For 60 or so minutes against Atlético Madrid two weeks ago, it was all going according to plan. Juve were up 2-0, they were keeping a talented-yet-still-a-work-in-progress Atléti side relatively quiet and, maybe most important of all, they were on their way to putting together their most complete performance outside of the first half against Napoli to date.
Then, a lot like against Napoli, it all fell apart.
The second-half collapse is why Juventus enters Tuesday night’s Champions League group stage game with Bayer Leverkusen at Allianz Stadium with all of one point and looking up at Lokomotiv Moscow rather than sharing the top spot in Group D with the Russian side. That result, all of two weeks ago in Spain, is one of the biggest examples of just how turbulent the early-season adaptation to Maurizio Sarri’s system can be from time to time.
But based on the last time we saw Juventus, things looked a lot better than what we saw in the latter stages of the group stage opener against Atlético Madrid. Instead of late-game stumbling and defensive breakdowns, Juve’s 2-0 win over SPAL was one of the more complete efforts we’ve seen from Sarri’s side this season. The offense created plenty of chances. The defense pretty much gave Gigi Buffon the afternoon off. And, when it was all over, you might have been left wondering what the final score would have been if not for the heroics in goal of a certain Etrit Berisha. (Hint: probably a lot to very little, if anything.)
The optimistic viewpoint is that Juve is on the right track.
The pessimistic viewpoint is that Juve was playing a relegation battler and Bayer Leverkusen is going to be a much, much different kind of animal.
Both can certainly be true — and that’s perfectly OK.
While Leverkusen aren’t lighting up the Bundesliga at the moment as they sit in sixth place, they are going to be the best side that Juve will have faced since playing Atléti two weeks ago. Between then and now it’s been a trio of Serie A clubs who most folks believe will be in the bottom half of the league table when the season is entering the home stretch. That’s not exactly what you would call a challenge three-game stretch no matter how well (or not) each of those three have started out the season.
But what it has provided Juventus — and Sarri — is a quality stretch of fixtures where there can be both some kind of squad rotation, tactical experimentation as well as continued adaption to their new manager’s system. And while there had to be a couple of comeback wins along the way, do we think that Juventus is a better team now as compared to when it was entering its Champions League opener a couple of weeks ago?
I guess we’re about to truly find out.
That’s the big hope entering the second game of the group stage.
Juventus, because of its draw with Atlético Madrid, are now looking to jump into first place with a win rather than trying to take complete control of Group D after just two games. That’s just what happens when you cough up a 2-0 lead when you shouldn’t have done that in your first group stage game.
And if Juve keep the lead 2-0 like they did against SPAL rather than how it was against Atléti, then there’s probably going to be more positive vibes heading into this weekend’s Derby d’Italia rather than a whole lot of grumbling like what we saw the last time the Bianconeri played a European opponent.
- Alex Sandro — back!
- Mattia De Sciglio — still hurt!
- Douglas Costa — still hurt!
- Danilo — still hurt!
- Mario Mandzukic — still a Juventus player?
- Basically, who you thought would be called up has been called up. And, coincidently, who you thought wouldn’t be called up hasn’t been called up. Rather easy to go about things that way.
- Lineup speculation: Goal Italia’s Romeo Agresti, Sky Sport Italia’s Gianluca Di Marzio and La Gazzetta dello Sport are predicting that Gonzalo Higuain will get the start over Paulo Dybala as one of the “2” in Maurizio Sarri’s 4-3-1-2 formation. Take that as you wish, my friends.
- Sarri says that his favorite to win the Champions League is an English team. Take that as you wish, my friends.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
With Juventus having at least one fullback back in the fold and pretty much the entire starting lineup that faced SPAL over the weekend expected to start against Leverkusen, there’s certainly a good load of options to choose from.
But, for now, I’ll take one of those easy routes.
Aaron Ramsey, you’re back under the spotlight!
Sure, he was the player to watch all of a week ago when Juventus played Brescia, but there’s a reason for this. It’s rather simple: When you think of why Maurizio Sarri has gone to the 4-3-1-2 formation and why it’s got so much damn potential, so much of it has to do with the fact that Ramsey being around.
And since that switch, Juventus has looked better than when there wasn’t a Ramsey in the starting lineup.
So a No. 8 playing as a No. 10 might not be the thought you had when you first heard that Sarri was going to be Juventus’ new manager. Heck, even at his introductory press conference, Ramsey said that he’s a box-to-box midfielder who can contribute both offensively and defensively — which, last time I checked, isn’t totally the role of a No. 10.
But what Ramsey playing as the No. 10 in Sarri’s 4-3-1-2 has done is bring an element to Juventus’ starting lineup that hasn’t really been around all that much in the midfield for a good amount of time. His creativity is obviously something that was desperately needed, and the rapport he’s building with Paulo Dybala, Cristiano Ronaldo and the others is pretty noticeable already.
The biggest thing, though, is that Ramsey has been in the starting lineup for the past three games within an eight-day period and only seems to be getting stronger as he gets his match fitness back. Knowing his injury history and how Sarri was going to be handle Ramsey’s playing time — especially early on this season — it’s impressive to see.
And consider Sarri also relatively impressed as well — which he talked about during his pre-match press conference on Monday.
“Aaron Ramsey has surprised me in his recovery from injury, and he was included very quickly in the team. I believe; however, he still has a lot of room to improve. I see a great level of application during training, which gives me hope. In the last two games, the ease of dribbling has increased. Now we need to speed it up and improve our scoring.”
With two big games ahead of Juventus before the next international break arrives, I think we should be ready to pencil Ramsey into the starting lineup on both days. That is if he’s both continuing to play at the level he currently is as well as showing the kind of match fitness he has to start off his Juventus career. And if those two things continue to be true, then Juve’s brand new No. 8 is going to be reminding us a whole lot of the guy(s) who wore it before him.
Oh, by the way, if you think I’m hyping up Ramsey, well, here’s the cover of Tuesday’s edition of Tuttosport. Behold, the Rambo-ness of the Champions League build-up.
RELEASE THE RAMBO! (Or something like that.)
When: Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019
Where: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy
Official kickoff time: 9 p.m. local time in Italy and across Europe; 8 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 3 p.m. Eastern Time; High Noon Pacific Time
HOW TO WATCH
Television: UniMás, TUDN USA (United States); BT Sport ESPN (United Kingdom); Canale 5, Sky Sport Uno, Sky Calcio 2, NOW TV (Italy)
Online/mobile: B/R Live, Univision NOW (United States); DAZN (Canada); BT Sport Live (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.