I am going to be very honest with you right now: I don’t want to do this right now.
OK, so this here preview might have been started just a few hours — the next day if you want me to be completely honest — after Juventus another-word-for-poop’d the bed against Lyon last Wednesday night to mark the return of the Champions League with a complete and utter thud. That’s not exactly new, but it’s just the habit of going from one game to the next. And because Juventus’ schedule is now a whole bunch of crazy due to the postponement of two games after the coronavirus outbreak in Italy, I decided that I should just keep the current introduction rather than blowing this whole thing up and starting anew. Credit it to part laziness, part this thing mostly being done already.
The thing is, though, my feelings about Juve haven’t even changed since the last time we saw them playing. The break without Juventus — as much as it was completely out of the club’s control and for some very, very good reasons — was ... nice.
The problem is, Juventus is back now, and it’s now been nearly two weeks since its last game — which was simply awful. And Juve’s next game? Well, it just so happens to be against their arch-rival and former manager who just so happened to kick off this current Scudetto run. And, just for the added kicker, Sunday night’s game is going to be played behind closed doors because of Northern Italy’s worries over the coronavirus outbreak.
Not exactly the grand spectacle for Serie A football like we’ve imagined for weeks now.
Regardless of the circumstances that have caused the Italian sports council to decide to play this game behind closed doors, this is very much Juventus’ biggest game of the season. It comes after the previous biggest game of the season. And if this Big Game™ goes like Juventus’ last Big Game™, then the Scudetto race will be just that much more of a jumbled mess than it’s been.
Juventus and Inter are separated by six points in the Serie A standings. In between the first- and third-place teams just so happens to be the squad that handed Inter a 2-1 loss last weekend. It’s because of that loss that Inter can’t afford to lose both this game and, most likely as a result, their chances to win the Scudetto this season.
But what Sunday’s game might show us more than anything is what kind of shape Maurizio Sarri’s squad is in following their dud against Lyon and the subsequent coronavirus-related break they’ve had. We know things aren’t right, and might not be any kind of good for weeks, if not more. Juventus is still struggling, still relying on individuals bailing them out rather than putting that complete game or complete team effort together to get the job done.
Will that change soon? Who the heck knows at this point.
Even as an internal optimist it’s hard to think happy thoughts as you see this team struggle time and time again no matter if it’s against a relegation-threatened team or a European opponent like Lyon. Before this break, this Juventus side has struggled to do much of anything right, almost like they’re all out of ideas on how to make things right again regardless of what their first-year manager continues to say before and after games.
For all we know, though, this coronavirus-related break the team has unpredictably had has actually been good for them. Or maybe the same kind of Juventus we’ve seen is going to show itself again — and if that’s the case, there won’t be anybody in the stadium to really see it.
All we know is that a game that was supposed to happen at the beginning of March is now being played a week later under the same circumstances that we figured they would. The stadium may be empty Sunday night, but the importance of this match is still there.
- After not being called up due to a family emergency for the Coppa Italia final against Milan that never happened, Cristiano Ronaldo is back in Italy and expected to start on Sunday night.
- Maurizio Sarri did not hold a pre-match press conference on Saturday due to the coronavirus prevention rules put into place by Juventus. He did, however, conduct a short interview for Juventus’ official website, saying: “Recovering all the players during this period is fortunate because, it is clear that in the last few days, with the recovery of the players, the quality of training has risen. The improved level of training is something very important.”
- Here’s something that’s a shocker: The only player on Juventus’ injured list right now is Merih Demiral, who is obviously out for the rest of the season. Everybody else is healthy. (At least that’s what we know seeing as Juventus hasn’t released its matchday call-ups as of this post being written.)
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH ... IF HE STARTS
Miralem Pjanic may be going through one of the roughest patches of his Juventus career right now. But, as every indication in the Italian press is pointing toward, there could be a certain somebody wearing the captain’s armband for the second straight weekend.
You know, this guy:
When it comes to testing how his knee will hold up, easing him into the mixer against SPAL was the right kind of decision. It was never going to be the kind of game where Chellini had to do a ton of defending even with the kind of form that Juventus is in these days. And outside of a couple of nervy moments early on where his first touch and passing was a little off — you know the man’s adrenaline had to be pumping like no other in his first start in six months — it was basically the regular kind of game from Chiellini we have seen so many times before.
Now, however, comes a step up. A major step up.
There will be the physicality that comes with facing a striker like Romelu Lukaku. There will be the skill and creativity that comes with facing a striker like Lautaro Martinez. Not to mention the fact that Inter, for as much as we despise them around these parts, probably have a much better overall identity as a team than Juventus does right now.
Basically, Chiellini’s knee will be tested ... and again ... and again.
Not to say he can’t do it, and now that he has no limitations in training is a very good sign as to how he’s feeling these days and how much the medical team trusts his recovery. But he’s also only got about 90 minutes under his belt since coming back from major knee surgery and will be thrown into the kind of physical and emotional game where he has absolutely thrived in the past. Leonardo Bonucci isn’t exactly the rock-solid defender he was of three of four months ago, and that would mean Chiellini’s importance — if he starts instead of his new head bandaged apprentice Mattjijs de Ligt, of course — is just that more heightened.
For all we know, Cheillini’s knee is going to be just fine, he will be the same old defender who crashes into anything that moves and his return will mean there isn’t as much pressure on Bonucci to be the leader of the defense. That sure would be nice, wouldn’t it?
That won’t mean that I’m not going to flinch at least a little bit whenever Chiellini goes in for a tackle, though. That’s pretty going to take a few months — at least — to get out of my system. It was the same with Claudio Marchisio post-surgery, and it’s going to happen plenty of times for the rest of Chiellini’s immediate return. Them’s the (unofficial) rules.
When: Sunday, March 8, 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; 3:45 p.m. Eastern Time; 12:45 p.m. Pacific Time
HOW TO WATCH
Television: TLN (Canada); Premier Sports 1 (United Kingdom); Sky Sport Serie A, Sky Calcio 1, Sky Supercalcio HD, Sky Sport Uno (Italy)
Online/mobile: ESPN+ (United States); DAZN (Canada); Premier Player HD (United Kingdom); SKY Go Italia (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.