As much as January has been about Juventus trying to keep their Scudetto hopes alive, it has also been a test to see where the Andrea Pirlo project is as we speed toward the midway point of the 2020-21 season.
The month wasn’t filled with relegation battlers who we sat there seemingly chalked up three points for the good guys well before kickoff like we saw over the course of October and November and into December. (That didn’t turn out well.) It was about finally playing Milan clubs, who were the two teams setting the pace in what is turning into quite the crowded Scudetto race as get ready to crown a winter champion. It was about facing Sassuolo and finally lining up against Napoli, although the latter is in the Supercoppa and not Serie A like some folks would like to see.
But let’s be real: The two trips to Milan were always going to be the headliners. As much as playing Napoli will be a big game since there’s a trophy and everything that’s happened between the two clubs off the field this season, the two Milan games were the main events of this crucial month of January.
And less than two weeks after their last trip to the San Siro, Andrea Pirlo’s squad is heading back to the stadium where they recorded their biggest domestic win of the 2020-21 season. Rather than facing the league leaders, Juve will try to beat the team that is closest to Milan in the standings. And as much as the managerial battle between Andrea Pirlo and the man who managed him during his first three title-winning seasons at Juventus will likely dominate the pre-game conversation, this is the latest chance for the Italian champions to make the Scudetto race just that much more interesting.
That really has been what the month of January has been about.
The win against Milan a week and a half ago allowed that to be possible, the kind of performance and end result that showed that this team, despite all of its flaws, can win a big game against a very good opponent. Inter are a good opponent just as Milan was and will likely be for months to come. We know they are not perfect just as Juventus is far from the machine that somebody like Bayern Munich or Liverpool were a season ago. Inter are beatable, and the last few games have proven that they can be exploited by the right kind of game plan.
Through the first four games — three in Serie A, one in the Coppa Italia — of 2021, January has treated Juventus pretty well when it comes to the results. They’ve yet to, knock on wood, drop points and have looked fairly decent along the way. It’s not the kind of consistency we want to see from this squad just yet seeing as they’re still plenty of holes despite the recent results, but it’s been a step in the right direction. (I mean, you can’r get much worse than how they ended 2020, right? So there’s that.)
We also know this: Juventus have been getting the results in their biggest games over the last couple of months. And if they continue to do so, then it’ll be another successful trip to Milan for Pirlo and the rest of this squad that is looking to keep its Scudetto streak alive.
Hopefully this trip to Milan ends up like the last one.
At the very least, Juventus is able to get a win just as they did in Milan less than two weeks ago. And if that happens, then the Scudetto race is that much more of a thing as the midway point of the 2020-21 season arrives.
- Juan Cuadrado is still out and in quarantine due to his positive COVID-19 test.
- Alex Sandro is still out and in quarantine due to his positive COVID-19 test.
- Matthijs de Ligt is still out and in quarantine due to his positive COVID-19 test.
- Paulo Dybala is out due to an knee injury he suffered last weekend against Sassuolo.
- Midweek Coppa Italia hero Hamza Rafia is also out due to the same kind of knee injury as Dybala has been diagnosed with.
- Two other players who picked up minor injuries in the win over Sassuolo last weekend, Weston McKennie and Federico Chiesa, have been partially training with the squad the last couple of days. Of the two, Chiesa looks to be the more likely to start against Inter.
- On McKennie’s health, Pirlo said he “is not 100% but he’s doing well enough.” What that means will obviously be more apparent when the starting lineups come out an hour before kickoff on Sunday night.
- Despite Alvaro Morata playing 120 minutes against Genoa in the Coppa Italia midweek, Pirlo said he’s recovered and good to go for the Inter game.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
If Matthijs de Ligt wasn’t infected with the coronavirus, then figuring out Juventus’ starting defense would be pretty simple and probably a little less a source of anxiety. But, because the young Dutchman is still out (along with Sandro and Cuadrado), the starting defense is also rather easy to figure out.
The thing is, though, that means this guy will be relied on.
Not that it’s a bad thing to rely on Giorgio Chiellini because he is obviously a very good defender despite his advanced age as a player. But, as we know, Chiellini could start a game and very well be injured 15 or 20 minutes later because that’s just something that’s always a possibility with him these days.
Chiellini playing midweek against Genoa in the Coppa Italia was a good step from the simple fact that he was able to shake off some rust that surely was there. Remember, he had started all of one game since the beginning of November before the minutes against Genoa. And the only other game he played in before facing Genoa was a brief late-game cameo in Juve’s 4-1 win over Udinese at the beginning of the 2021 calendar year.
But, I think it’s safe to say Inter will be the biggest individual for Chiellini in months, maybe even dating back to the first time he appeared in a game following his knee surgery.
Just think about just a few Inter players with completely different kinds of skillsets that he could be matched up against at any given point in this game:
- Romelu Lukaku
- Lautaro Martinez
- Archaf Hakimi
All of those players are their own unique challenges and present quite the game-changing potential that could tip this game in Inter’s favor. And, as we’ve seen, this Juventus defense is quite susceptible to the kind of mistake or two that a team with talented strikers like Inter could take advantage of more often than not.
Then when you consider that Gianluca Frabotta is being tipped to start at the left wingback spot and Chiellini’s day could very well be a very busy one.
I don’t know where Chiellini is at in terms of his form simply because we haven’t seen him play much at all over the last three months (and longer than that). Who knows if he does, who knows if Andrea Pirlo does, either. But if Juventus want to get points against Inter, then Chiellini will have to play 90 minutes and quite well on top of that.
Now let’s all hope he can make it 90 minutes first and then go from there.
When: Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021
Where: Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan, 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); Sky Sport Uno, Sky Sport Serie A, Sky Sport 251 (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.