I always struggle with what to say for a season-opening match preview because it’s pretty much the same kind of message as we’ve been talking about for weeks now.
You’re excited to see Juventus. It’s been that way since June.
You’re excited to see Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s been that way since the day he signed in July.
You might even be excited to see Leonardo Bonucci in a Juventus jersey again, but that’s a little more of a complicated matter than the other two.
Juventus heading to Verona to play Chievo on Saturday is the donning of a new era for Max Allegri, Ronaldo and the club as a whole. Unless they play like crap, and then we’ll be sitting around saying “At least it’s only August!” while also probably cussing in our comment section.
It’s not just the opening game of the new season. It’s the first game in a season that has absolutely insane aspirations, with Serie A dominance for another season simply not being enough to fulfill things knowing who was signed and how much money was spent by the front office the last two months or so.
Juventus won’t be expected to just win more than ever before, but the fact that they’ve got one of the best goal scorers to ever play their game now on their roster means games like these against potential relegation battlers will be expected to be runaways, not grinders like they were a season ago.
The expectations with Ronaldo now here are through the roof. We’ve seen this roster change in more ways than simply Ronaldo. The starting lineup that Juventus will roll out on Saturday against Chievo at the Bentegodi could very well feature four brand new signings, meaning nearly half of their outfield players are brand new. (Well, except for one guy who isn’t so brand new.)
No matter who plays, Saturday is the donning of a new day, a new season, a new era. The feelings of Claudio Marchisio’s unexpected departure will likely still be there — they most certainly are as I write this — but a new season is upon us now.
This is the era of Juventus with Cristiano Ronaldo, and it’s time to add the first pages to it.
When we last saw Cristiano Ronaldo playing a competitive game that Juventus was involved in, he was scoring goals and doing insane overhead kicks at the same time.
This time, he will be wearing Juventus colors.
Juventus’ No. 8 from the past decade is no longer their No. 8 at the start of this new season.
It makes me sad.
1) Juventus’ new No. 7.
It doesn’t matter where you’re watching the game. Every single set of eyes that is watching Juventus will be watching Ronaldo with as much attention to detail as they’ve done in any season opener in years. He is the main attraction. He is the reason why we’re here. He is the reason why a pretty meh opponent for a season opener is getting as much hype as it is.
For the past four years under Allegri we’ve seen him slow-play big signings into the starting lineup. The only reason why Ronaldo gets that same treatment is if he somehow hits the factory reset button like you have on your cell phone and suddenly forgets every single thing he knows about this game.
That’s the long way of saying this: If Ronaldo isn’t starting then there’s something physically wrong with him.
Luckily, Allegri has confirmed that Ronaldo will start — which should surprise absolutely nobody based on the fact that Juve’s new No. 7 is the main event, the main attraction.
We don’t know what formation Allegri will use or how, exactly, Ronaldo will be deployed. We do know, though, that Ronaldo is going to be the focal point of a Juventus attack that has plenty of talent around him. And when it comes to adding that name to an attack that led Serie A in goals last season, that’s just a scary thought for opposing defenses.
Yes, no matter what Chievo’s manager says about making Juve and Ronaldo himself sweat.
2) Juventus’ new-but-kinda-old No. 19
We can talk about all of the happenings of the past 12 months another time. But, for now, I just want to say this: Juventus is very much a different team compared to the last time Leonardo Bonucci wore bianconero in a competitive game.
A lot has happened between then and now, obviously, but the fact that Bonucci is actually back and about to start Juventus’ season opener — yes, Allegri said so — is something that NOBODY could have predicted at the start of July.
But here we are.
Bonucci will be under the microscope for a variety of reasons, the biggest based on the fact that he was so crucial for Juventus before, dipped out last summer and then essentially demanded that he come back to where the grass was obviously greener. But he will also be under the microscope because, frankly, his performances at Milan a season ago weren’t all that great as a collective whole.
Essentially, there will be pressure to perform because of how everything has gone down, but there’s also pressure to perform because he will be out to prove the notion of his form taking a dive was more of a fluke rather than the norm as he goes on in his 30s.
I don’t doubt that not having to be The Guy in the center of a team’s defense anymore will help Bonucci out. That’s for the guy who he will be starting alongside and the new captain for this Juventus ship, Giorgio Chiellini.
But the opener against Chievo will be Bonucci’s first chance to mend some fences with those who will be filling up Allianz Stadium one week from now. Let’s just hope it doesn’t look like the last time Bonucci played in a season opener. (Hint: His Milan debut was not great!)
3) Juventus’ midfield not named Miralem Pjanic.
As those of us in the United States watched Juve play the MLS All-Stars, we had the fact that the signing Bonucci was going to help Pjanic and the midfield out hammered into our head. (Thanks for that, by the way.)
We know that Pjanic is going to start because, well, why the hell wouldn’t he. But what we don’t know is what formation Allegri is going to go with — 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 seem to be the favorites right now — and who is going to be playing alongside Pjanic.
It could be Sami Khedira.
It could be Emre Can.
It probably won’t be Blaise Matuidi since he’s just returned from his post-World Cup holiday a week or so ago.
It could be Federico Bernardeschi in a new-look mezzala role that Allegri has been experimenting with this summer.
I guess the most unfortunate part of it all is that we know Claudio Marchisio won’t be amongst those options ever again. And that makes me sad.
No matter who is in the midfield with Pjanic more often than not, we know that if Juve’s midfield struggles like it did a season ago, then these new and ambitious goals for European supremacy will be that much harder to obtain. And while one game against Chievo won’t be the be-all. end-all in this topic, it sure would be nice to not be like “Oh, there’s another no-show from Juve’s midfield...” as the second half goes along Saturday.
When: Saturday, Aug. 18, 2018
Where: Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi, Verona, Italy
Official kickoff time: 6 p.m. local time in Italy and across Europe; 5 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 12 p.m. on the East Coast; 9 a.m. on the West Coast
HOW TO WATCH
Television: Rai Italia America (United States); RAI Italia America (Canada); Eleven Sports 1 UK (United Kingdom); Sky Calcio 1, Sky Sport Serie A, 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.
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