The month of November is just about over, a 30-day period that has seen Juventus maintain its perfect while playing anything but picture-perfect football. Much of the month — even with an international break thrown in there right smack dab in the middle of things — saw Juve slog through win after win rather than get the kind of eye candy kind of results that you might expect as time goes on within Maurizio Sarri’s system.
Yet, through all of it, these two things remain true:
- Juventus is in first place in Serie A despite the not-so-sexy football over the last month.
- Juventus has wrapped up first place in its Champions League group with a game to spare.
By the time Juve take the field against Sassuolo at Allianz Stadium on Sunday afternoon for the always-wonderful lunchtime kickoff, December will be all of 12 1⁄2 hours old, with a new month hopefully becoming a new kind of run of games where Juventus actually start to look good once again. You know, more of the team from September and October rather than the one that was slogging through wins in November.
I say that because when you look at the stats through the first 13 rounds of the Serie A season, I notice these two things about Sassuolo:
- They’ve scored one fewer goal than Juventus has this season.
- Sassuolo — which has actually played 12 games this season — has one of the worst defenses in all of the league, with only Genoa and Lecce allowing more goals (27) than the Neroverdi (23).
So, logic tells you that if Juventus were to snap out of this funk where their quality of play hasn’t been all that great then it would be against a team that is allowing nearly two goals a game this season.
However, we’ve seen this kind of game before. You know, the kind of game where you see Juve welcome a struggling side to town, we all get our collective hopes up that this is going to be an absolute stroll to victory, and then the end product is something where it’s an absolute slog or even one where points are dropped. Or, you know, the kind of game after a Champions League game midweek where Juventus was pushed to its limit both mentally and physically and then there’s a slip-up a couple of days later.
Maurizio Sarri knows this. And he spoke about it during his pre-match press conference:
“Tomorrow’s game is very dangerous. We come into this fixture after two games that took away a lot of our mental energy. In addition, Sassuolo is a team that has done well, even on the road, and they have a young and strong coach who I respect a lot.”
OK, so Sassuolo has done somewhat well away from home lately, that’s true, Maurizio. But those last two games — a win and a draw — have come against Hellas Verona and Lecce, so not exactly what you would call some impressive results based on who they were playing.
Either way, Sarri is wary of the always-dangerous trap game against a team that Juventus really has no business dropping points to. And that’s what his mentality should be seeing as this is the kind of game, at least in previous situations, where exactly what Sarri has warned about has happened.
It might not be a common occurrence, but it’s something that is obviously enough to worry Sarri that he’s calling a team sitting 14th in the Serie A table a dangerous one.
Maybe there’s reason to it.
Maybe there shouldn’t be.
But, as we’ve seen from this Juventus side this season, the ones we think are going to be easy wins don’t always exactly end up being that kind of way.
- ALEX SANDRO BACK. He’s partially training with the group as of Thursday, returned to full training on Friday and is part of the match day squad for the first time since picking up an injury on international duty.
- Somebody still doing individual training exercises and not included in the match day squad: Adrien Rabiot.
- Somebody who you thought was going to be in the match day squad — and starting lineup — but hasn’t been called up due to injury: Sami Khedira.
- With Rabiot and Khedira both out and Rodrigo Bentancur playing as much as anybody in the midfield lately, this could very well mean Emre Can is in line for his first start since Oct. 28 when Juve played out a 1-1 draw against Lecce.
- Gianluigi Buffon is expected to get the start in goal, as has been somewhat customary this season in the game after a Champions League fixture.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
When Juventus were starting to hum and show positive signs of picking up Sarrismo earlier this season, this guy was about as good as anybody in bianconero. Lately, however, things haven’t exactly gone so well.
Miralem Pjanic, who completed roughly 5,655 passes through the first month of the season, hasn’t exactly been all that great lately. In fact, he’s almost been the walking embodiment of just how Juventus’ overall form as a team has gone from pretty good to not great despite picking up wins over the last six or eight weeks.
Maybe he’s tired. (Something we’ve discussed in previous threads knowing that only one players, Leonardo Bonucci, has played more minutes than Pjanic.)
Maybe teams are starting to figure out how to slow him down now that there’s a decent enough sample size of games under Sarri to evaluate and scout and form a game plan around.
But all we know right now is that early-season Pjanic isn’t the same player that we’ve seen over the last month or so.
To expect Pjanic to attempt 100 passes every single game is probably too much to ask for. Not every game, regardless of what we want, will see Juventus having 68 percent possession and dominating the pace of play. And even when Juve were starting to show signs of getting there with their manager’s style, it wasn’t like they were dominating the opposition no matter who it was.
The thing is, though, so much of Juve’s play was going through Pjanic so it was almost like it was a case of “as Mire goes so does Juventus.” That might not have been totally true, but seeing Pjanic attempt and then complete upwards of 100 passes was pretty cool.
We haven’t seen that since October — which, coincidently, was the last time Pjanic had a rest. Funny how that works out, isn’t it?
When: Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019
Where: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy
Official kickoff time: 12:30 p.m. local time in Italy and across Europe; 11:30 a.m. in the United Kingdom; 6:30 a.m. Eastern Time; 3:30 a.m. Pacific Time
HOW TO WATCH
Television: TLN (Canada); Premium Sports 3 (United Kingdom)
Online/mobile: ESPN+ (United States); DAZN (Canada); Premier Player HD (United Kingdom); DAZN (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.