The month of December was always going to be a test of Juventus mettle — both on the field, on their minds and, based on how many games they’ve played since the last international break, on their bodies. There, of course has been winning because that’s what Juventus does. We’re used to it, and it’s nothing earth-shattering around these parts.
But in this month, the final month of 2018, it’s not like Juve’s play has been all that great. In fact, their play has, honestly, been kinda the opposite of great. Of the six games Juve has played in December, are any of them ones you would consider a great performance? Or, really, anything close to it? (Maybe the 3-0 win at Fiorentina?)
Juve’s seventh and final game of 2018 is right around the corner. They will be playing at the same stadium where they started the calendar year with a win over Torino in the Coppa Italia. That place is Allianz Stadium, where a lunchtime crowd on what will surely be a chilly early-winter afternoon will see Juventus face a Sampdoria side that has gotten back on a winning track after a red-hot start to the season before stumbling in November.
Yes, the same Sampdoria side that Juventus has outscored 17-5 combined in their last six meetings in all competitions.
But this Samp side seems to be a little bit different than those ones Juve beat up on the past couple of seasons.
The last time Juventus and Sampdoria played against one another in Turin, Benedikt Howedes was starting — AND SCORING A GOAL! — and Samp’s goalkeeper, Emiliano Viviano, was sporting the No. 2 on his jersey. There’s also the little fact of Duvan Zapata now not on Sampdoria’s roster, which is a good thing considering what he just did a few days ago against Juventus’ defense.
Those bits of info could very well find themselves in the Good News section of this match preview. But they’re also related to the team — and game — Juve’s about to play.
As a whole, Juventus’ December has been ... meh? I guess we can kinda lean in that direction even though they’ve only lost one of those games over the last four weeks. It’s an interesting place where this team finds itself in, a lot like last season’s squad that was continuing to win yet not really overpowering the competition at the same time. Juventus are obviously the No. 1 team in Serie A again this season, beating the next group of teams who entered the season as top 4 competitors has been relatively simple and not exactly something we’ve seen Juve get out of the first couple gears to do.
So in comes Sampdoria, back to being a winning team after struggling going into the last international break last month.
We’ll see what gear Juventus actually get to Saturday afternoon.
And we’ll see if Juve can avoid dropping points for the second consecutive league match.
Oh, and this: For one last time in 2018, Juventus have the chance to do what they’ve done a lot of over the past 12 months — win. And, compared to most of the final weeks of 2018, a pretty good team performance would be a welcomed sight heading into the new year break, too.
Sometimes, it helps to have a little bit of luck on your side.
Juventus played like crap on Wednesday, dropping points for just the second time all season against Serie A opposition. But, as it turned out, they were able to increase their lead atop the league standings because of Inter’s stoppage-time win over Napoli at the San Siro. Magic, I tell ya, magic.
No Rodrigo Bentancur means the chances of Sami Khedira playing only increase that much more. I don’t know about you guys, but that’s not what I like to call a good development no matter what time of the season it is.
1) What kind of gas does Juve have left in the tank?
It’s been a long month for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest is simply the amount of games that this squad has played — both this month and over the last eight days.
Every season is a grind, but it’s especially true when you’re packing in games every three days like Juve have had to deal with over this final week of December. (And with the Christmas holiday — which turned out to include both training, a Max Allegri press conference and a trip to Bergamo — mixed in.)
If the last few weeks have at least hinted at anything, it’s that this Juventus team is looking pretty tired and the two-week break that is right around the corner could do them plenty of good. It’s been a tough first half of the season — and not just because there’s been massive expectations placed on this squad even before it played an official game. There have been injuries — especially in the midfield — and Allegri’s ability to rotate the squad, something that will be vital in January onward, has been rather limited because of the few options available to him more often than not.
Allegri hinted at some kind of squad rotation against Sampdoria, most noticeably Daniele Rugani stepping into the starting lineup and the possibility of Leonardo Spinazzola getting his appearance — or even start — as a Juve player.
No matter what kind of squad rotation we see, Juventus’ December has to finish better than it started, right? Not in terms of winning a game, obviously, because they started the month with a victory over Inter in the Derby d’Italia.
At the very least, there’s a hunch in my gut that there will be some offense.
Speaking of scoring goals...
2) The Quagliarella Effect
At this point, Fabio Quagliarella scoring absurdly silly goals that we can only dream about is as much of a development as myself trying to insert stupid jokes into one of these previews. They happen, we know they happen and all we’re left to do is just add them to the list.
Except when it comes to Quagliarella’s video game-inspired goals, they just seem to build off one another and actually make you go wow in a good kind of way.
The latest wondergoal from Mr. Dreamgoal midweek marked his eighth goal in his last eight games, which is easily one of the best stretches of his pretty solid career. At 36 years old, Quagliarella — who just extended his contract with Samp until 2020 — is at an age where few players have consistently produced the kind of goal numbers that he has not just this season but the past few years.
With his current hot streak, Quagliarella is now one goal behind both Cristiano Ronaldo and Krzysztof Piatek for the Serie A lead and is easily the oldest player in the top 10 of Italy’s goal scoring chart. It’s pretty remarkable that Quagliarella continues to play at this kind of level at this age, but I guess nothing about his career should really surprise us knowing what kind of goals he scores each and every year.
Juventus’ task is simple on Saturday afternoon: Can they avoid the Ex Effect striking again when they line up against arguably Serie A’s most in-form striker at the moment?
3) The Audero Effect
Even with their November struggles, Sampdoria still have one of the better defenses that Serie A has to offer. And, as we talked about a couple of months ago, Emil Audero, Juventus’ young on-loan goalkeeper, is one of the biggest reasons why Samp has been so sound at the back more often than not.
Audero — who at one point in mid-October had the best save percentage of any goalkeeper in Europe’s top 5 leagues — has started all 18 of Samp’s games this season. He’s made 51 saves, which is much more than the 39 saves Wojciech Szczesny and Mattia Perin have combined to make in Juve’s 18 Serie A matches this season. And as we know, it’s not like Audero has the likes of Giorgio Chiellini, Alex Sandro and Joao Cancelo playing in front of him.
At this point, Samp would be absolutely nuts not to take up the option to buy they have built into Audero’s loan deal come the end of the season. (And, if we’re honest, it’s not like Juve are hurting for options in goal these days, too.) For a cool €14 million, they would be getting a goalkeeper in his early-20s that has already proven he can hang in Serie A and only seems to be getting better with the more experience he picks up along the way.
Juventus’ task is simple on Saturday afternoon: Can they turn their relatively low-powered offense of late against a goalkeeper that is about to be playing against the club he grew up at for the first and will surely hoping to impress?
You never know, you guys. We could very well get an Audero vs. The World kind of game.
When: Saturday, Dec. 28, 2018
Where: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy
Official kickoff time: 12:30 p.m. local time in Italy and around Europe; 11:30 a.m. in the United Kingdom; 6:30 a.m. Eastern Time; 3:30 a.m. Pacific Time
HOW TO WATCH
Television: ESPN2, ESPN Deportes (United States); Sky Calcio 1, Sky Supercalcio HD (Italy)
Online/mobile: WatchESPN (United States); DAZN (Canada); Eleven Sports 1 UK (United Kingdom); 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.