It feels weird to say since so much has happened in the last 15 or 16 months, but it wasn’t so long ago that Juventus had a chain-smoking former banker who crunched on a cigarette on the sidelines during games. It’s weird not only because so much has happened since then and now and the current state of the world, but also due to the fact that Juventus has not only changed managers since then, but also brought in a replacement for the replacement for the guy who was manager on that ill-fated night against Lyon in early August 2020.
But Saturday night will see Juve reunited with an old pal.
OK, so knowing how things ended between the two sides, maybe “pal” is a bit of a stretch, but for the first time since they went their separate ways, Juventus and the man below will be facing one another in what is quite the return from the last international break of the calendar year.
Saturday night at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome is the first time that Juve and Maurizio Sarri have been on the same field since he was fired back on Aug. 8, 2020, after all of one Scudetto-winning season in charge. It was a season of ups and downs and plenty of frustration — which, at the time, is not necessarily something a lot of us thought would be the norm now nearly 18 months later.
Yet, as we know, the one Sarri season ended with a Serie A title. Right now, on the brink of days in November hitting the 20s, Juventus’ goals have very much changed. (No matter how much we try and talk it all into existence.) Juve’s in eighth place as we begin the pre-Christmas slate of games. They’re 14 points off the lead in Serie A and we’re just 12 games into the season. Juve’s climb back into contention for a top four spot — which is now the main domestic goal for the 2021-22 season — has been slow and not necessarily routine. There’s been bumps in the road to go along with the simple fact that this team is very much still trying to find some sort of identity as the midway point of the season quickly approaches.
We know a lot of the talk about this game will be about Max Allegri facing Sarri for the first time since the former came back to Juventus and the latter left the former Italian champions in a less-than-stellar manner. It’s the lead here and it was always going to be.
But as much as the managers will get a ton of attention, the simple fact is that this match is between two teams who are looking to finish in the top four, and the chance for Juventus to beat a team that is above it in the standings. So far, those types of fixtures have been a mixed bag for Allegri and Juve — which is just so fitting for how the last couple of years have been for this club.
Juve’s going to be shorthanded for the trip to Rome, with arguably their most in-form player, Paulo Dybala, not making the trip due to the lingering effects of the slight knock he picked up during international duty. There’s definitely the sense that it will be a patchwork kind of lineup in a few ways, with very few options in attack limiting Allegri in how he can play things against Lazio.
It’s not ideal, but at this point it’s hard to truly tell what we’re going to get from Juventus on a week-to-week basis.
While Juventus has been riding its own unique wave so far this season, the same is very much the case for Lazio as well. Yet as Juve were struggling out of the gate, Lazio were one of Serie A’s hottest teams the first couple of weeks of the season. But the same strong form wasn’t around coming out of the first international break of the season, and Lazio’s had some pretty bad results — a 3-0 loss to Bologna — to go along with some pretty solid wins over Roma and Inter Milan.
Sarri has a team much more suited to his style of play with Lazio than he ever did with Juventus, and this is the chance to show the front office that fired him — or, rather, what’s left of it — just how things can be when it’s going right. For Juventus, it’s rather simple: This is another match in the must-win category because that’s what they all are at this point.
All that’s left to see which one wins out — Sarriball or the one that didn’t make it work.
- No Giorgio Chiellini due to injury.
- No Paulo Dybala due to injury despite the fact that Juventus ruled out any kind of muscle damage just 24 hours earlier on Thursday.
- No Federico Bernardeschi due to injury.
- No Aaron Ramsey due to an injury he picked up in training on Thursday. (Seriously.)
- No Mattia De Sciglio due to injury.
- One good piece of injury news: Moise Kean is back and will be available for selection after missing the last five games before the international break.
- The full list of call-ups for the trip to Rome is as follows:
✈️ ⚪️⚫️#LazioJuve pic.twitter.com/W41Ce9eyqZ— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) November 19, 2021
- As is becoming the norm these days, Allegri said at his pre-match press conference that he will decide on the starting lineup in the morning. Because of all the injury absences and some doubts about Alex Sandro’s availability to start after returning from Brazil earlier in the week, the Italian press is speculating that Allegri will either use the 4-4-2 hybrid that has been the norm the last two months or a three-man defense featuring Leonardo Bonucci, Matthijs de Ligt and Danilo.
- Allegri said that he is “very happy” with Arthur and that the Brazilian midfielder is “fully recovered and has a lot of enthusiasm.”
- All that Allegri wants from Federico Chiesa right now? “To score goals.”
JUVENTUS PLAYERS TO WATCH
Because when you’re facing a midfield with Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Luis Alberto, it’s going to take more than one person to come even close to getting the job done. And the good thing is for Juventus right now, there very much is a clear-cut choice for the starting midfield pairing.
Manuel Locatelli and Weston McKennie have been a pretty solid combo over the last few weeks. Locatelli, understandably, is a player who looks rather tired because of how much he’s been playing and what he’s been tasked with doing since joining Juventus. (He’s also played a good chunk of minutes for Italy of late, too.) McKennie, meanwhile, has been looking more and more like the player from the first half of last season over the last couple of weeks before the international break, both scoring goals and providing a midfield presence that Rodrigo Bentancur and Arthur haven’t done yet this season.
They have played off one another well, with Locatelli’s passing and McKennie’s runs both proving to be quite valuable. Knowing who they are playing this weekend, it will be their contributions both offensively and defensively that will have to make the difference if they want to win the battle in the midfield.
With Milinkovic-Savic and Luis Alberto lining up opposite them, that’s quite the challenge.
Regardless of it’s a 4-4-2 or 3-5-2 (or something of that ilk with a three-man backline), the Locatelli-McKennie combo is going to be facing one of the best midfields they will play all season long. Milinkovic-Savic and Luis Alberto are two of the best Serie A has to offer, and they are a big reason why Sarri’s transition to Lazio has been a whole lot better than it has been with Juventus. (And maybe the biggest reason as to why he’s been able to input his system as compared to never having a squad made for it in Turin.)
Now we just wait to see what formation is used. And with it comes the importance of a competent midfield that will face one of its biggest tests yet.
When: Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021.
Where: Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy.
Official kickoff time: 6 p.m. local time in Italy and across Europe; 5 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 12 p.m. Eastern Time; 9 a.m. Pacific Time.
HOW TO WATCH
Television: BT Sport 1 (United Kingdom).
Online/mobile: Paramount+ (United States); BTSport.com, BT Sport App (United Kingdom); DAZN (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.