You know what has sucked about this second Juventus-Milan meeting being when it is? It’s not just because there’s a massive Champions League game against Real Madrid sitting there off in the distance to occupy a lot of our thoughts. It’s, essentially, that after Juve’s incredibly bleh scoreless draw against S.P.A.L., we’ve had to wait two damn weeks.
It will have been 14 whole days between the final whistle in Ferrara and kickoff at Allianz Stadium this Saturday night.
As of this writing, it’s the 13th day in that 14-day countdown from one Juventus game to the next. That’s what happens when international breaks arrive; there’s always the desire to see Juve take the field a few hours into the realization that we’re going to have to see two weeks pass between games that mean something.
(What, a meaningless friendly or two for Italy under their caretaker manager didn’t tickle your fancy a whole heck of a lot? Oh, well...)
Ah, but now that we’re done with international breaks until September, this is where the getting gets good. This is officially the start of the home stretch. Milan coming to Turin, Leonardo Bonucci playing his first game at Allianz Stadium since his much-publicized transfer 10 months ago, it begins the stretch where Juve’s fate on all three fronts will be decided over the next two months.
Fact is, this Milan is in a lot different shape than the one we saw at the San Siro in October.
Entering what proved to be a 2-0 Juventus win — hey, I like those! — Milan had all of one more win than they had losses, the definition of a club that was struggling to find any kind of consistency. Their big spending just a couple of months prior during the summer transfer window was looking like a complete and absolute bust.
Those struggles cost Vincenzo Montella his job.
But, in steps Rino Gattuso, and a little rage on the sideline later and Milan are sitting sixth in the table, riding high with eight wins in their last 10 league games.
And you know that Milan would love nothing more than to not just continue to put their clamps down on a European spot for next season but also throw a wrench in Juve’s latest charge toward the Serie A title.
With nine league games remaining, things are simple for Juventus. Well, the task at hand in Serie A is simple to understand. Executing it, on the other hand, is far from simple knowing that there’s all of a two-point lead and a game still to be played head-to-head against Napoli still on the schedule. The breathing room Juventus had two weekends ago is now gone. The Scudetto race wasn’t over when Juve were up four points, but it most certainly was nice to know that one round’s worth of results wouldn’t see the standings get shaken up.
That’s the case now, though.
Unless Juventus gets some help over the next couple of weeks, then they will be the ones controlling if they enter the showdown with Napoli in Turin on April 22 with at least a two-point lead. That’s a whole lot better than trying to chase Napoli down and hoping for others to help eliminate the deficit.
I sure like the fact that we’re hoping other clubs help out in adding onto the Serie A lead rather than trying to cut it down. And with nine games to go, that’s a pretty good spot for Juventus to be in — especially knowing what lies ahead on the schedule.
Juventus back — and in first place!
Giorgio Chiellini back — and healthy!
Juan Cuadrado back — and healthy!
My god, the injury situation is getting better. For one day, at least.
lol the injury situation right now sucks so much
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1) Leonardo Bonucci’s return to Turin.
It’s the obvious thing to concentrate on outside of the fact that Juventus is back playing football and looking to keep ahold of its two-point lead atop the table.
The last time Bonucci played at Allianz Stadium, the stadium itself had a different name and a different team was signing his paychecks. We didn’t think that Bonucci would head out this time last year, with obviously things happening that not many of us could have predicted. Then you look up in August and he’s giving interviews right and left and talking about how much he loves being a Milan player and we’re just left here to sit around like a confused puppy with our heads cocked to the side.
Bonucci’s season is almost like that of the club he now plays for. Think about it...
- The early months were a complete shitshow. Bonucci’s form was in the tank. Milan’s form was in the tank. Just about everywhere you looked, Milan looked exactly like team with a virtually brand new starting XI that hadn’t pla1yed together outside of preseason training. (Maybe because that’s exactly what they were.)
- Rino Gattuso replaced Vincenzo Montella and — poof! — Milan started to look competent and competitive again. And, what do you know, Bonucci started to improve from the early-season rut that he was stuck in.
Who knows what kind of reception that Bonucci will get when he comes out for pre-game warmups or the first time he’s on the ball during Milan’s first spell of possession. I’m guessing that there will be a few thousand whistles directed his way for pretty much the entirety of the 90-minute match.
But, the biggest thing is that unlike last time Juventus and Milan faced one another, Bonucci will play — and that is going to bring up a whole lot of interesting feelings on both ends of the spectrum.
2) The Paulo Dybala-Gonzalo Higuain 1-2 combination.
Yes, the last time we saw Juventus play a game it’s safe to say these two weren’t very good. You can say that for a lot of players in the squad that day against S.P.A.L., but it was especially true for those who happen to wear Juve’s Nos. 9 and 10 jerseys.
One game won’t take away from the fact that Dybala and Higuain were pretty darn good leading up to the scoreless draw in Ferrara.
And most certainly one really good game against Milan from Dybala and/or Higuain that results in a win on Saturday night will make the shutout in Ferrara
Mario Mandzukic’s absence against Milan has put a little bit of doubt into what kind of formation Mr. Allegri will be using this weekend. It could be a 4-3-3 formation. It could be a 4-3-1-2 Christmas tree-like formation. It could be a 3-5-2 for all we know.
But what I do know is this:
- Dybala has four goals in his last five appearances in all competitions.
- Higuain has 10 goals — and three assists! — in his last 10 games in all competitions.
So maybe five- or 10-game sample sizes aren’t the be-all, end-all when it comes to evaluating things, but it gives you a sense of what the player is doing at the time of the next game. And for Juventus, seeing Dybala and Higuain in ever-improving form is better than just having off game.
Let’s just hope it’s not two straight off games.
MY STARTING LINEUP
Juventus XI (4-3-2-1): Gianluigi Buffon; Mattia De Sciglio, Daniele Rugani, Giorgio Chiellini, Kwadwo Asamoah; Stefano Sturaro, Miralem Pjanic, Blaise Matuidi; Paulo Dybala, Douglas Costa; Gonzalo Higuain
When: Saturday, March 31, 2018
Where: 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
HOW TO WATCH
Television: RAI Italia America (United States); RAI Italia America (Canada); BT Sport 2 (United Kingdom); Sky Supercalcio HD, Sky Sport 1 HD Italia, Sky Calcio 1, PremiumSport HD (Italy)
Online/Mobile: beIN SPORTS CONNECT, fuboTV (United States); DAZN Canada, beIN SPORTS CONNECT Canada (Canada); BT Sport Live (United Kingdom); Premium Play, 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.
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