen Turin derbies go down until the final seconds. We’ve seen them be one-goal games that Juventus had to hang on for dear life to get the three points. We’ve seen Juve beat Toro all but one out of the last 12 times the two teams have met.
So if you’re looking for a trend, there you have it.
And just for added measure, here’s another one: Juventus hasn’t lost a home game in Serie A in nearly two-full seasons. That’s a stretch
Good thing this game is being played at the J-Stadium, right? (Although it’s not like Juventus didn’t do a decent amount of winning at the Stadio Olimpico, either. We just won’t talk much about the last couple of seasons they spent there. You can count on that.) It could be one hell of a four-day stretch of time for our favorite bianconero-clad squad playing in front of their hometown fans. The chance to win the Turin derby, the chance to advance to the Champions League final at home and even the chance to have another league title clinched by weekend’s end.
Yeah, it’s a good time to be associated with Juventus right now. And hopefully there’s more good times ahead, starting with little brother’s trip across town Saturday night.
I love the guy, I really do, but I’m glad that Gigi Buffon doesn’t have that mustache of his like he did when Juventus played Torino at the Stadio Olimpico back in December. He needs to look like San Gigi, not Tom Selleck’s body double for a remake of an episode of Magnum PI.
I guess we can add Daniele Rugani to the short but still pretty sad injury list alongside Marko Pjaca — which sucks, because this a game that I could have seen both players getting some serious minutes in if they were both healthy. Well, probably Rugani more than Pjaca because, you know, the whole thing about him not playing all that much when he was healthy.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1) Will any regulars get some rest?
There is no five-day break in between a Serie A and Champions League game this time around. Sorry, folks, but the fixture list between the two semifinal legs against Monaco aren’t as forgiving as they were when Juventus was playing some Friday night football a couple times around last month.
So now, after facing Monaco in Monte Carlo, we have a Juventus team on just a couple of days rest bouncing back for one of their more intense games of the season. (Or any season, for that matter.)
There have been suggestions that Gonzalo Higuain could be rested and Max Allegri would subsequently shift to something like a 4-4-1-1 formation. There has been other folks thinking that both Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini could be rested with the second leg against Monaco in mind. Others, like Alex Sandro and Dani Alves, are also candidates to start on the bench with the reported reasoning being that little matter at Juventus Stadium on Tuesday night.
And if so, no matter who Allegri decides to play or rest, Juventus will be fielding a strong lineup. It’s not like Juventus can roll out a bunch of second-stringers and be a completely different team. A lot of Juve’s reserves have proven to be quality options. That’s the beauty of having depth on the roster — and Allegri has exactly that at his disposal.
2) Juventus’ defense, no matter who plays, against Andrea Belotti.
I have a confession: Belotti might be one of my favorite non-Juventus players going these days. No, I’m not an über-Belotti fan like Bonucci’s young son Lorenzo, but watching the young Italian striker play and score goals is quite fun.
Except when it’s against Juventus, of course.
You look at what Belotti has done this season and can’t deny that he’s one of the best strikers in Serie A right now. There’s no point in the 2016-17 campaign where he’s had an extended scoring drought. Maybe a string of three games where he didn’t find the back of the net, but nothing really beyond that. It’s why he’s been at or close to the top of the scoring charts from the beginning of the year until now.
Belotti, who won’t be turning 24 years old until late-December, is currently tied with Roma’s Edin Dzeko for the league lead in goals with 25. A late, late charge and Belotti could very well hit 30 considering how streaky he seems to be when he gets goals in back-to-back games.
It’s truly been a breakout kind of season for Belotti, who will be playing against his strike partner at Palermo, Paulo Dybala, once again. There will be plenty of talk about Belotti going forward — both about the season he’s had and where he may well be playing next season. None of that should surprise any of us. He’s pretty good at what he does. Can’t deny that.
He’s already struck against Juventus once this season back in the first derby a little over a week before his birthday in December. That was Toro’s lone highlight in what ended up being a Higuain-inspired 3-1 Juventus win at the Stadio Olimpico.
3) Can Milan beat Roma on Sunday night?
Let’s sure as hell hope so. It would be quite the ending to a pretty damn good week.
MY STARTING XI
Juventus XI (4-2-3-1): Gianluigi Buffon; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Kwadwo Asamoah; Sami Khedira, Claudio Marchisio; Juan Cuadrado, 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: RAI International (United States); RAI International (Canada); BT Sport 3 (United Kingdom); Sky Sport 1 HD Italia, PremiumSport HD, Sky Calcio 1, Sky Supercalcio HD (Italy)
Online/Mobile: beIN SPORTS CONNECT U.S.A., fuboTV (United States); beIN SPORTS CONNECT Canada (Canada); BT Sport Live Streaming (United Kingdom); Sky Go Italia (Italy)
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