We are 90 minutes away from officially being at the midway point of the 2020-21 Serie A season, one that under current circumstances are nothing like we’ve never seen before. And, in classic 2020 or early 2021 fashion, the last 180 or so minutes that Andrea Pirlo’s squad has played is a pretty good example of just how that first half of the season has gone for Juventus.
There’s been some good, like Wednesday night’s Supercoppa win over Napoli.
Then there’s not the exact opposite of good, like last weekend’s loss to Inter Milan at the San Siro.
It’s pretty easy to figure out which side of the equation many of us prefer.
And based on what happened on Saturday, this final game of the andata just got a little more important. Right when we were ready to declare Juventus has been knocked out of the title race thanks to the egg they laid against Inter, the Serie A gods have given Pirlo’s squad a lifeline. Not only did Inter drop points against Udinese, but Atalanta rolled into the San Siro and absolutely dominated Milan, leaving the door open for Juventus to cut their deficit in the Serie A table to single digits once again.
Yes, that’s right — the breaks that Juventus needed actually did happen.
Of course, if they hadn’t lost to Inter then they’d be able to make things even more interesting in the league table, but we can’t rewrite the past as much as we’d like to.
So now Juventus can cut their deficit with Milan to seven points — again — with a win over Bologna. Knowing how grim things looked just one weekend ago, that might not be the worst thing in the world. And judging by how amped up the team looked after winning the Supercoppa over Napoli — and a pretty good Napoli team at that — it was the kind of victory that we could see as a turning point a couple of weeks from now when they are set to play ... Napoli.
The thing that would prevent that is Juventus doing what they’ve already done a few times already this season — follow up a very good showing with the kind of performance that leaves you wondering just what needs to happen for this team to find any sort of consistency. Bologna are the same kind of team that has proven to be the boogeyman for Juventus so far this season. You know, this kind of team:
- Comfortably mid-table.
- Likely to sit back and absorb pressure.
- A team, on paper, that Juventus should beat.
As much as we see that Juve’s playing a team that has struggled over the last four to six weeks and is sitting 12th in the table, we’re also well aware of the fact that Bologna fits the profile of a team that they’ve dropped points against this season. It would be rather on-brand for this Juventus team to drop points the same weekend that they’re presented this kind of opportunity and have gotten so much help from the teams playing the two Milan clubs.
For all we know, Juventus could come out firing and build off the Supercoppa win. That would be nice — especially knowing what has happened over the course of Saturday’s schedule. But we also know that Pirlo’s squad has had such an up-and-down, one-step-forward-two-steps-back kind of season in terms of their performances and results that expecting to beat a team Juve’s handled over the years is still a bit of a question mark.
Like we said at the beginning of the month, these games have all become must-win kinds of situations. With the door being left open by the Milan clubs this weekend, that’s even more the case now. All that’s left is to see just what Juventus does with this latest opportunity to make the Serie A title race something that involves all of the big clubs in Italy once more.
- MATTHIJS DE LIGT BACK.
- With de Ligt testing negative for COVID-19, that leaves Alex Sandro as the lone Juventus player who is still out due to the virus.
- Even though there were thoughts that he could miss some time due to being subbed out at halftime against Napoli because of an ankle injury, Federico Chiesa has been called up for Bologna’s visit to Turin.
- Merih Demiral is in the squad after missing the Supercoppa midweek.
- At his pre-match press conference, Pirlo said he will play either Chiellini or Demiral defense. Who knows how much de Ligt’s return will influence this or if the young Dutchman will be held out of the lineup until the Coppa Italia quarterfinals midweek against SPAL.
- With Demiral coming back into the squad, the lone injury absence is Paulo Dybala, who should come back at some point in early February if everything goes right with his recovery.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
If the predicted lineups from the Italian media are correct, then we could be seeing something we haven’t seen in quite a while occur during lunchtime in Italy on Sunday.
Seriously, the guy below could very well be starting his fourth game in the span of 11 days.
If you were to ask me at the beginning of the season if Giorgio Chiellini appearing in four straight games in that short of a time span was going to be a thing I probably would have told you that you’re living in some kind of fantasy land. And if you were to then tell me it would be Chiellini starting four games in 11 days ... then it woulda been even worse of a reaction.
But, thankfully, Chiellini’s body hasn’t been his own worst enemy the last couple of weeks. I, for one, would like to knock on all of the wood possible — like maybe the Redwood forest that was right behind my college dorm room during my freshman year — so that this trend continues.
The only reason Chiellini is here is for the simple fact that he’s being predicted to start and this is a run of games on a back-to-back basis that we’ve rarely seen him take part in over the last couple of years. Juventus’ managers — whether it’s Max Allegri, Maurizio Sarri or now Pirlo — have really had to get creative with how they manage Chiellini’s minutes because of all the muscle injuries he’s had these past few seasons. And because of the limited number of defenders available the last few weeks, Chiellini has had to play a heavy workload out of pure necessity.
Now de Ligt is back. Same goes for Demiral. Even then, the Italian press is predicting that Chiellini is going to get the call against Bologna on Sunday afternoon. (La Gazzetta dello Sport has it about 70/30 for Chiellini starting over Demiral.)
With a Coppa Italia quarterfinal this coming Wednesday against a Serie B side in SPAL, it does make sense to play Chiellini in this game since it’s much more important than the next one. (No offense, SPAL, but let’s be real.) And if Pirlo feels like the midweek fixture is one to ease de Ligt and Demiral back in after their respective absences, then Chiellini starting against Bologna makes a whole lot of sense from that aspect alone.
But with Chiellini, there’s always going to be that fear that his body is going to let him down again. Hopefully it’s not this game or the next one after that or the next one after that or the next one after that. It’s been fun watching Chiellini lead this team on the field again, and hopefully that continues.
When: Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021
Where: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy
Official kickoff time: 12:30 p.m. local time in Italy and across Europe; 1:30 a.m. in the United Kingdom; 6:30 a.m. Eastern Time; 3:30 a.m. Pacific Time
HOW TO WATCH
Television: ESPN2, ESPN Deportes (United States); TLN (Canada); Premier Sports 2 (United Kingdom)
Online/mobile: ESPN+, ESPN Deportes+ (United States); DAZN (Canada); Premier Player HD (United Kingdom); DAZN, DAZN1, 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.