The (incredibly) brief break between the 2019-20 season and the coming 2020-21 campaign is nearing a close. We’re only about 16 days from the start of the new season, and on Wednesday, the league released the schedule for the new campaign.
The Andrea Pirlo era at Juventus will officially begin on Sunday, Sept. 20, in a home game against Sampdoria. Whether or not there will be fans at that game is still up for debate, though the club has sent in a proposal to have people in the seats.
With the fixtures now set, here are the five biggest takeaways from the reveal.
Unable to hold the big gala that traditionally accompanies the release of the fixture list, Serie A did things digitally on Wednesday.
Of course, being Serie A, they did this in the most confusing way possible, announcing the whole season out of order. But the league did perhaps tip their hand as to the way they expect the season to go when they announced the Round 18 match between Juve and Inter. Playing in Round 18 means they will also play in Round 37 — the penultimate match of the season. If the season plays out as many expect and Juve and Inter end up the main contenders for the Scudetto, this match could be the most dramatic title decider Italy has seen in years.
We saw in March that a lack of fans won’t dampen the intensity of a game like the Derby d’Italia, and by late May one certainly hopes the world will be in a position to allow fans back into the Allianz Stadium. If the fans are allowed, it would be the first time Antonio Conte would face them as an opposing coach, which would take an already intense atmosphere and turn it into an inferno, regardless of whether or not the authorities allow the stadium to be filled to full capacity or a limited one.
Depending on how the season plays out, this fixture could be Juve’s biggest domestic game in a really long time. Serie A has certainly set themselves up for some drama at the end of the year.
Juve’s opening match against Sampdoria isn’t a gimme — no game against a Claudio Ranieri-coached team is. It won’t be a cakewalk, but it’s still a game Juve will expect to win, especially at home. But the difficulty level will get ramped up on Pirlo very quickly.
After Samp, the Bianconeri travel to Roma for their second game, then come back home to face Napoli. Both of those teams registered wins against Juve last season — although, to be fair, Roma did so in a game that was a dead rubber for both teams — and Napoli won the Coppa Italia on penalties, so both are capable of making off with a result, especially if Pirlo is slow to adjust to the world of coaching. Gennaro Gattuso had Napoli working at a high level last year, but is likely going to have to weather the loss of Kalidou Koulibaly, who is looking likely to move to the English Premier League. Still, a season of continuity, and the addition of Nigerian forward Victor Osimhen, who arrived with a €70 million price tag from Lille, will make them a very capable opponent. Roma will have a few changes as well, but a fully healthy Nicolo Zaniolo gives them a chance to make noise in any match. Pirlo will have to prove his chops early.
Hopefully, by the later stages of the season the world will once again be in a position to allow fans back into sporting arenas. If it is, Juventus will be in a great position thanks to the draw.
During the ritorna, Juve will play four of their six opponents that qualified for Europe at home. In addition to the aforementioned game against Inter, that includes games against Roma, Lazio, and AC Milan.
Home field advantage has been one of the building blocks of the Juventus dynasty. Since the Allianz opened Juventus has lost there only 10 times. The short list of victors in Turin includes Inter, Sampdoria, Udinese, Lazio, Napoli, Roma (in a dead rubber), Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Manchester United, and Ajax.
The new stadium has been a fortress, and as it enters its 10th season of operation, Juve will be able to man that fortress against some of its biggest opponents during the season’s home stretch. That’ll be a big advantage, especially if the race is tight heading into the spring.
Just like last year, Juventus has gotten a good mix between their bigger games and their easier ones. Roma and Napoli are the only tough games that come on back-to-back weeks. The Derby della Mole will be played within two weeks of Juve’s clashes with Atalanta, but Torino hasn’t put up much resistance the last few seasons. The team also faces both Milan teams with only one game in between, but all in all the biggest games are fairly well spaced out.
That is, of course, a purely on-paper evaluation. A surprise team in good form may make a particular stretch more harder in a given moment, the way Sassuolo did after the restart, and the release of a Champions League schedule could insert big games to make a particular sequence a little more stressful, but right now there aren’t any periods where the difficulty levels will be at maximum for an extended period of time.
In order to get the season finished in time for the rescheduled Euros, the league eliminated the traditional winter break. This was really their only option without lacing the schedule with so many mid-week fixtures it would resemble what the restart looked like, and it’s not something anyone with a level head would criticize.
That being said, the month of January may indeed see matches played at the frequency we saw in the summer. There are six league fixtures crammed into it, as well as the Coppa Italia Round of 16 and quarterfinals. We also don’t know when (or where) the Supercoppa Italiana will be played, although if the last few years are to be used as a precedent it will probably be sometime around the turn of the year. If it were to be put into January, it means Juve could potentially play nine games over the course of the month, with a least four midweek fixtures. That’s a hell of a stretch, and it will be one that Pirlo will have to plan for and rotate to keep the squad fresh. If there happens to be an injury crisis at one or more position group at that point, things could get really dicey.