I don’t know about you all, but the current state of the Serie A table is somewhat amusing.
1. Juventus — 9 points
2. Sassuolo — 7 points
3. Fiorentina — 6 points
4. SPAL — 6 points
That’s right, you guys. The top 4 of the Serie A table is currently the seven-time defending Serie A champions, a Sassuolo side that finished 11th last season, a Fiorentina side that finished in eighth and SPAL, which just barely avoided being relegated on the final day of the 2017-18 campaign.
Call me Mr. Negative, but I’m 99.9 percent sure that the standings won’t look like that when the end of September — let alone when we reach the halfway point — arrives. The only thing that seems remotely on track to be true is Juventus finishing in the No. 1 spot and clinching a record eighth straight Scudetto come late-April or early-May.
Other than, I got nothing.
The funny thing is, we can officially say that Juventus is playing its first top-of-the-table matchup this weekend. It’s not exactly the glamorous one against Napoli, Roma or Inter. No, instead, it’s against Sassuolo, which certainly has to be one of the biggest early-season surprises in Serie A after picking up an opening-weekend win over Inter and a 5-3 victory over Genoa heading into the international break.
With the same kind of mix of youth and experience like they were when they first soared into Serie A under the direction of Eusebio Di Francesco, Sassuolo has picked up points in all three of its games so far this season. That’s something Napoli can’t say they’ve done this season. Same goes for Roma, Milan and Inter.
Early-season mirage? Maybe. But hey, you can only play who’s in front of you — and it’s not like Sassuolo hasn’t done to Inter what they did in Week 1 in previous seasons.
We sit here on the eve of the first post-international break game wondering what kind of Juventus team will show itself over the next few weeks and months. They’ve won three games out of three and sit alone atop the table, so it’s not like these first few rounds have been a complete bust. But there are issues that were evident in the wins over a pair of likely relegation battlers, Chievo and Parma, and it’s not like that made a lot of people watch those games develop with glee.
We’re still waiting for Cristiano Ronaldo to score his first Juventus goal. (It took over 400 words to bring that up, so you’re welcome in advance.)
We’re all wondering what kind of tactical changes Max Allegri will make to get Paulo Dybala a spot in the starting lineup once again.
And, maybe this is just my defense-oriented bias popping up right now, I’m still waiting on Juve’s defensive issues — those that have seen Chievo and Parma combine to score three goals against the best defense in Italy for nearly a decade — to be ironed out.
The logical part of my brain says that it’s the middle of September and Juventus was never going to be a finished product at this point of the season. Expecting that is just crazy no matter if they signed Ronaldo, Leo Messi or even Simone Padoin to lead the attack. But there’s also the part of my thought process realizes that there’s about to be Champions League football in a matter of days and Juventus making simple mistakes against the likes of Parma or Chievo can only be magnified against bigger European opposition.
Juventus don’t need to be perfect to pick up a win against Sassuolo on Sunday. But something a little more positive other than seeing them get a goal up, stay in first or second gear and shut things down to protect a lead would be nice.
That might be asking a little too much, but I’m shooting my shot here, folks.
@OfficialAllegri: "This is where the seasons starts in earnest. The first objectives are to qualify from our @ChampionsLeague group and lead the way in the league in order to be fighting on all fronts come March."#JuveSassuolo— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) September 15, 2018
The international break is done and over with.
Kiss my ass, international break.
I saw a predicted starting lineup on the Twitter machine from one of the big Italian media outlets and it included Juan Cuadrado at right back and Sami Khedira in midfield.
The more things change, the more things continue to make you grumble.
1. Getting Cristiano Ronaldo a goal.
Don’t you go worrying now, folks. I’m not suddenly in the “ZOMG CRIS DOESN’T HAVE A GOAL YET” camp or anything like that. It’s been three games. THREE. That’s it.
At some point, Ronaldo will get his first goal in a Juventus jersey.
And when it does happen, I’m expecting the levy to break and the goals to stat flowing like we know Ronaldo can do things once he starts to find his groove.
This international break didn’t see CR7 go out on international duty with Portugal. Instead, he was in Turin training with his other non-international call-ups. (Oh, and also feeling every bit of a BIG MOOD while on a boat.) Even though there wasn’t somebody like Paulo Dybala or many of his other attacking teammates, it’s nice to know that Ronaldo was at Juve’s new training complex rather than grinding away on international duty and running the risk of injury.
That also means that the wait for Ronaldo’s first Juventus goal is back on.
Ronaldo is coming off what is definitely his least effective game with the Italian champions to date. He wasn’t terrible, but he was exactly the guy who was good but didn’t have a goal to show for it. He’s still learning Juventus, just as Juventus is still learning him.
We will be celebrating a Ronaldo goal soon enough. Max Allegri thinks it will happen soon, and I’m down for that. Let the Ronaldo goals start flowing, and maybe more good things will soon follow.
2. Getting Paulo Dybala on his game again.
We’ve barely seen Dybala since Juventus’ season-opening win over Chievo in Verona. He’s got a DNP-CD and come off the bench for about 10 minutes in Juve’s win over Parma right before the international break got underway two weekends ago.
There’s obviously the main question of where Dybala actually fits into Allegri’s plans going forward. You know, the same wonders we had last season when he was essentially a role player for the better part of two months near the end of the calendar year.
But that team didn’t have Cristiano Ronaldo on it.
And it wasn’t necessarily one that was winning yet probably still searching for its true attacking identity at that time.
Nobody can deny Dybala’s talent. But we also can’t deny that he’s in as precarious of a spot as he’s been in since coming to Juventus. There’s as much depth in attack as there’s ever been, and that’s on top of the fact that if Allegri’s 4-3-3 remains then Dybala could be on the outside looking in even more.
For all we know, Dybala could be playing right alongside Ronaldo on Sunday afternoon and all of this will be forgotten. For now, though, there’s plenty of Dybala-related conversations to have, for better or for worse.
3. Emre Can finding his footing in his first Juve start.
No matter who Juventus added in attack or defense this summer, their midfield was always going into be under the microscope because of how inconsistent they were a season ago.
There proved to be more midfielders leaving this summer than arriving. The lone addition was that of Emre Can, the 24-year-old German who signed on a free from Liverpool.
Through three games, Can’s appearances have all been off the bench, with the joke of like-for-like switches with Sami Khedira already a thing of the past. Instead, Can has been brought on to replace Miralem Pjanic as of late. And it looks like Pjanic is going to get a rest after being out on international duty with Can stepping in for Juve’s No. 5 in the starting lineup.
This is obviously a big deal seeing as it’s Can’s first official start with Juventus, something that won’t exactly get the kinds of headlines that other summer arrivals got. But the anticipation for what Can could add to Juve’s midfield will be quite the develop since there’s the expectation that he will become a regular start sooner rather than later.
Can has looked good in his second-half cameos to date. How many minutes he has in his legs might be as important as how he plays at this point knowing that he doesn’t have much time under his belt so far this season.
But, at the very least, we know that another one of Juve’s summer additions is about to join the party. Well, let’s hope that Sunday afternoon at Allianz Stadium is a party.
When: Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018
Where: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy
Official kickoff time: 3 p.m. local time in Italy and across Europe; 2 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 9 a.m. on the East Coast; 6 a.m. on the West Coast
HOW TO WATCH
Television: RAI Italia America (United States); TLN, RAI Italia America (Canada); Eleven Sports 2 UK (United Kingdom); Sky Calcio 2, Sky Supercalcio HD, Sky Sport Serie A (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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