Ever since Juventus stepped onto the field in the United States for the first time this summer a couple of weeks ago, their games came with a caveat. There was the whole, “Okay, it’s preseason...” kind of thinking. If they played poorly, then we just chalked it up to it being the middle or end of July. If they played well, then it would be more of a luxury than anything else. That’s what summer is — an imperfect science with no real main goal other than hoping nobody gets seriously hurt as the new season approaches.
No more “Well, it’s only preseason...” kind of statements.
The games mean something now.
Until we see the light at the end of the tunnel in late-May or early-June, the games will mean something.
Saturday is Juventus’ first game of the 2017-18 season. Saturday night is the first game that Juventus will play at its crown-jewel of a stadium under its new name. Juventus Stadium is no more, I’m sad to say. Juventus will begin their latest title defense at Allianz Stadium. Everything will look the same. Everybody in the stadium will be rooting for the same team they rooted for before.
Saturday is also the first chance for Juventus to show what they’re made of this season.
It’s been an interesting offseason, one that has seen what we anticipate important players arrive and other important players head to domestic rivals (Leonardo Bonucci) or cancel out the rest of their contract and follow the money (Dani Alves). It hasn’t been without some kind of controversy. It’s not like we expect Bonucci to leave and go to Milan this summer. It’s not like we thought Juventus was going to be doing much of anything outside of adding to a roster that had just played in its second Champions League final in the last three seasons.
But now we get to focus on what matters most for the next eight or nine months. We get to talk about games that mean something, not exhibitions that are thousands of miles away from Turin that don’t have much meaning behind them. These are the games that truly matter, the ones where Juventus set a foundation for the rest of the season and hopefully accomplish what they did last season — plus another couple of wins.
The first of 38 domestic games is almost upon us. And just like every season, the end goal remains the same as it’s always been.
That’s the kind of picture the I will never tire of seeing. (Even if Dani Alves is there.)
JUVENTUS BACK JUVENTUS BACK
On one hand, Juventus’ performances in the preseason, not great!
On the other hand, it’s the preseason, so we can still kinda laugh of it off for now.
But if Juventus play more like Preseason Juventus rather than Serie A Dominator Juventus from most of the last six years, they’ve got some ‘splaining to do.
And that leads us right into this...
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1) Which version of Juventus’ defense will we see?
Short answer: Who the hell knows.
A bit longer answer: After what we’ve seen this preseason, who the hell knows.
It’s not like Juventus are going to be facing an offensive dynamo in their 2017-18 season opener on Saturday, so they’ve got that going for them. It’s a new season, obviously, but Cagliari finished middle of the road last season in terms of goals scored, averaging just over a goal a game.
But as we’ve seen from Juve this preseason, things aren’t as routine as they may seem. Juventus have given up the kinds of goals that seem like they’re easily preventable. Max Allegri has mixed and matched his pairing in the center of Juve’s defense and nothing has seemed to work thus far. Maybe that’s because it’s the preseason, but it’s not like they’ve done a whole lot to inspire a ton of confidence that they can just continue to keep the ball rolling and play well in the back without Bonucci there.
Can they flip the switch and resemble the same kind of defense that has been the best in Serie A for the better part of the last decade? That sure would be nice.
2) Which version of Juventus’ attack will we see?
There were times during the preseason in which Juventus’ attack looked pretty good.
There were other times where they looked like a until that hadn’t played together for a couple of months and were trying to work in a couple of new players.
Not many are expecting Allegri to roll out an attack in support of Gonzalo Higuain that includes all three of Paulo Dybala, Federico Bernardeschi and Douglas Costa just yet, meaning one of Mario Mandzukic or Juan Cuadrado is likely starting against Cagliari this weekend.
That will surely make some people are here quite happy.
But against a team like Cagliari, which can be a pain in the backside IF things aren’t exactly firing on anything close to all cylinders, something is going to need to improve from where Juve were so Dybala-dependent last weekend. Higuain is going to need service. Mandzukic is going to have to provide something.
This isn’t new. But the season is. And knowing that Juventus enter this season with a lot more attacking options than they had last season, if somebody isn’t getting the job done, then there’s going to be somebody laying in wake to try and grab an opportunity.
3) Paulo Dybala’s first home game in the No. 10 jersey.
The final 10 minutes of last weekend’s Supercoppa wasn’t necessarily all about Juventus allowing Lazio to score a last-second goal to win the trophy. There was also the Dybala-inspired comeback that set up the quick downfall and subsequent 3-2 loss.
Dybala scored one of his best free kicks in a Juventus jersey and then converted a penalty kick just a few minutes later to pull his team even when it looked like they were going to not only get shutout but look like absolute crap in the process.
Not a bad way to ring in the first game with his new jersey number, huh?
Of course, the question is now what Dybala can do for an encore after his two-goal performance against Lazio. And what a better place for him to try and do so than in official season opener and on his home field? (The Champions League final later this season would be cool, too, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.)
There’s just one way to find out...
I just want to add this: No matter how he plays in the next game, the way Dybala has talked about having the No. 10 jersey has been very refreshing. He gets it. He understands the weight of it. And to see Alessandro Del Piero come out and say that he’s all for it, then so am I.
4) Which new signings will we actually see?
Allegri gave us absolutely no hits in terms of what his starting lineup is going to be, which basically means he’s in mid-season form when it comes to this part of Juventus’ game. (Not the most important aspect, but at least it’s something?)
Many in the Italian media feel like it will be the same kind of situation as it was in the Supercoppa — Douglas Costa starting on the right wing, Mario Mandzukic on the left wing and that’s that. We may also get an actual right back playing right back, with Mattia De Sciglio coming in for Andrea Barzagli.
This is the kind of thing we’ll be talking about for the first month or two because Allegri’s past shows us he’s not always going to throw new signings into the fire to see if they can hang. He slowly worked Dybala into the starting lineup. Same went for Higuain. The same may be true for Bernardeschi and Blaise Matuidi. We just don’t know yet.
For now, though, we have to wait and see. Allegri’s past might tell us one thing, but how Juve are actually doing on the field may dictate another.
MY STARTING XI
Juventus XI (4-2-3-1): Gianluigi Buffon; Mattia De Sciglio, Daniele Rugani, Giorgio Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Claudio Marchisio, Miralem Pjanic; Douglas Costa, Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic; Gonzalo Higuain
Location: Allianz Stadium, Turin, 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, RAI Italia America (United States); beIN Sports Canada, RAI Italia America (Canada); BT Sport Extra (United Kingdom); Sky Calcio 1, PremiumSport HD, Sky Supercalcio HD (Italy)
Online/Mobile: beIN SPORTS CONNECT USA, fuboTV (United States); beIN Sports CONNECT Canada, fuboTV Canada (Canada); SKY Go Italia, Premium Play (Italy)
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