Monday was a big one in the offseason, as Serie A (finally) released the fixture list for the 2019-20 season.
We can talk about the wisdom (or lack thereof) of waiting until there’s less than a month before the opening kick to release said fixtures, but they are finally here, and ripe for debating. Juventus will begin the season with a trip to Parma on the weekend of Aug. 24. Fun fact: this is the third time in the last nine years that Juve and Parma will kick off the season against each other.
It’s difficult, of course, to be able to say with any certainty what games will end up being the season’s most important. There’s no way of knowing what situation Juve — and their competitors — will be facing come February or March when the title and European races have really taken shape.
But that won’t stop us from looking at the new fixtures and postulating as to what matchups look the most interesting — and which ones might be the most crucial in Juve’s race for a ninth consecutive Serie A crown.
So, without further ado, let’s run down what could be the five biggest games on the season on first glance alone.
ROUND 2: VS. NAPOLI
Someone at Serie A headquarters was chuckling when the computer spit this one out.
We won’t have to wait long at all for Maurizio Sarri to be reunited with his old team, as Napoli visit the Allianz Stadium in just the second game of the season.
Napoli’s track record since the Allianz opened is not good. The only time they’ve avoided defeat in nine games (eight league, one Coppa) was two Aprils ago on Kalidou Koulibaly’s last-second winner. That game saw them celebrate like they’d just won a World Cup, only to crumble a week later, with their emotional capital clearly spent. Any hope that that win would be the beginnings of better fortunes were dashed last September, when Juve thoroughly dominated proceedings and came out 3-1 winners despite conceding the opener.
Emotions will be running very high here. Napoli’s players will certainly want to make a statement against their former manager — especially players like Lorenzo Insigne, who has repeatedly made his feelings on Sarri’s choice to come to Juve known this summer. (Spoiler: They aren’t good.) The home team, meanwhile, will still be working on putting Sarri’s system into practical effect on the field. If Napoli manage to snag Mauro Icardi from Inter, it would put another layer into the match, given Icardi’s track record of scoring against Juve, as well as the persistent rumors that Icardi’s preferred destination is Turin.
For the visitors this will be a chance to prove their scudetto bona fides early. For the home team it will be a chance to remind their challengers — both in Naples and elsewhere—just what it will take to knock them from their perch.
ROUND 13: AT ATALANTA
Atalanta has been the darling upstart of Serie A for two seasons now. They’ve also been genuinely dangerous to face, especially at home. Juventus haven’t won a league game at the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia since March 2016. They’ve left with 2-2 draws each of the last three league seasons, and were subjected to a 3-0 thrashing in the Coppa Italia quarterfinal last year. Their lone win there in the last three seasons was a 1-0 result in the 2017-18 Coppa semifinal, in a strange game played in heavy fog.
This game will be one of the first real yardsticks as to how well Sarri’s plans are sticking. By the end of November, you will think that Juve should be at least proficient in the new system, and La Dea will be a good test of whether that will be the case. If this game turns into the slog it has been over the last few years under Massimiliano Allegri, it could be a sign that the installation is going slower than predicted. If there’s an improvement, it could be early validation that the front office made the right decision.
Juve may well end up leaving without full points again—Gian Piero Gasperini’s team is a difficult one to face regardless of what system you’re running, especially in Bergamo—but almost as important as the what in this result will be the how.
ROUND 26: VS. INTER MILAN
Whoo, boy. This one ... this one.
Even after the abrupt and acrimonious way he left Juventus in 2014, Antonio Conte was treated well by fans in Turin whenever he came through the then-J Stadium in charge of the Italian national team.
That will not be the case this March. This will mark Conte’s first visit to Turin on another team’s bench.
And what another team it is.
There are a number of people who would have the club expunge Conte from its history after his choice of job this summer — note to those people: grow the $&#* up — and they will likely be full throat when he brings his charges at Inter into Turin. The Round 7 match between the two at San Siro might actually be a big chance for Inter to claim a result and make a title statement of their own, considering how much easier it is, comparatively, for Conte’s system to be assimilated by a new team than Sarri’s. But this match, the emotion behind it, and its timing just as the critical phase of the season begins, make it the far more intriguing edition of the Derby d’Italia to watch this season.
ROUND 29: AT GENOA
I don’t know what it is about the Stadio Luigi Ferraris. It feels like whenever Juventus enter that building, their mojo is sucked away. Over the course of the Old Lady’s eight-year reign at the top of Serie A, she has dropped points in at least one of the games she’s played at the Marassi in six of those seasons, and have a total record of 10-6-1. Not even the San Siro has so daunted Juve over the course of this run.
Those losses have been split evenly between Genoa and Sampdoria, with the lone draw going to Genoa in 2011-12. Even many of the wins have been rough-looking things, like when Juve dug out of a 2-0 hole against Genoa in the early goings of 2017-18 or the March 2014 contest that needed Andrea Pirlo to slot a free kick past Mattia Perin with less than a minute to go.
Last year was the nadir of this funk, as Juve dropped both games in Genoa by identical 2-0 scores. Neither of them affected the title run in the bigger picture — Juve’s lead was massive when it lost to Genoa and the Samp game was a dead rubber on the season’s final day — but whether the team is playing well or poorly, something about this stadium turns Juve into a shell of itself.
The Bianconeri travel to play Sampdoria in December, but dropping points in this game, the last one to be played in March, could have a hugely influential effect depending on how the table looks. It will need to be treated with the utmost care.
ROUND 38 VS. ROMA
So much of this depends on where everyone is, but after years of mid- to lower-table teams slotting in to the final week of the season, Juve will get a team that could genuinely threaten to muck things up if they enter the last game of the season with the title on the line.
Juve have never failed to lock up the title with at least a game to spare over the last eight years, but if Napoli, Inter, or some unforeseen interloper take advantage of any openings they get in the early goings while the progress bar on Sarri’s system is still shy of 100 percent, this could very well be the year that the title comes down to the final day. It could also be a dead rubber, but until we find out what it could be, it’s going to loom ominously over the rest of the schedule.
It’s also 100 percent possible that the Roma coming into the Allianz Stadium that day will be a complete and utter dumpster fire, as evidenced by their stunning collapse from Champions League semifinalists two seasons ago to making the Europa League by the skins of their teeth last year. The collapse had little to do with former coach Eusebio Di Francesco and everything to do with shambolic upper management, and unfortunately for Roma that hasn’t changed. Whether new coach Paulo Fonseca can overcome that and the typical turnover that goes with it remains to be seen, but if he can’t, this may not be the task it would have been in years past. Remember, Roma may have beaten Juve in May, but the title was already in the bag at that point.
This game could be the biggest league fixture Juve have played in years, or it could be nothing. We’ll see which it ends up.