Merih Demiral tore his ACL and is out for the season. Giorgio Chiellini is somewhere on the road to recovery from his own torn ACL. Matthijs de Ligt may or may not have something wrong with his shoulder, which is the reason Demiral was logging so many starts in the first place. Mattia De Sciglio picked up a small injury in training. Gonzalo Higuain was dealing with a light hamstring issue a few days ago. Cristiano Ronaldo only now seems fully fit after his mysterious, less-than-optimal physical condition for some of the fall. And everyone knows that Aaron Ramsey and Douglas Costa are both a strong gust of wind away from missing six to eight weeks.
This is where Juventus currently stand, and it’s precarious to say the least.
And guess what? The real meat-grinder part of the schedule hasn’t even started yet. The Bianconeri are about six weeks away from the first leg with Lyon in the Champions League Round of 16, with seven games to play before reentering the European competition.
So here’s my advice to Mister Maurizio Sarri: Don’t worry about the Coppa Italia, which Juve jump into tomorrow with a game against Udinese in Turin. Federico Bernardeschi at left back or mezzala? Do it! Daniele Rugani? Yes, please! Marko Pjaca starting on the wing for old time’s sake? Of course.
But first, a brief look at Udinese
When Juve last played Udinese about a month ago, the Bianconeri possessed 66 percent of the ball, logged a ridiculous 24 shots, and were pitching a 3-0 shutout with a Ronaldo brace until the dying moments when the visitors spoiled Gianluigi Buffon’s clean sheet.
At the end of the day, Udinese aren’t very good. They don’t keep the ball well, they’re not overly ambitious or crafty, and they do what all Italian sides can do well when they play three center backs: frustrate the hell out of you. Juve will see those three defenders along with our old pal Rolando Mandragora, and some attacking talent in Rodrigo De Paul, Stefano Okaka, and Seko Fofana. Last time around, Juventus kept Udinese far too disconnected between the midfield and the attackers to be threatened, and Sarri’s men should be able to do the same again tomorrow.
Since their defeat in Turin, though, Udinese have won three straight games against Cagliari (2-1), Lecce (1-0), and Sassuolo (3-0), so don’t expect the visitors to come to Turin without hoping to sock the champions in the mouth. They’re confident and winning games, and they’ll want to improve on their last result against the Bianconeri.
Still, though: Udinese aren’t good. It’s just facts. Juventus could, of course, lose — because this is calcio and anything can happen — but even with the heavy squad rotation I think all of us want to see, one would think Sarri and his side handle business in a professional manner.
Meanwhile, back in Milan
I really, really hate to bring this up, but Juventus are in an absolute dogfight for the Serie A title, and right now things are looking pretty rosy for Inter Milan. The Nerazzurri may have relinquished the top of the table back to Juve, but with no Champions League to worry about they’ll be able to focus all their attention and energy into the title race.
Oh yeah: Inter may be getting Christian Ericksen to add to a midfield with (when healthy) Nicolo Barella, Stefano Sensi, and Marcelo Brozović. They may also be adding our old friend Leonardo Spinazzola from Roma. And they have the most potent one-two punch right now in Serie A in Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku.
Antonio Conte has found the magic recipe alarmingly fast in Milan, and they’re breathing right down Juve’s neck. All of the injuries to the Bianconeri come in a season with the most formidable opponent since Napoli two years ago, and probably more talented and well-rounded (especially if they do, in fact, add Ericksen) than the southern Italian side.
Hold on tight, my friends, because this is going to be a bumpy ride.
Let’s be frank: the squad is too thin for the treble
I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but I really can’t imagine a world in which this Juventus side wins the treble. I really can’t. You can get mad at me and call me a treasonous fan if you feel like doing so, but the squad right now is too thin in terms of health and too inconsistent on the pitch to have the image of the treble seem like anything other than a hallucinogen-inspired fantasy.
My starting 11 against Udinese, therefore, would be as turned-over as possible. Start Buffon, Danilo, Bernardeschi, De Sciglio if he can possibly go, Rugani, Bentancur (still serving a suspension in Serie A), and think about Pjaca — I’m not even joking! Think about resting CR7 and Dybala. Don’t play Douglas Costa for more than 60 minutes. Bring a kid or two from the Primavera side and get them Coppa Italia minutes.
The rest of the season starts tomorrow. Make sure the squad’s top players are ready for the games that matter most.