For the first time this season, we can say that Juventus aren’t coming off a win against Serie A opposition. They aren’t coming off a loss, but they aren’t coming off a win, either, so that means there’s no more talk of a perfect season and kills a totally cliché narrative that would have been completely easy for me to ride as long as I could.
Juve was never going to run the table this season. That result will hopefully be a nice kick in the ass for the coming months. Credit to Genoa, they defended well after the equalizer.— Gianluca Nesci (@GianlucaNesci) October 20, 2018
DAMMIT, MAN. STOP KILLING MY DREAMS.
(He’s right, by the way. We’re cool, buddy.)
OK, so Juventus’ perfect record this season is gone as of seven days ago. However, we can still hang our hat on the fact that they haven’t lost a game yet this season — something that is usually a pretty good sign of how things are going as the final days of October are approaching. The draw against Genoa combined with Napoli’s 3-0 dismantling of Udinese has seen Juve’s lead atop the Serie A table go from six points to four.
It’s not the end of the world to see that happen, but it’s something.
So, two games into the latest stretch of games following an international break and Juventus has, for the most part, played relatively well. There was obviously the shoot-yourself-in-the-foot moment and drab second half against Genoa, but there was also the first-half domination of Manchester United this past Tuesday. So, you win some, you ... draw some? I guess we can roll with that.
No matter how you phrase it all, Juventus’ league schedule the six weeks, starting with the trip to Empoli on Saturday, is as follows:
- Oct. 27: at Empoli (18th place)
- Nov. 3: home vs. Cagliari (14th place)
- Nov. 11: at Milan (12th place)
- Nov. 24: home vs. SPAL (13th place)
- Dec. 1: at Fiorentina (6th place)
- Dec. 7: home vs. Inter (3rd place)
There are, of course, a couple of Champions League group stage fixtures mixed in there, including Manchester United’s return trip to Turin on Nov. 7. But you look at Juventus’ next four league opponents and they are the kinds of games where picking up three points pretty much the only thing that should be an option. Empoli is already in the relegation zone, Cagliari and SPAL could very well be around there come the second half of the season and Milan’s struggles this year have the Italian press talking of another coaching change potentially happening. (It’s almost like the coaching might not be the problem, huh?)
But the first comes Saturday evening in Empoli.
And when it comes to the chance to continue this upward trajectory that a lot of us think this Juventus team is on, dropping points for a second consecutive weekend just isn’t something that really works or fits into that part of the equation.
I said it last week before the Genoa match and I think it deserves repeating: Juventus are starting to dominate large portions of matches and it still feels like they’ve got potential to grow into as the season goes on.
No Mario Mandzukic. No Sami Khedira. No Emre Can.
No matter how you feel about Brother Sami, seeing Juventus with only three central midfielders for the second straight game is less than ideal.
1) Midfield fatigue?
In a perfect world, this would be a game where Max Allegri could do a little bit of squad rotation and give the regulars who have played the brunt of the minutes the last couple of games a weekend off. However, as we have already noted, the depth in the midfield has been cut from five players to three.
Miralem Pjanic has started eight of Juve’s nine Serie A games this season.
Blaise Matuidi has started seven of Juve’s nine Serie A games this season.
Rorigo Bentancur, while having the freshest legs of the group, has been getting arguably his most sustained run of playing time since joining Juventus in recent weeks.
A month ago, this might have been a game where Bentancur played to give somebody the day off. The way things are now, Bentancur could very well be rested so that Allegri has an option off the bench to relieve Pjanic or Matuidi in the second half against Empoli.
Allegri could very well switch to a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 to give one of his central midfielders a bit of a break in the game after a Champions League fixture. And knowing that we haven’t necessarily heard when either Khedira or Can will be back, it’s pretty much a three-midfielder situation until further notice.
Either way, the first legitimate injury concerns of the season just so happen to be coming at a time where
2) Dybala’s impact
Paulo Dybala scored in the Champions League again. Because of it, Dybala now has five goals in his last six games in all competitions.
Of course, that can be a little misleading since three of those goals came against Young Boys in the Champions League, but the more he scores means the more Dybala is looking like the Dybala of old rather than the one struggling to find form and potentially being left out of the starting lineup because of it.
With Mandzukic out injured, there’s one less natural striker to compete for playing time with right now. And, unlike earlier in the season when he was trying to find some kind of form, Dybala is starting to find his groove these days. There’s no reason to sit him these days — unless it’s for rest. It’s not like Dybala needs rest anyway.
No matter what formation Allegri goes with — and who really knows at this point with who’s available to him for the trip to Empoli — Dybala should and most likely will be in there. That’s good. He needs to be. Because, outside of Cristiano Ronaldo, there might not be a more important piece to Juventus’ success going forward this season than Paulo Dybala.
And, let’s be honest, who doesn’t love when Dybala is playing with that extra pep in his step where he’s just taking on opposing defenses and creating absolute havoc like it’s no big deal at all. That’s my favorite kind of Dybala, you know.
3) Here’s Johnny!
Hello, I am a Federico Bernardeschi fanboy. I don’t know why Bernardeschi’s playing time has taken a significant dip from the first few weeks of the season. But I do know that Bernardeschi should be playing more than he currently is.
But, even with what the projected starting lineups from the Italian media outlets might tell us, the hunch coming from this corner of the Juve world is that Cuadrado will be starting once again come kickoff against Empoli.
Then comes to good.
Then comes the bad.
Then comes the frustration.
We all know the kinds of ups and downs that Cuadrado will have throughout the course of any given game. Sometimes the goods outweigh the bad times, while other times it’s just simply impossible to not notice what kind of frustration Cuadrado causes.
He will always be a favorite of Allegri because of how he works his tail off on both ends of the field. Sure, he’s an attacking threat down the right wing, but he’s maybe Juve’s most effective winger when it comes to contributing to the defensive responsibilities that his manager asks of him.
Sure, it’s Empoli, a team that Juventus should beat no matter if it’s Cuadrado, Bernardeschi or Simone Padoin starting on the right wing. But when it comes to Cuadrado himself, seeing him the starting lineup could very well make some folks quite grumpy even before he attempts his first pass of the day.
When: Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018
Where: Stadio Carlo Castellani, Empoli, Italy
Official kickoff time: 6 p.m. local time in Italy and across Europe; 5 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 12 noon Eastern Time, 9 a.m. Pacific Time
HOW TO WATCH
Television: TLN (Canada); Eleven Sports 2 UK (United Kingdom); Sky Supercalcio HD, Sky Sport Serie A, Sky Calcio 1 (Italy)
Online/mobile: ESPN+ (United States); DAZN (Canada); SKY Go Italia (Italy)
Other live viewing options can be found here, and as always, you can also follow along with us live and all the stupid things we say on Twitter. If you haven’t already, join the community on Black & White & Read All Over, and join in the discussion below.