Just like with any customary international break, we knew we’d be without Juventus for a couple of weeks around the new year. It’s Serie A’s annual winter break — yes, even if it was pushed back until after Christmas and New Year’s Day this season.
We’ve waited two incredibly long weeks to resume what has developed into a two-horse race for this season’s Scudetto. We’ve also had to wait for all but one other Serie A team has resumed their seasons while watching the countdown clock inch toward the return of our beloved bianconeri.
Having to sit around an extra day to get Juventus back. How nice of them, right?
Alas, the way is — almost — over. It’s true, people.
Juventus is back and so is the latest game where they will be looking to keep pace with the one team that is currently ahead of them in the Serie A standings. Juve’s opposition, Genoa, is one that we saw not too long ago in the Coppa Italia and has its own goals for the second half of the season. (Like, you know, not falling into the relegation zone.)
Just another Monday night at the office in Serie A, eh?
(Well, maybe not since they don’t play on Mondays all that often.)
You see, Max has a point here, folks.
Juventus’ returns from international breaks this season have been ... a little less than impressive, to say the very least. We all know about that loss to Sampdoria where a late-game surge from Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain only made the scoreline look close when the game was anything but that in the grande scheme of things. And it’s not like Juventus’ 2-1 loss to Lazio back in October was all that great, either.
Just in case you’re wondering, those two games just so happen to be Juventus’ only league losses of the season.
So, yes, coming out of this two-week break is important for more than just one or two reasons. There’s the fact that Juve need to keep up with Napoli after they opened their post-winter break portion of their schedule with a solid win over Atalanta. There’s the fact that Juve is about to see its schedule get extremely busy after Monday night’s game against Genoa. There’s the fact that the Champions League tie against Tottenham is quickly approaching in a few weeks.
And there’s the fact that we just don’t like seeing Juventus losing.
So there. Everything is important. It’s starting to get to that point of the season where every game just means that much more around these parts.
Yes, I am happy to have Juventus back, if you hadn’t figured that out already.
Injuries are still stupid.
No Paulo Dybala
No Gigi Buffon
No Claudio Marchisio
Throw in no Juan Cuadrado and you’ve got a pretty talented list of players. Too bad they’re all injured and unable to play against Genoa on Monday — and probably the next game or two after that at the very least.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1) Douglas Costa or Federico Bernardeschi
With Dybala injured and out for the next month or so, it makes the formational setup a little easier to figure out. So, there’s a little less stress in all of our lives, right?
It will be a 4-3-3, and I don’t see any reason why Max Allegri would go away from it.
We know Gonzalo Higuain will start in the middle of the front three. We know Mario Mandzukic will start on the left side of the front three. But what we don’t know is who will be the third part of Juve’s attacking trident.
It’s essentially a choice between Costa and Bernardeschi, both players who probably should have seen the field more than they actually did in the first half of the season.
So, who ya got?
My mind is telling me it’s Douglas Costa over Bernardeschi, even though anybody who follows this here blog knows that I love me some Fede and want to see him really get some consistent minutes to show what he’s capable of doing. Who knows how to read Allegri talking up Bernardeschi at his pre-match press conference since he’s done it before and the next day he’s sitting on the bench to open the game like he’s done so many times before this season.
No matter what, though, as long as Dybala is out injured and Allegri decides to stick with a 4-3-3, this is going to be one of the bigger lineup decisions Mad Max will have to make every game. It also makes you think what Costa and Bernardeschi might be able to do in a Christmas tree formation playing as the ‘2’ behind Higuain, doesn’t it...
2) Can Juventus’ defensive solidarity continue into the new year?
The difference between Juventus the first time they faced Genoa in Serie A to now is that they can put forth a so-so showing these days and not have to worry about a leaky defense being one of the main reasons why they’re losing.
With how they played defensively in the first couple of months of the season, it’s somewhat crazy to think about Juve having just two losses on the year.
But now, the defensive issues of September and October have mostly been filtered out of everybody’s system and Juve’s defense is back to being one that racks up shutouts and is able to be a key component to the team’s success again.
We all know about the run that Juventus is currently on, having given up just one goal since the loss to Samp in mid-November. It’s obviously way the team’s overall form has gone from all over the freaking place to a much more level and consistent one.
Now, as they come out of the holiday break, continuing the form from December is key to Juventus being successful on all three fronts they’re still competing in.
And I feel safe in saying that if they are able to do what they did in December a pretty good portion of the time over the next few months then things will continue to look good for those of us who view things through black and white glasses.
3) The long-awaited return of Mattia de Sciglio to Juve’s starting lineup.
Yes, this has a lot to do with what we just talked about, but it’s still important.
Before he got injured, de Sciglio was settling into a nice run of form as he received his first consistent amount of playing time all season long. He wasn’t necessarily the same kind of fullback that, say, Alex Sandro was when he first arrived and bombing up and down the wing while also playing well on the defensive end of things.
During de Sciglio’s absence, Allegri used the combination of Andrea Barzagli and Stephan Lichtsteiner. I would like to think that while both of those two elder-statesmen performed admirably in MDS’ absence, having a player who was truly starting to settle into his role back in the fold is exactly what Allegri wants to see.
Of course, the key is to have de Sciglio playing like he did before he got injured. If it’s the de Sciglio we saw when he made his first couple of appearances, well, then there’s going to be a little bit of a problem. But if it’s the one who really was a consistent performer while playing simple if not unspectacular football, then I’m going to be pretty content with Juve’s right back situation again.
That’s how it was when Lichtsteiner was a force to be reckoned with. It sure was nice to know who the right back was going to be more often than not and not have to worry about them and how they were going to play any given game.
Now if only we can get Alex Sandro looking like the Alex Sandro we’re used to, too...
MY STARTING LINEUP
Juventus XI (4-3-3): Wojciech Szczesny; Mattia de Sciglio, Medhi Benatia, Giorgio Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Sami Khedira, Miralem Pjanic, Blaise Matuidi; Douglas Costa, Gonzalo Higuain, Mario Mandzukic
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, RAI Italia America (United States); beIN Sports Canada; Rai Italia America (Canada); BT Sport 1 (United Kingdom); Sky Calcio 1, PremiumSport HD, Sky Sport 1 HD Italia, Sky Supercalcio HD (Italy)
Online/Mobile: beIN SPORTS CONNECT U.S.A., fuboTV (United States); DAZN Canada, fuboTV Canada, beIN SPORTS CONNECT Canada (Canada); BT Sport Live (United Kingdom); SKY Go Italia, Premium Play (Italy)
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