No matter if it was summer, fall or the early stages of winter, we heard the same kind of thing from Juventus players. It involved how as time goes on, how comfortable they are becoming within Maurizio Sarri’s system. The more time goes on, the more comfortable they feel and, as a result, the more they should play the way that Sarri wants them to play.
That is the line of thinking.
It’s not just the players who are thinking that line of logic, though.
It’s those of us who watch them every game.
For months we’ve seen Juventus not play all that well. They’ve won, sure, but the end product has been far from what this team is going to have to do if it wants to challenge on multiple fronts and continue its run of Scudetto-winning seasons. But the caveat has always been that history has told us that Sarri’s teams always get better with team, and the second half of the season is usually when things start to turn for the better.
As Juventus gets ready to start back up again after the holiday break with Cagliari coming to Allianz Stadium on Monday, the second half of the season is getting closer and closer to being a thing. And it’s not just about Juve getting better on the whole, it’s the fact that there’s a legitimate Scudetto race taking place — which is something we haven’t always said over the course of this eight-year run.
This is the start of when the schedule starts to matter just that much more.
And it just so happens to be starting up against one of Serie A’s true surprise stories this season. You know, a Cagliari side, one that finished all of three points of the relegation zone a season ago, that is now sitting in a comfortable sixth-place position and has been hanging out with the big boys of Serie A for much of the 2019-20 campaign.
It was only until a couple of games before the holiday break that Cagliari was sitting in a Champions League spot and basically surprising the living hell out of everybody as they tried to be this season’s version of Atalanta while also being ahead of Atalanta in the table.
But as Sarri pointed out at his pre-match press conference on Sunday, this is a Juventus team that has made its share of mistakes over the course of the first four months of the season. That’s not exactly earth shattering information based on the fact that Juve’s far from reaching their full potential as the midway point of the season is basically here. Eliminating said mistakes was a focus of Sarri during the past week’s worth of training sessions as the squad returned from the holiday break.
The thing we’re waiting to see coming out of the holiday break is easy to figure out, then, isn’t it?
Can Juventus start to truly show signs of Sarrismo? And, maybe more importantly in the short term, will those mistakes that Sarri referenced continue to be the thing that holds this team back as the second half of the season gets going in a matter of days?
We’re about to find out soon enough.
- Here is your reminder that Rodrigo Bentancur is suspended for the next three games thanks to his red card (and post-red card antics) in the Supercoppa against Lazio.
- It might not be time to start counting down the days until Giorgio Chiellini comes back from knee surgery, but we’re getting closer and closer to that happening.
- The only other Juventus player expected to miss out due to injury is Sami Khedira.
- Sarri is expected to stick with the attacking trio Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo against Cagliari. Seeing as this is the first game after the holiday break and Juve has its next game next weekend, worrying about any kind of fatigue issues right now is basically not an option.
- If you were hoping for any hints from Sarri in terms of Monday’s starting lineups at his pre-match press conference, well that didn’t happen.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
Considering we haven’t watched him all that much lately ...
Matthijs de Ligt played all of 14 minutes in Juventus’ final four games before the holiday break. For somebody who was playing pretty much every game up until that point, it’s a little bit of a change from what we had become accustomed to.
Over that time, Merih Demiral got his first extended playing time — if you want to call starting four straight games exactly that — of the season. And, to his credit, despite not playing a whole hell of a lot before that four-game stretch, Demiral was quite impressive, leading to plenty of chatter about just where he may fit into this Juventus side when Serie A resumes in the new year.
Well, 2020 has arrived.
And ... it looks like de Ligt is ready to reclaim his starting spot.
At least that’s what the Italian press is predicting in the build-up to Juventus’ return from the holiday break. While they may not be many questions in terms of who else is starting, the man who is paired with Leonardo Bonucci in the center of Juventus’ defense remains anything but a sure thing based on what we both saw before the holiday break and the information we’re being told.
By the time Juventus takes the field against Cagliari on Monday afternoon, it will have been nearly a month since de Ligt’s last start. There’s been a good amount of speculation as to why de Ligt has gone so long between appearances, with the only minutes he’s played after the first 3-1 loss to Lazio in December being as a sub a week later in the win over Udinese.
Was it because de Ligt is injured?
Was Sarri giving Demiral a chance because de Ligt needed more of a mental break?
Is there suddenly some kind of competition going on between the two summer signings?
No matter what, de Ligt coming back into the starting lineup is the most likely option to take place on Monday. As good as Demiral was during his pre-Christmas run in the starting lineup, de Ligt deserves the chance to come back into the starting lineup after his somewhat lengthy absence and try to find what has eluded him for pretty much the entire season to date — consistency.
Unless, that is, you want to say that he’s been consistently inconsistent since taking over for Giorgio Chiellini.
Obviously the hope is that de Ligt was able to get healthy (if he was truly injured) and get right mentally so that he can come back from his extended break and look like the player who was one of the driving forces behind Ajax’s run to the Champions League semifinals. We’ve seen glimpses of that, maybe a couple of games worth of that, but nothing for an extended period of time.
And even if you’re not Team de Ligt or Team Demiral and just want both of them to succeed, I think it’s easy to say that if the young Dutchman continues with his up and down ways then the calls for Demiral to get some playing time isn’t going to go away any time soon.
When: Monday, Jan. 6, 2020
Where: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy
Official kickoff time: 3 p.m. local time in Italy and across Europe; 2 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 9 a.m. Eastern Time; 6 a.m. Pacific Time
HOW TO WATCH
Television: RAI Italia America (United States); RAI Italia America, TLN (Canada); Premier Sports 1 (United Kingdom); Sky Calcio 2, Sky Supercalcio HD, Sky Sport Serie A (Italy)
Online/mobile: ESPN+ (United States); DAZN (Canada); Premier Player HD (United Kingdom); 1SKY 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.