It took a couple of hours on the Saturday before Christmas for Juventus’ uphill trek to try and get back to the Serie A mountain top to go from a slight incline to one that resembles the kind of hike you see at Yosemite National Park if it gets any worse than where it’s at now.
There have been a lot of factors as to why Juventus sits 10 points off the Serie A lead as we quickly approach the official midway point of the 2020-21 season. And knowing that 2021 is here — and now the resumption of play — that doesn’t mean there’s going to be some magic solution. Or any kind of solution that will show up any time soon.
All we know is this: Juventus has the kind of schedule in January that offers little rest at most that we just saw during this hectic and essentially never-ended December when more than a couple days of rest seemed like a blessing from the Pope.
But the difference between December 2020 and January 2021 is quite noticeable to anybody who has been paying attention to this Juventus season of late: Andrea Pirlo’s squad is very much the ones now doing the chasing rather than the team being chased. They will enter the first weekend of 2021 in sixth place, with the loss against Fiorentina and Napoli’s appeal being successful being quite the 1-2 punch to the gut to end 2020.
Because of it, Juventus trails league leaders AC Milan by 10 points. They trail Serie A’s second-place team, Inter Milan, by nine points. They are closer to 10th place than they are first place — which isn’t exactly something we’re used to around these parts over the course of the last decade or so.
And after Udinese visits Allianz Stadium on Sunday night for the first game of the new year, the two Milan sides will also be lining up against Juventus over the next two days. There’s no denying that Juventus need to win Sunday to put the visions and everything that has come with it regarding their faceplant against Fiorentina before Christmas, but it’s the point in schedule — as well as the position in the table — where Andrea Pirlo’s team needs to do something, anything, to show us they are deserving of being contenders for the Scudetto.
We’ve been saying it for two weeks now, but the fact that Juve’s room error is now gone and the trend of dropping points will coincide with the Scudetto run ending at nine seasons.
Juventus can’t afford to do what they’ve done against the mid- or bottom-table teams. Not this month. Not with Milan and Inter on the schedule within a matter of days. Not even against Udinese, which is far from a good team but the kind of squad that continues to be the side that sees Juve struggle with.
Udinese fit the profile of the kind of club that Juve has dropped points against over the course of the first three months of this 2020-21 campaign. They’re the definition of a mid-table team that doesn’t have anything all that impressive or that has anything that jumps off the page that might worry you. They won two straight games going into December ... and then have dropped points in their final three games of 2020.
The schedule in January is not quite the 10 games in 30 days we just saw Juventus go through, but it’s close. It’s certainly one that has more importance to what is standing in the way of Juve extending their title-winning streak to 10 years.
Juventus won’t completely eliminate the deficit between themselves and Milan in one or two rounds of fixtures. Not even a head-to-head matchup will do that. But playing the way they have been playing, with as many starts and stops as an old pickup truck, won’t see them make up any of that ground any time soon.
Pirlo knows things have to change. The players know things have to change. The fans, no matter how vocal, know things have to change. And it has to happen in a hurry during this month of January because of who’s on the schedule. and what the standings currently look like.
For better or worse, it all begins Sunday night against Udinese
Let’s hope the
48 hours nearly two weeks off actually paid off and is the thing that helps Juventus turn things in the right direction for once and for all this season.
- No Juan Cuadrado as he serves a one-game suspension after he picked up a red card against Fiorentina two weeks ago.
- Even though he was held out of the Fiorentina game in large part due to the Napoli appeal decision, Adrien Rabiot will be suspended for this game against Udinese. We thought he would serve that suspension against Fiorentina, but Juve weren’t able to make it stick and he’s now out for another game when we thought he wouldn’t be. Fun, right?
- Based on the videos from training the last few days, Matthijs de Ligt looks like he’s good to go after having a late-game injury scare against Fiorentina prior to the holiday break. There were a few rumors here and there at the beginning of the week that Pirlo could rest de Ligt even if he’s 100 percent healthy with Milan next up on the schedule, but they’ve died down since then.
- Also back training during the short holiday break: Giorgio Chiellini, Merih Demiral and Arthur Melo. While none of them are being tipped to start against Udinese, it is a nice thought to have at least some depth at the central defense spot.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
There were so many players who were pretty bad against Fiorentina that we’d be here a little while if we decided to list them all at once. It’s easier to say who played well than who played terribly simply because one significantly outweighs the other. For now, we’ll just focus on one player who had the worst game of them all.
Here’s a hint: Hello, Leo..
Leonardo Bonucci was the worst player on the field the last time Juventus played a game. Not the worst player in a Juventus jersey. Nope. The whole shabang. Twenty-two players, and only one was the worst of them all — good old No. 19 in black and white.
The first half of Bonucci’s 2020-21 season is turning out to be very different than the one 12 months ago. Bonucci was leading the team through the first through months of the Chiellini knee injury. He was great, and consistent on top of it all, too. But this season, Bonucci’s form might as well be one that resembles that of the team he plays for — up, down, this way, that way, everything in between.
We’ve been saying it for weeks now but it obviously holds true: Matthijs de Ligt can’t do this thing alone. That means Bonucci is going to need to be much more good than bad if Juventus wants any kind of defensive stability these next few weeks as they try to make up the ground between themselves and the two Milan clubs.
But if anything close to the Bonucci that we saw against Fiorentina two weeks ago shows its ugly face again ... I don’t even want to think about what it will be like. Think happy thoughts ... think happy thoughts ... think happy thoughts ... think happy thoughts. Let’s try that for now.
When: Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021
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; 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 2 (United Kingdom)
Online/mobile: ESPN+ (United States); DAZN (Canada); Premier Player HD (United Kingdom); Sky Go Italia, DAZN, DAZN1 (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.