When Serie A was about to start back up in mid June, there were a few questions on the BWRAO Twitter feed regarding my thoughts on the Scudetto race that was going to resume. At the time, Juventus was just barely ahead of Lazio, with a single, solitary point separating the eight-time reigning Serie A champions and the latest team to try to rise to the challenge.
The caveat in all of this was that neither team had played a game in three months, which meant that any kind of form (good or bad) could be derailed simply because there had been no competitive activity since March.
As we’ve come to find out, Juventus’ form these might not be great or anything resembling that, but it certainly isn’t as bad as the team that they will be facing Monday night in Turin.
Juventua and Lazio may be first and third in the Serie A standings, respectively, but neither one of them are playing good football these days. What was once looked at as THE game to decide who wins the Scudetto this season, is now Juventus’ chance to put the Serie A title race to bed for good knowing that there will be just four games remaining following Monday night’s showdown at Allianz Stadium.
Think of it this way: Juventus, a team that has dropped seven points over the course of the last three games, has actually been able to extend the lead it has atop the Serie A table as compared to where things stood just a few weeks ago when the games started back up again.
That’s not something you would think would happen, right?
Not with the way we saw Lazio playing in the months before the suspension of play. Certainly not the way that we saw Lazio absolutely kick Juventus’ you-know-what not once but twice within a week and a half back in December — which, before the shutdown happened, made this fixture, the one where the game was going to be in Turin and in front of a full Allianz Stadium, something that could have allowed the Bianconeri to finally get the upper hand. Lazio was in as good of a position to end Juve’s run of Serie A domination with how well things were going in the weeks leading up to the country-wide lockdown across Italy. They were flying high, they were beating anybody and everybody on their schedule and they looked like they weren’t going to slow down anytime soon.
And then ... three months without a game.
An international break proved not enough to slow Lazio down. But the coronavirus suspension of play certainly did. That means Lazio can, at most, pull within five points of Juventus — the same deficit that Inter faces after the wild draw with Roma on Sunday — rather than potentially surpassing the eight-time defending champions with a win like many thought could be the case when this whole thing got going again last month.
That doesn’t mean this game isn’t important because of course it is. Juventus can very much put the title race to bed with a win over Lazio since there’s just four games to go. The last thing those of us who root for the team in which this blog is centered around want is for Juventus to continue to stumble and leave the door open for some kind of last-minute Scudetto overtaking. It’s important for the capocannoniere race as Cristiano Ronaldo enters all of one goal behind Ciro Immobile, who has not found the back of the net in Lazio’s last three games.
And, maybe most important of all, this game is important because Juventus hasn’t looked very good ever since that 2-0 lead against Milan two weeks ago and limping to the finish line just doesn’t seem all that much appealing at all knowing there’s still Champions League football to be played come August.
Juventus hosting Lazio may not have the implications or the headline-grabbing potential that it did pre-pandemic or when Serie A football started back up last month. But this game is still incredibly important no matter how you look at it — and that, knowing how Juve has played as of late, might not be the most encouraging thing in the world these days.
- According to Maurizio Sarri at his pre-match press conference, Rodrigo Bentancur, Matthijs de Ligt and Leonardo Bonucci all trained away from the group on Sunday. Their conditions, as it seemed to be posed by Sarri, will be more about how they react in the final hours before kickoff.
- Giorgio Chiellini, who was subbed off at halftime of the draw with Sassuolo, is not expected to be fully recovered for Lazio’s trip to Turin, according to Sarri.
- Federico Bernardeschi is suspended for the Lazio match after hitting the yellow card limit against Sassuolo. Douglas Costa is expected by some to take Bernardeschi’s spot in the starting lineup on the right wing, but Sarri did dangle the option of Juan Cuadrado being pushed further up the field for this game.
- It feels weird to say, but there are only two long-term injuries right now: Sami Khedira and Mattia De Scigilio. Other than that, it’s pretty much just Chiellini on the injured list. That’s a pleasant change compared to where things were a couple of weeks ago.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
We don’t totally know where Juan Cuadrado is going to be playing when he takes the field against Lazio on Monday night. That’s what the absence of Federico Bernardeschi has caused to have happen even though the natural solution is to just slide Douglas Costa into the starting lineup.
But we do know he will be playing. That’s a mortal lock at this point.
When Juventus was playing well against Genoa and Torino — not the best competition in the league, but go with me here, folks — Cuadrado was easily one of the best players on the field. He was involved in so much of the play even though he was at the fullback position. He had an assist against Genoa. He had a goal and an assist against Torino. Hell, he was the one who supplied the long ball that spanned half the field on the goal where Cristiano Ronaldo put Juve up 2-0 against Milan before things went to hell real quick.
In his own unique way from his less-than conventional position on the field, Cuadrado helped make things go.
The fact that he could very well push up into a more natural position on the right wing since Bernardeschi is suspended isn’t the worst thing in the world. As much gruff as he gets, Danilo hasn’t been terrible by any means of late, which could mean Sarri chooses to go with Cuadrado in the front three and that would allow Costa to be the Super Sub off the bench like he has been over the past three or four weeks.
But no matter where he plays against Lazio on Monday night, Cuadrado is going to have to be a steady presence on both sides of the ball. That’s especially true if he’s back in defense, where it was a bit of a defender when the 2-0 lead against Milan was falling apart right in front of our eyes. By that line of thinking, I guess it’s no surprise that when Cuadrado plays well then Juventus looks more like a competent team.
That could be worse, I guess. Although it’s not necessarily reassuring to know that Juventus’ best fullback this season continues to be one who is far from a natural fullback.
When: Monday, July 20, 2020
Where: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy
Official kickoff time: 9:45 p.m. local time in Italy and across Europe; 8:45 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 3:45 p.m. Eastern Time; 12:45 p.m. Pacific Time
HOW TO WATCH
Television: RAI Italia North America (United States); RAI Italia North America (Canada); Premier Sports 1 (United Kingdom); Sky Sport Serie A (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.