As many of you know, the main image on every match preview involves a photo from Juventus’ last game against their next opponent. Most of the time, I am able to have it be of a player I pretty much know will be in the starting lineup and it’s not much of an issue.
It wasn’t so easy when it comes to Juventus’ game on Sunday against Sassuolo.
“Oh there’s Paulo Dybala ... but he’s hurt.”
“Oh, there’s Douglas Costa ... but he’s hurt.”
“Oh, there’s Juan Cuadrado ... but he’s hurt.”
“Oh, there’s Federico Bernardeschi ... but he’s probably hurt, too.”
If you can tell, the Juventus attacking corps has taken a massive hit from the injury bug in recent weeks. The Cuadrado absence is no piece of breaking news. Same goes for Dybala, with both of those players out for at least a few more weeks. But when it comes to the immediate future, there isn’t exactly a whole lot to choose from for a certain Max Allegri.
Luckily for us, not all of those players listed above are out. We won’t see the likes of Dybala or Costa put on a show this weekend, but Bernardeschi has been cleared to play in some kind of capacity.
I guess the good thing is that Juve’s opponents this weekend are, statistically, one of the worst teams in Serie A this season. This isn’t the Sassuolo team that was pushing for a European spot under the direction of Eusebio Di Francesco of a few years ago. If anything, this season has been like Sassuolo’s first year in Serie A when they basically were just trying to survive rather than compete for anything major as they were consistently in the top half of the table.
Juventus, on the other hand, while not playing a beautiful brand of football since returning from the winter break have just continued to win. And seeing as the Serie A title race is now just a two-horse race between Juve and Napoli, sometimes that’s what it’s going to have to take.
Sure, I’d love for Juve to be beating the smaller clubs by more than just the constant 1-0 scoreline in which we currently see every week, but at least they are losing. I guess that’s the positive to grasp for in all of this, if not for the fact that Juve still control their own destiny in all three competitions they are currently competing in.
And as has been the case so many times over the last two months, let us hope there are a few more celebrations like this one from the first time Juve played Sassuolo...
(Go ahead and name all the players who are currently injured in that picture if you’d like, too.)
Just as was the case last weekend, a win sends Juve to the top of the table for at least a couple of hours.
Did somebody say something about injuries? Yeah, they suck.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1) So what the hell kind of formation is Mad Max gonna use?
This was going to be an even bigger problem before Allegri announced the 21-man squad that will be available for selection against Sassuolo on Sunday afternoon.
That’s because before we knew the squad list, there was a definite possibility that Allegri was going to head into Sassuolo’s visit to Turin without a natural winger available to him.
Thankfully, there’s Federico Bernardeschi.
And, in an odd way that could be also seen as a good thing for him personally, the injuries mean Fede will likely see some significant playing time with Douglas Costa and Juan Cuadrado both sidelined.
I guess there’s always going to be the possibility of Allegri keeping Bernardeschi on the bench to start the game just so that he has at least one attacking option on the bench. We’ve seen him do it before with defenders when all we were thinking was that some injuries would finally open the door for Daniele Rugani to get some playing time. (Sidenote: Bernardeschi being healthy means the possibility of a 3-5-2 being used — and Rugani potentially starting — just went down significantly.)
So, as few times as we’ve said it this season, the starting lineup Allegri rolls out from the start probably depends on Bernardeschi’s condition. If Allegri deems Fede good to go from the start, then I wholeheartedly think that it will be the now-customary 4-3-3 with Gonzalo Higuain and Mario Mandzukic also starting up front with Bernardeschi and that will be that. If he’s not completely capable of playing 75 or 90 minutes, then the 3-5-2 could be used for the first time in quite a bit of time.
Ah, the decisions that Max has to make. Unfortunately, though, these are basically decisions that are forcing his hand because of all the injuries his team is currently dealing with.
2) No matter the formation, can Gonzalo Higuain keep the good times going?
We’ll keep it short here.
For basically a months worth of games, we watched Higuain be incredibly ineffective in front of goal or just not even get the chances a striker like him needs.
For the last two games, we’ve seen Higuain look a lot like the Higuain we’re used to again.
I think I know which version I prefer. I think I know which version all of you prefer. When Higuain is right, then the dimension he brings to Juventus’ attack is one that nobody else outside of probably an in-form Paulo Dybala can match because, simply put, the big Argentine is one of the best strikers in the world.
The biggest takeaway from the season Higuain has had to date is that it’s been incredibly streaky — both for the good and for the bad. That means, if his last few games tell us anything, is that a streak for the good is starting to truly materialize.
In a perfect world, Higuain wouldn’t be such a streaky kind of player and we wouldn’t see him go more than a month without scoring like we saw happen in December and January. But, at the very least, Good Higuain is starting to show itself again. And Good Higuain is the kind of Higuain that Juve need right now with so many other important attacking players out injured.
MY STARTING LINEUP
Juventus XI (4-3-3): Gianluigi Buffon; Mattia de Sciglio, Daniele Rugani, Giorgio Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Sami Khedira, Miralem Pjanic, Blaise Matuidi; Federico Bernardeschi, Gonzalo Higuain, Mario Mandzukic
Location: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy
Kickoff time: 3 p.m. local time in Italy; 2 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 9 a.m. on the East Coast; 6 a.m. on the West Coast
TV: Rai Italia America (United States); Rai Italia America (Canada); BT Sport 3 (United Kingdom); Sky Sport 1 HD Italia, Sky Calcio 1, PremiumSport 2 HD (Italy)
Online/Mobile: fuboTV, beIN SPORTS CONNECT U.S.A. (United States); beIN SPORTS CONNECT Canada, DAZN Canada (Canada); BT Sport Live (United Kingdom); SKY Go Italia, Premium Play (Italy)
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