As I was going through photos to use for this preview, it occured to me that Saturday’s opponent is a rather important one in recent Juventus history. Or maybe I should say that the location of said matchup between Juventus and Bologna is the important part of the equation, not necessarily the who.
That’s because as you scroll through some of the photos — especially those from after the final whistle — you will see that Juve’s last visit to the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara was very much a sign of the times, both back then seven months ago and now. It was at the Dall’Ara on May 23 in which Juventus players watched Napoli fumble away fourth place on the final day of the 2020-21 season, giving Andrea Pirlo and Co. a last-gasp berth into the Champions League — something, that if you asked many, wasn’t what they envisioned needing to take place all the way back in September.
Since then, Pirlo has been replaced by the man who was the last one to guide Juventus to major Champions League success. But what has remained has been the absolute scramble to get into one of the top four spots in the Serie A standings. And while there’s a whole lot more time in the season left to do such as compared to the last visit to Bologna, it’s not exactly like things are any better.
Juventus and Bologna enter Saturday night’s matchup in Emilia-Romagna separated by all of four points and four places in the standings. That’s not necessarily because of how well Bologna has played this season, but more a case of just how much Juve’s failed to find any kind of consistency over a vast majority of the first 17 games of the 2021-22 season. And now as the midway point of the season arrives in a matter of days, Juventus’ need to at least to try and get within striking distance of Atalanta in fourth place — which currently stands as an eight-point difference — is as important as its been before.
We’ve known that for weeks, if not months.
But Juve’s ability to actually do that seems to look somewhat possible one week and then completely different the next. That’s just what happens when you have an inconsistent team that gets in its own way more often than not — especially against opponents they have no business dropping points against. You know, like what happened this past weekend against Venezia.
Since wins over Spezia and Roma to end November and begin December, Bologna has lost to Fiorentina and Torino, not exactly looking all that great in the process — especially recording all of eight total shots against the Granata. (Side note: Torino has allowed 18 goals this season, which is one behind Juventus and the fourth-best total in Serie A. Seriously.)
With the current situation in the league table being what it is, it’s pretty safe to say that anything less than six points out of six collected against Bologna and Cagliari will mean Juve hits the midway point of the season in dire straights. We’ve been saying the same kind of thing for weeks now, but this is very much the case now. Juventus has to win these final two games of 2021. Nothing less than that or else the gap between themselves and Atalanta might even be double digits by the time we hit the holiday break.
Nobody wants that — especially Max Allegri.
- Paulo Dybala is out injured, with Allegri saying at Friday’s pre-match press conference that “we can’t take risks with Dybala, but let’s see if we will have him available against Cagliari.”
- Federico Chiesa is still out injured.
- Danilo is still out injured.
- Aaron Ramsey, per unofficial mandates, is out injured.
- After saying that Giorgio Chiellini “might not make the match,” Allegri has not called up the Juventus captain for the trip to Bologna. Allegri said he hopes to have Chiellini back for Tuesday night’s 2021 finale against Cagliari.
- Dejan Kulusevski is back in the squad after missing the last couple of games due to minor nasal surgery.
- Arthur is back in the squad after being suspended last weekend due to showing up late to training.
- Weston McKennie is back in the squad for the first time in three weeks. McKennie was injured in Juve’s 1-0 loss to Atalanta on Nov. 27.
- After dealing with a case of slight gastroenteritis, Manuel Locatelli has been called up to the squad for Saturday’s game.
- The rest of the traveling squad to Bologna is as follows:
- When it comes to how Juve will look up front without Paulo Dybala, Allegri said: “The forward pairing for the game will be Alvaro Morata with either Kean or Kaio Jorge.” That makes it sound like a 4-4-2 is the way he’s thinking, doesn’t it?
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been witnessing what could be the short-term changing of the guard between one of Juve’s stalwarts during the vast majority of the past decade and one of the youngest players on the senior team’s roster.
Alex Sandro, for all the good that he’s done since arriving at Juventus, just doesn’t have the same punch and impact on the field that he used to. And when you combine all those miles and all those games that he’s appeared in, sometimes Father Time is the ultimate winner.
It just so happens that Allegri has a player who has stepped in rather well for Sandro, and that looks to be the case again this weekend.
Luca Pellegrini has, for the vast majority of his seven appearances this season, done more than just hold his own. Pellegrini, to his credit, has done pretty damn well considering the fact that he had played as little as anybody until the calendar flipped to November and he was suddenly getting a fairly regular bit of playing time.
The emergence of Pellegrini, a player who has always battled injuries during his loan spells at Genoa and Cagliari, has certainly meant that there’s more of a duel for playing time emerging on the left side of the Juve defense.
What Pellegrini has provided is not what you would consider something like prime Alex Sandro, but it’s been solid and he’s shown the ability to contribute offensively on top of just being a pest when he’s defending. You like to think that the more he plays and gets familiar with this set of players then the more he will be able to do and contribute — especially on the offensive side of the equation.
No matter what, though, Pellegrini’s sudden contributions aren’t lost on anybody. And while it comes at the same time that a soon-to-be 31-year-old Alex Sandro has seen both some fatigue — who could blame anybody for feeling exhausted after the last 18 months worth of football? — and just a dip in form that probably was to be expected with how the last few years have been.
It’s allowed Pellegrini to get more playing time and, as a result, do some running with the opportunity he’s been given. It might have taken him 2 1⁄2 years to finally get the chance to make an impact Juventus, but he’s finally starting to do so. Now if only he could get some of his other teammates to play well at the same time, that sure would be nice.
When: Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021.
Where: Stadio Renato Dall’Ara, Bologna, 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: CBS Sports Network (United States); BT Sport 1 (United Kingdom).
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.