These are very interesting times in Italy.
]I’m not just talking about the fact that the October international break is now officially a thing of the past. There will be a Juventus game Saturday night against Crotone. But it will come under the circumstances that the club’s highest-paid player has recently tested positive for COVID-19, one of their summer signings has also tested positive earlier this week, the team has spent much of the break in insolation if not on international duty and the country as a whole is very much seeing a second wave of the virus arrive quickly, with the first two weeks of October seeing a huge spike in cases, especially in Northern Italy.
Yet, there will be a game.
It will start a three-week stretch where Juventus will be quite busy until the next international break arrives and hopefully there aren’t many more coronavirus-related worries to be had. (But, with players and clubs now traveling all over Europe, that’s probably not going to happen at this point.)
There’s also this little detail, too: Juventus has played a game in three weeks.
So, after three weeks where there hasn’t been any games outside of those who were actually on international duty, there’s now a glutton of fixtures and the return of the Champions League. That’s from one extreme to the other, and it comes at a time where we are still learning about what kind of manager Andrea Pirlo is with each passing fixture. The bigger games are toward the end of this big stretch, but it is early on both domestically and in Europe where Juventus can get some good mojo going again.
That is why we all thought the Napoli game was going to be one of the most important matches of Pirlo’s first month or two as manager. Not only was it the kind of matchup that would be the perfect kind of gauge to see how much progress Juve was making under Pirlo’s watch, but also the chance for the first-year manager to make the changes needed to get his team back on track after a so-so showing against Roma where the flaws were out there for all to see.
Now, instead of that happening against a potential Scudetto contender, it will happen against an opponent who was down in Serie B all of a couple of months ago. It’s still the game before a big European game. Maybe not as big of a European game as the next week, but still an important one knowing what this team has going on right now both on and off the field.
With all of that being said and seeing what kind of absences due to the virus or injuries that Pirlo is looking at right now, there’s still the possibility for something like this:
That’s ... not all that bad at all. That’s the advantage of having a squad with depth and a manager who, at least through the interviews he’s given, is willing to be flexible and not shoehorn certain players into certain roles they’re not necessarily capable of doing. You can see that lineup in a 3-4-3. You can see that lineup in a 3-4-1-2 with Kulusevski or Chiesa behind the front two. Either way, I’m here for it — and I’m probably not the only one.
- Crisitiano Ronaldo: positive for COVID-19.
- Weston McKennie: positive for COVID-19.
- Aaron Ramsey: injured on international duty.
- Lost in the shuffle of the Lega Serie A decision on Wednesday to award Juventus a 3-0 forfeit win over Napoli was the fact that the league also said that Adrien Rabiot has also served his one-game suspension after picking up a red card against Roma. Therefore, he will be eligible to play against Crotone this weekend. With McKennie’s positive COVID-19 test, that’s a nice little development.
- Paulo Dybala is healthy and training again. But we’re not too sure about his match fitness since he didn’t actually play during the international break even though he was with the Argentina national team due to a stomach issue. Maybe we’ll see him off the bench against Crotone on Saturday night, but it seems like a Dybala start isn’t really much of an option.
JUVENTUS PLAYER(S) TO WATCH
I showed you the predicted starting lineup from Sky Italia partly because it’s a way to display just how much depth this Juve squad has. But it was also a way to show you that there could very well be a new kind of look to Pirlo’s midfield this weekend.
You know, with these two guys ...
We got a small glimpse of what an Arthur-Rodrigo Bentancur tandem in the center of the park could be like when Juventus was in Rome three weeks ago. But, that was three weeks ago and Juve was down a man and the Arthur-Bentancur pairing was on the field together for all of about 20 minutes.
You all go ahead and have fun with those small sample sizes!
But, really, that small sample size didn’t give a sense of disaster. Far from it, really. Even down a man, Arthur and Bentancur really did show that they can play well off each other. Say all you want about how few minutes it was — more of a cameo rather than the full-on deal — but the signs were positive and this weekend could very well be the first time we get to see them start alongside one another from the start.
(Which, in my mind, makes a whole lot of sense based on who the opposition is.)
Both Bentancur and Arthur haven’t played all that much so far this season for their own specific reasons, according to Pirlo. Arthur’s minutes with Barcelona following the restart in Spain essentially reflected how many minutes I’ve played since the pandemic started. And, as Pirlo noted a few weeks back, Bentancur’s training regimen has been very much crafted to help him recover from playing so many post-lockdown minutes
Now, maybe just maybe, we get to see these two young South Americans play alongside one another from the start. Or, with Rabiot available after “serving” his one-game suspension in the no-show game from Napoli, we will see one of Bentancur or Arthur play.
Either way, both young midfielders have something to prove, don’t they?
Or, we can just go back a couple of days and remind ourselves about the opportunity that now presents Arthur (and the rest of the midfielders who are available):
The time is now for Arthur to make the statement to Pirlo that this can be his unit. There’s no shortage of competition, just as in attack. Adrien Rabiot had a bit of a bender against Roma but otherwise has continued his promising play starting at the end of last season, and McKennie, while inconsistent through two games, offers a ball-hawking hunger that is sure to win him minutes one way or another. But right now there are two open spots, and they’re open for the taking.
I tend to agree with Hunter a lot, and I agree with him again. It’s open competition in the midfield, and (unlike in previous years) that’s not a bad thing.
When: Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020
Where: Stadio Ezio Scida, Crotone, 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, Premier Sports 2 (United Kingdom)
Online/mobile: ESPN+ (United States); DAZN (Canada); Premier Player HD (United Kingdom); DAZN, DAZN1 (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.