The thing about Juventus playing at the Stadio Olimpico two times within about a month means that the last time Maurizio Sarri’s squad was in Rome is still very much fresh in my mind. I’m sure I’m not the only one who hasn’t exactly forgotten that visit to the Italian to play Lazio and the resulting 3-1 loss, the first of two games by that scoreline to one of Serie A’s hottest teams going these days.
For as good as Juventus looked in Monday’s return to the field against Cagliari, there’s still that pile of steaming dog crap that was Juventus’ last visit to the Olimpico all of about four weeks ago hanging around in the back of my head.
That poses the question entering this final game of the first half of the 2019-20 season:
Will we get the same kind of Juventus that absolutely steamrolled Cagliari in the second half on Monday afternoon? Or, will we see the Juve that we saw a lot of in the first half of the season, including both of the 3-1 losses to Lazio in December?
The hope, obviously, is that the Juventus we saw against Lazio in December is as much a thing in the past as the final month of 2019 is. That’s especially true considering that this is the official midway point of the season, with 19 league games remaining and the Coppa Italia about to start up in a matter of days against Udinese. The schedule is about to get busy again, and with it will likely come squad rotation. So, if Juventus can use the first win of 2020 as something that can propel them going forward the rest of this month and into the beginning of the Champions League knockout rounds at the end of February, they will be in rather good shape come the most important stretch of the season.
And, it would also serve as a confirmation of sorts on the notion that Maurizio Sarri’s system only gets better with time that we’ve been sitting (and waiting to actually take place) for months now.
Of course, to try and keep those warm and fuzzy feelings from the Cagliari win six days ago, Juventus will have to do against a Roma side that is feeling pretty good about themselves knowing how they finished out the 2019 calendar year. Obviously Roma started 2020 in about as opposite of fashion as they could have when compared to Juventus, dropping a 2-0 decision to Torino at Turin’s Stadio Olimpico, but the first five months of Paulo Fonseca’s tenure as Roma’s manager has gone quite well. Roma entered the weekend’s schedule of games in the fourth and final Champions League spot, which might be a bit of an overachievement knowing how up and down the club has been this season.
So, even despite the defeat to Turin’s little brother, Roma enter Sunday night’s showdown in relatively good spirits. They also know that with the likes of Atalanta continuing to do Atalanta things this season, a fourth-place finish is anything but a lock at this point.
And for Juventus, with Atalanta doing them a solid against Inter on Saturday night, the main goal — well, besides playing a second straight good game — is kinda obvious: Get three points and make first place in the Serie A standings all yours once again.
- Gonzalo Higuain might be good to go for Roma ... unless he isn’t. He has been called up for the trip to Rome, for what it’s worth.
- Rodrigo Bentancur is still suspended for another two games.
- Giorgio Chiellini is still injured.
- Sami Khedira is still injured.
- Matthijs de Ligt is “starting to improve,” according to Maurizio Sarri, who said that the young Dutchman is still recovering from a shoulder injury. “We hope he can return very soon,” Sarri added. (Even with the shoulder injury that Sarri says de Ligt has, he continues to call up the €75 million (young) man.)
- The statement above from Sarri makes you believe that Merih Demiral is going to be starting alongside Leonardo Bonucci again, doesn’t it?
- There are no surprises when it comes to the players that Sarri called up for the trip to Rome.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
The guy who was the first Juventus player to rock a manbun/ponytail this season. Sorry, Ron.
Adrien Rabiot might be coming off his best game as a Juventus player. And if it wasn’t his best game, it was certainly up there as one of the best. It was the kind of game, even with Rabiot playing a little out of position on the right-hand side of the midfield as opposed to his more natural left, that gave you some optimism about how he’s possibly settling into life at Juventus now that it’s been a little over sixth months since he signed from Paris Saint-Germain.
Basically, if he isn’t in the starting lineup, there’s something seriously wrong.
But, with Bentancur still suspended and Khedira out injured (and Emre Can pretty much a part-time starter at best these days), the likelihood of Rabiot not starting is about as much as Carlo Pinsoglio getting a nod ahead of Wojciech Szczesny and Gigi Buffon this weekend.
The good thing in all of this is that Rabiot is getting consistent minutes for the first time in a long time. Go back to the middle of December and four of Rabiot’s last five starts have all gone the full 90 minutes — meaning that the chance to finally shake the rust off finally arrived after a first couple of months of this season where he didn’t play much at all.
And you can see that he’s feeling more comfortable, too.
“I feel very good, I’m getting better and better,” Rabiot said after last Monday’s 4-0 win over Cagliari. “With (Blaise) Matuidi and (Miralem) Pjanic, we’ve done an excellent job. Over time, everyone is adapting to the principles of the coach.”
Rabiot is adapting — and to see him start to really play well will be quite the boost for a Juventus midfield that really does need something good to happen to it if the club wants to even sniff the lofty expectations that it has these days.
When: Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020
Where: Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy
Official kickoff time: 8:45 p.m. local time in Italy and across Europe; 7:45 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 2:45 p.m. Eastern Time; 11:45 a.m. Pacific Time
HOW TO WATCH
Television: RAI Italia North America (United States); RAI Italia North America, TLN (Canada); Premier Sports 1 (United Kingdom); Sky Sport Uno, Sky Sport Serie A, Sky Calcio 1, Sky Supercalcio HD (Italy)
Online/mobile: ESPN+ (United States); DAZN (Canada); Premier Player 1 HD (United Kingdom); SKY Go Italia, NOW TV (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.