A few weeks back, we talked about an important stretch of Juventus games that was about to begin. In a nutshell, it was a seven-game stretch that came at us all in just over three weeks. It involved a relatively friendly league schedule to go with the beginning of the Champions League group stage, highlighted by a visit to Turin from an Argentine who wears No. 10 and Barcelona.
We are on the eve of another big stretch for Andrea Pirlo and his band of Bianconeros.
This stretch involves more games over two more weeks, which means, essentially, by the time Christmas arrives in Italy this team will know where they stand in the Champions League knockout rounds, will have twice as many Serie A games played and will be nearly halfway through the domestic schedule.
Yeah, this is important. Very important.
The schedule, at least domestically, is quite friendly until Atalanta comes strolling into Allianz Stadium a week before Christmas. And seeing as Juventus’ next two Champions League fixtures are against teams they’ve already beaten and will be played in Turin, the European schedule isn’t exactly all that daunting, either. The first game is also one that is going to be played in Turin, and it’s against a Cagliari side that has more wins over their last six games than Juventus does. That wouldn’t be the case if Juve had defended as a team for another 10 or 15 seconds the last time we saw them on the field two weeks ago against Lazio, but there’s no way to reverse all of that now.
That didn’t happen, and basically we’ve been sitting around for two weeks as Juventus players go all around the world (and I, I, I) over the last few days waiting to see how this team will actually respond to the frustration from two weeks ago at the Olimpico.
So what was the message from Pirlo in his first statement since the international break started? It’s time to take things up a level or two. The honeymoon’s over. It’s time to get serious.
“It’s a fundamental game. We come from inactivity due to the national teams, but we need it for our growth. Now, our championship must start, the adaptation period is over, and we will have 10 games to play as if they were Finals until Christmas. Starting with tomorrow, I want to see a different fighting spirit. Playing with great strength to achieve results.”
That is about direct as we’ve heard Pirlo talk about things since he became Juve’s manager. He knows that this stretch of games, At the very least, that’s about as direct he’s spoken about what he wants out of his team when speaking the day before a game.
But the message is clear: The mistakes or the kind of form from Juventus that we saw before this November international break just aren’t going to cut it anymore. Pirlo wants to see serious improvement from his team because he knows the midway point of the 2020-21 season is going to arrive in a hurry and surprise many of us once we’re finally able to take a rest right before we open Christmas gifts. The vision he has for this team is something he doesn’t want to see here or there, he wants to see it consistently and have positive results — both on the field and in the Serie A table — be the byproduct of that.
Juventus is about to play 10 games over the course of the next 30 days. That’s a lot, and the entire squad is going to be tested simply from a stamina standpoint to keep up. But if they start to look the part during this absolute hectic four-week stretch, then things will be a whole lot more pleasant when it comes to how we view this team the next time they take a few days off for the holidays.
- Matthijs de Ligt is training again. Andrea Pirlo made it sound like de Ligt will be starting against Cagliari on Saturday night.
- Alex Sandro is training again. Andrea Pirlo made it sound like Sandro won’t be starting against Cagliari on Saturday night, but he will be called up and on the bench, though.
- Paulo Dybala is training again.
- Federico Chiesa is training again.
- Giorgio Chiellini is rehabbing an injury — again.
- Leonardo Bonucci is also rehabbing an injury.
- Aaron Ramsey is also rehabbing an injury.
- Chiellini, Bonucci and Ramsey are the only injuries that Pirlo’s squad is dealing with at the moment. None of those three players are expected back this weekend — or even for the midweek Champions League game in all likelihood — so the players who Pirlo currently has at his disposal seems like the group he will have available to him for the next couple of games at the very least.
- Juventus announced Friday that Rodrigo Bentancur, who was on international duty with coronavirus-hit Uruguay the past week or so, tested negative for COVID-19 and trained away from the group later in the day. Bentancur will undergo another swab test Saturday, which is part of virus protocols in Italy right now. (For what it’s worth, Bentancur’s Uruguay teammate, Cagliari defender Diego Godin, has tested positive for COVID-19, it was announced Friday.)
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
He’s incredibly Dutch.
He never misses leg day.
And, most important of all, he’s back.
Ahhhhhhhhh, yes. We’ve missed you, Matthijs. We’ve missed you even though you’ve continuously posted pictures on Instagram in a New York Yankees hat. We’ve missed you even as Danilo has suddenly become a pretty solid player under Andrea Pirlo.
We’ve missed you no matter what.
Yes, Matthijs de Ligt is back, he’s been training all week and pretty much everybody who does the whole lineup projection thing in the Italian press is thinking that this weekend will be the time when the hulking 21-year-old Dutchman is back on the field once and for all. And, seeing as this is the game before a Champions League game, it makes a whole lot of sense that this will be the time — and against the right kind of opponent — for reintegrating de Ligt back into the starting lineup.
And we shall welcome him back with open arms.
Getting de Ligt and Alex Sandro back at the same time is quite the boost in one fell swoop for Pirlo, who is obviously still trying to figure out a number of things about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to this squad. He gets arguably his best defender back, he gets a steady player out on the left wing back and now some things that we thought about in the preseason can at least start to fall into place.
The simple fact of seeing de Ligt in Juve’s defense — and most Italian outlets are predicting he will be in the center of the back three with Bonucci out injured this weekend — is a shot in the arm this team needs. It’s easy to say that because he’s really good, but let’s face it: he’s really good!. And, at his age, only going to get better. Having a player of de Ligt’s caliber coming back right at the start of a huge five-week stretch will be pretty refreshing.
Of course, there will be a little bit of flinching the first time de Ligt goes down on his shoulder or crashes into a Cagliari player for a 50-50 challenge or aerial duel because that’s just what seeing him deal with that injury the second half of last season will do to us.
But, no matter how many times we wince when de Ligt does something that involves extremely physical defending, he’s going to be back out there and he is 100 percent healthy again after playing in pain for so long last season. And that, my friends, is what matters the most.
A healthy de Ligt sounds like a pretty damn good de Ligt to me.
When: Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020
Where: Allianz Stadium, Turin, 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)
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.