There was a massive microscope on the last Juventus-Chievo fixture. It was the much-heralded debut of Cristiano Ronaldo in a Juventus jersey. It was the first few paragraphs in the story of Ronaldo in Turin, one that has understandably jacked expectations around this club through the freakin’ roof and then some. Ronaldo didn’t score on that day, as you probably remember all too well, and the end result was Juventus pulling a rabbit out of their Federico Bernardeschi-styled hat to earn all three points.
Since then, each team has gone on to play 17 more league games.
Juventus, at the top of the table, is well on its way to an eighth straight Serie A title.
Chievo, at the bottom of the table, is currently on its third coach of the season. (Anybody feel like going back over Giam Piero Ventura’s tenure as Chievo’s coach? Heard it was a DOOZY of a time.)
Even though Juventus has already played two games in the calendar year, the second half of the season is officially about to begin this weekend. Or, technically, once the weekend is over for Juventus, who will host Chievo a day later than the rest of the league plays because of their participation in the Supercoppa in Saudi Arabia midweek.
We’ve seen Juve win their Coppa Italia opener to open the month. We’ve seen Juve win their first trophy of the season in the Supercoppa. Now comes the resumption of what everybody and their pet dog or cat expects to be a Serie A campaign that will end just as the previous seven have — with Juve’s captain at the time, this one being Giorgio Chiellini, lifting another Scudetto trophy above his head as confetti shoots out of cannons and onto the Allianz Stadium turf.
As routine as it seems at this point with Juventus going unbeaten in the first half of the season, dropping only four points along the way and holding a nine-point lead over second-place Napoli at the start of the weekend, the cliché line here is that there’s still 19 league games to go.
But let’s face it, only a major disaster will derail Juventus’ current charge toward a record eighth straight league title. Maybe more than a serious injury to one of Max Allegri’s starting lineup stalwarts considering that he’s already missing one in Mario Mandzukic for at least a few more weeks.
Basically what I’m trying to get at here is that the only thing that can really stop Juventus from achieving their goals — at least, domestically, that is — is pretty much Juventus. No, a reoccurrence of what happened in the season opener at the Bentigodi — yes, I know, they won, but still — won’t be good for our collective heart rates or anything like that, but it won’t kill Juve’s title hopes in one weekend.
No matter what, though, this second half of the season is more about just one visit from Chievo to Allianz Stadium or anything like that. It has, technically, already started, but this is where Juventus’ massive aspirations and the No. 1 reason for all of their main transfer activity this past summer are either going to be achieved or leave us pretty damn disappointed.
Basically, we want Juventus to play well now, we want Juventus to player well against Atletico Madrid next month and we want Juventus to play well four months from now.
This second half of the season will basically be what determines how much of a success this 2018-19 campaign with sky-high expectations actually will be.
Even with Napoli’s 2-1 win over Lazio, the lead atop the Serie A standings is still a pretty comfortable six points. And Juve’s about to play the last-place team in Serie A, which you would think is an easy and hopefully stress-free three points.
Miralem Pjanic suspended.
Rodrigo Bentancur called up but probably starting on the bench.
For one of the few times this season, we could get a midfield trio of Blaise Matuidi, Emre Can and ... Sami Khedira. Ta-da!
1) Avoid what happened the last time against Chievo this time against Chievo
I don’t think I need to really go into much detail about how Juventus almost threw a season-opening win away against Chievo back in mid-August.
It was a thrilling 3-2 win that shouldn’t have been all that thrilling at all. The kind of performance where Juventus just let the opposition hang around and then got burned for letting that exact kind of situation happen.
Now, that was five months ago, and you would think that Juventus have at least grown at little as a team. That’s why it’s interesting Max Allegri said the following during his pre-match press conference on Sunday afternoon:
“As for what we can improve upon on the pitch, we can do better in closing out games, otherwise we run a risk. This is true both in one-off games and in Serie A.”
Translation: Don’t do what you did against this team in August again, guys.
Out of the handful of issues this team has had this season, closing out games in totality has definitely been up there towards the top. Allegri can say it over and over and over again, but until it stops becoming an issue that lingers around over our heads, then we’re going to continue to worry about it.
It doesn’t really matter what kind of form Chievo was in heading into the new year break. Juventus played with fire the last time they faced Chievo, and it’s not like that was all too reassuring knowing the extreme gulf in talent when comparing the two sides.
So, basically, heed the advice of your manager, Juventus, because nobody is really going to be a fan of potentially stressing out over a 1-0 lead in the closing minutes against the worst team in the league this season.
2) Douglas Costa or Federico Bernardeschi?
Max Allegri went ahead and threw this little tidbit of starting lineup-related information out at his pre-match press conference:
In the midfield, we can go with either two or three, if we go with the former then Douglas Costa and Bernardeschi will both start, otherwise only one of them will feature from the off.
So, basically, if it’s a 4-2-3-1, then both Fede and Costa will play. If Allegri goes 4-3-3, then one of the two will be in the starting lineup.
The general line of thinking in the Italian press is that it will be a 4-3-3 that Allegri ends up going with, and Bernardeschi will be the one who is starting on the wing opposite Paulo Dybala. (Although Paulo will likely have his free-ranging and roaming role that he’s had plenty of times before this season.)
Based on the fact that Allegri seems pretty set on rotating a good portion of the starting lineup, it makes perfect sense that Bernardeschi is the pick over Costa. But if it’s form we’re talking about when it comes to the two talented wingers, I don’t think anybody can go against Costa at this point.
The thing is, though, Bernardeschi was simply phenomenal in the first month of the season, and obviously was the hero with his game-winning goal against Chievo to open the season. If he can get anywhere close to that kind of form again, then Juve’s attack will get just that much more dangerous and picking a proper attacking trio will become even harder of a task.
I sure did like when Fede was playing that well, by the way. And I wouldn’t object to him replicating that kind of form again over the next few months, either.
3) Mattia Perin in goal
For the first time in a long time, Mattia Perin’s playing time in goal is incredibly sporadic. A full-time starter — outside of the major injuries he’s suffered, of course — this is one of the first times in Perin’s career at the club level where he’s gone weeks without playing in a game rather than a few days like was the case after he established himself as Genoa’s No. 1.
In Perin’s last appearance, an emergency start in Juve’s 2-1 win over Sampdoria right before the holiday break, he looked a lot like you’d expect somebody to look who has appeared in all of three games in the first five months of the season. He was shaky, far from the convincing and commanding goalkeeper Perin has shown to be in a good portion of his career.
Now, with the Coppa Italia in play for Juventus and the schedule about to get busy as all hell next month, I highly doubt Perin will go weeks on end without playing. As good as Wojciech Szczesny has been this season, Allegri knows that Perin will have to stay sharp outside of the Coppa Italia appearances. And, a lot like with the start he will be making against Chievo, this is a start to get Perin to shake off the in-game rust and start feeling good about things again.
I mean, there’s no doubting the guy’s got talent. He just needs a little bit of playing time to actually show what kind of keeper he can be when everything’s working.
When: Monday, Jan. 21, 2019
Where: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy
Official kickoff time: 8:30 p.m. local time in Italy and around Europe; 7:30 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time; 11:30 a.m. Pacific Time
HOW TO WATCH
Television: TLN (Canada); Sky Sport Serie A, Sky Supercalcio HD, Sky Calcio 1 (Italy)
Online/mobile: ESPN+ (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.