It’s been six weeks since Juventus has truly played a big game against Serie A opposition. One game after another has gone by in late-October and now early-November with mid- or bottom-of-the-table opposition lining up across from the seven-time defending champions. Some of those games have gone well, others have left us rather grumpy or completely uninspired by what we just saw take place in front of us.
Come Sunday, another big game arrives.
And not just because it’s Juventus heading to the San Siro to face a Milan side that they just did major transfer dealings with over the summer.
Just a couple of days ago we saw Juventus play somewhat well against Manchester United in a game where all they needed was one single point to lock up their spot in the Champions League knockout round. Then, around the 85-minute mark, things turned for the worse — and we were left wondering why Juventus saw a 1-0 lead with five minutes to go suddenly had turned into a 2-1 loss.
So, not only do we have Juventus playing a big game after a big game, folks. We’ve also got Juventus playing a big game after a disappointing result in a midweek game on the big stage — one that had people suddenly questioning their Champions League credentials.
(Sidenote: That’s funny, ESPN.)
There are plenty of storylines heading into Juventus’ first trip to the San Siro this season — and that’s . Let’s take a stab at a couple of them, shall we?
- First place in Serie A against fourth place in Serie A.
- Gonzalo Higuain against his former team.
- Leonardo Bonucci against his former team (and one he didn’t leave on good terms).
- Rino Gattuso on the always-hot seat on the Milan sideline.
- And, of course, what Juventus will do after such a letdown against Manchester United four days earlier.
For all we know, Bonucci could have Higuain in his pocket all night and Juventus could cruise to another win in a big game a lot like what happened against Napoli about six weeks ago.
No matter what the talking points, no matter who is in the starting lineup, Juventus, for the first time this season, is coming off a loss and we get to see how they respond to it. And not just a loss, but one where they basically fell apart within the span of a couple of minutes. For all of the missed opportunities in front of goal, that five-minute self-destruction isn’t something we’ve seen from Juve much at all over the last seven years, if at all.
We sit here on the eve of another international break wanting to see what Juve can do against Milan while also cursing the fact that a squad that hasn’t played all that consistently is about to go away for a couple of weeks.
There’s first some business to take care of. Major, major business. Milan-sized business.
Federico Bernardeschi back!
Douglas Costa back!
Leonardo Spinazzola back (with the primavera this weekend)!
The injuries are going away. Holy crap that’s refreshing to say.
Pretty much all of the predicted lineups that have come out in the Italian media over the last day or two has Rodrigo Bentancur on the bench and that makes me sad.
Yeah, yeah, he’s played a lot of minutes lately, but he’s also been the best of the bunch.
1) Will the Gonzalo Higuain Revenge Tour strike again?
We know what Gonzalo Hugain is capable of doing when he’s got that little extra to play for against one of his former teams. Need to look no further than when Pipita faced Napoli the last couple of years.
The thing is, now Juventus is the former team.
At least publicly, Higuain hasn’t voiced any kind of displeasure with how everything went down this summer. Basically, when Cristiano Ronaldo was signed, somebody had to be thought of as the odd man out. And with the amount of money Higuain was making on a seasonal basis and the considerable price that he could fetch on the transfer market, he was the easy — and logical — choice to head out in the summer months.
We didn’t expect it to be in a deal that brought Leonardo Bonucci back to Turin, but that’s how it all went down. Yet here we are. And now Higuain might be one of the biggest Ex Effect participants Juventus have ever seen face them.
So far Higuain is having a pretty typical kind of Higuain season. He’s got five goals in nine starts, a goal-every-other-game pace that he’s had ever since his record-breaking season in Naples.
There may be no striker in Italy that knows Juventus’ defense better than Higuain knowing that he trained against them for the past two years before going off to Milan. That could be the kind of inside information he needs to be an absolute thorn in the side of Juventus on Sunday night. Or it could out to be not problem at all.
But here’s something I know is true: If there ever is a game where Higuain wants to show what kind of striker he is and how he’s still every bit the game-changer many believe he still is, then it’s this one against the club that essentially said they didn’t need him anymore a few months ago.
2) Return of the Joao
Mattia De Sciglio just played one of the best games he’s played in years against Manchester United on Wednesday night. For a player who arrived with so much promise at such a young age, it was that kind of performance where a lot of were left with nothing but the highest of compliments directed toward a fullback who’s had his setbacks over the years.
He’s still no Joao Cancelo.
As well as De Sciglio played midweek, having the offensive threat down the right wing from the fullback position that Cancelo brings to the table is always going to be a welcome sight. His creativity, ability to cross the ball and just overall badassery is what has made him one of Juventus’ best players the first three months of the season.
He was good before he was forced to miss United loss due to a minor muscle injury. And, based on how consistent he has been, I’m betting that he will be good again now that he’s set to return.
Who will be playing out on the right wing ahead still seems like a TBD kind of situation. (Max Allegri was absolutely no help in that department based on what he said at his pre-match press conference Saturday.) It could be Juan Cuadrado. It could be Douglas Costa. It could be Bernardeschi. It seems like all of them are options at the moment.
And as much as the concentration will be on Higuain trying to terrorize the Juventus defense Sunday night, it’s not like Milan’s defense has been all that great this season. Milan have just one shutout through its first 11 league games — which means there is going to be chances to do damage. With a healthy Cancelo back in the fold, that’s even more of the truth.
3) Mo Sami, mo problems?
Like I said, it seems like the amount predicted starting lineups that are including Mr. Bentancur in the midfield seem to be the same number of predicted starting lineups that have me starting in place of Wojciech Szczesny in goal.
The man (likely) stepping in for Bentancur?
Now, now. I can either stop here and let everybody yell — which seems like a very realistic possibility. Or, we could ... yeah, I don’t know what else there is to do.
Khedira getting a good chunk of minutes now that he’s healthy again seems almost inevitable knowing how much Allegri relies on him to be a vital part of the starting trio in the center of the park. Blaise Matuidi seems to be back at full health again, but even the way that the Matuidi-Pjanic-Bentancur combo worked doesn’t seem enough to prevent Khedira from breaking right on through and reclaiming his spot in the starting lineup.
There are players that managers love no matter what form they are in, and Khedira is that kind of player for Allegri the last season or two. At 31, Khedira is far from what he was when he first showed up at Juventus. We’ve known that for a while now, and it doesn’t make seeing him get a lot of playing time any easier when a youngster like Bentancur is just oozing with potential whenever he gets a solid run of games consecutively.
Alas, it seems like Sami Time is inevitable — and it starts at the San Siro, I guess.
When: Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018
Where: Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan, Italy
Official kickoff time: 8:30 p.m. local time in Italy and across Europe; 7:30 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time; 11:30 a.m. Pacific Time
HOW TO WATCH
Television: RAI Italia America (United States); TLN, RAI Italia America (Canada); Eleven Sports 2 UK (United Kingdom); Sky Sport Serie A, Sky Calcio 1, Sky Sport Uno, Sky Supercalcio HD (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.